Whether you're extremely intentional about your networking habits or you passively network through the people you meet in life, I'm supremely curious about what other people enjoy about networking. I'd heard about the importance of getting to know the type of people you want to work with. The term "schmoosing" was thrown around a lot. For whatever reason, I didn't like the idea of "schmoosing". Maybe it was the way the word sounded or the way that it made me feel to think that I was using social situations to advance myself. Needless to say, I didn't do a lot of it at that point in my life, because I let myself be more influenced by the way a word sounded than the real life experience of people who had successful careers.
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Looking back on this with a better idea of who I was and what tools I had to use at that time in my life, I can also say that a big part of why I didn't do much networking was because I hadn't honed my social skills enough. I hadn't sharpened the skills required to enjoy conversations with strangers, which has drastically changed as I began to shift and shape my mindset to determine my path in life. Even though I wasn't exactly a shy individual, I was socially awkward, didn't like large groups and suffered from self imposed social anxieties due to my lack of commitment to develop better social skills.
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What do you do, if when you walk into a room, people know you and love you, but you don't have a clue how to speak to them on their level? While I was walking around thinking of projects ideas, innovations, business ideas and whatever else was floating around that I couldn't turn off at that time, other people were tuned into the place they were standing. I think there's a big key here, and that's the fact that I hadn't yet learned how to focus my attention to who and what was right in front of me. Instead of figuring out how to do that, I leaned on cannabis and alcohol use to take the edge off and dissolve my anxieties. It worked wonders for the anxieties and was atrocious for actually dealing with the problem and it took a while to figure that out.
Admitting my past failings or shortcomings doesn't really bother me these days for the simple fact that I'm not the person I was at that point in my life. While that time in my life laid the foundation of who I'd become, the person I have become is a composition of all the versions of myself that I've been. I've slowly been taking all the best pieces of myself and putting them together into a living mosaic of memories, experiences and neurons that help me to embrace the person that I'm becoming. While I may be content with the living portrait I see in the mirror, a work of art is never truly finished and I have not yet fully realized my potential or my destiny. As much as this may seem like a digression, I promise you that I have a point.
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Let's fast forward a bit to a few years back. I'd lived some life and learned some lessons. Some the hard way and some through watching others and learning from their mistakes. Finally, it seemed, that there was enough sense between my ears to look around and see that my life was not exactly the life I wanted forever. No matter how content I was at that moment, I realized that when I looked around me, I didn't often see the people who were going to influence the life I wanted either. I'm sure more of us have been there than not and it's ok, because it's all part of the journey.
There was a point when I had pretty much cut the world off, aside from a handful of close friends and family and I was content with that. I was between relationships, jobs and pretty much coasting in life when it really dawned on me that if I didn't start investing in myself, no one else was going to either. It's not hard to look at someone and see if they're the type that does so or not, so I decided that I'd rather be on one side of the coin than the other. It's funny how things work, but you know those people I had cut off, I started to let them back in. It started with a small piece of advice from a college friend about some photo gear.
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And so the flood gates were open once again, but things were definitely different. Have you ever floated or paddled in the ocean near the great wide open? Every stroke of the paddle is strategic and full of focus. You have a purpose in mind and you know that there's no way to coast to where you're going. This is what the switch in my head felt like when things started to turn around. At times, my arms got tired and I think I probably considered abandoning ship and letting myself be pulled into the deep on more than one occasion, but something miraculous happened one day. Either my arms fell asleep or I just couldn't feel them anymore, because it didn't feel like effort to paddle anymore. It was more like an any steering a leaf down a massive leaf at that point. Somehow the twig I was steering with was doing the job just fine, though.
All at once, I started meeting the most incredible people everywhere I went. Happy people, Engaging people, Grumpy people too. But even they smiled at times. Things were changing. I remember walking into a brewery one day and there were two open spots to sit in the entire place. Looking back, one table was full of pissed up guys squawking about something or other and the other table had one guy hanging out, drinking a beer and beaming from ear to ear. He was shining like a bloody chrome dollar. And I thought about leaving for a moment. Should I just go, or is it worth it to break this small moment of awkwardness and just get to know someone I'd never met before? I sat down.
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"By all means!" We talked. We laughed. We probably drank too much beer. We became great friends. He will be one of my favorite people on this Earth as long as I'm alive and nothing will change that! That one experience was proof of something I'd been feeling for a while and it's changed my life every single minute of every day from there on out. After that, I realized that the best rewards are on the other side of fear and doubt. The only excuses that exist are the ones we impose upon our own brains. So I decided to stop listening to that voice of doubt, or I put a gag in its' mouth when I heard it and decided to start believing in people. Guess what happened? I kept meeting more amazing people!
In that very same place, I met a friend who introduced me to some of his friends, who introduced me to their friends and my life is forever changed! Unfortunately, I don't keep up with the guy who introduced me, but it's totally fine. We were great friends for a season and we may be again in the future, but it's just a part of growing up in your second adolescence, which starts the moment you decide that you're going to keep growing up even though you're an adult.
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When I look back 16 years, I can say that I would never have known how blessed I would be to know so many incredible, kind and giving people who I cherish and respect. It's not that I doubted that there were so many great people in the world; I just didn't have that vision for my life. I'll take some of the credit for the person I am becoming and the incredible opportunities that I continually find myself presented with, but that's just because I decided to let people into my life. Everything else that's good in my life- every little thing that's better in my life is how it is because people invited me into their lives. Their influence, their belief in people and in me, their commitment to themselves- that all shaped me into someone that wants to let others into my life- into my heart and into my family.
To me, networking is a funny word. We're not computers. Yes, we can make connections that span the globe and we may well have some form of shared consciousness as a species, but we're individual beings. It took some time for me to wrap my head around what it means to "network" and this free flowing mass of words tells part of tale of how I got to this point in the road. To me, it's just about meeting the kind of people that I want to know better, who inspire me to be a better person and ultimately, share the same values and vision for their lives. When I meet new people these days, I get excited! Everywhere I look, I see people who inspire and uplift me, because as I opened the door to people, I started to get to know who they are and what they're capable of and there's nothing in this world they can't achieve if they put their mind to it and work together.
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Why close on my statement when you can close with your own?
What's your driving force to meet new people? What impact does it have on your life?