Lost in the Wilderness: Career & Networking Survival Advice

I want to talk to you about networking, but first let me tell you about the time I ate a snake. In my early 20's my brother, cousin, and friend convinced me to go canoeing with them in the Canadian wilderness for over a week. I figured we’d be fine since we’d taken so many weekend camping trips as Boy Scouts. I was wrong. We had no idea what we were doing. You know how I know that? Because I had to eat a goddamn snake.

This is the area in Canada we canoed through.

There are some things you need when spending over a week in the wilderness: a map (so you know the terrain), a compass (so you know where you’re going), and an expert (someone there with experience). We had a map and a compass (but didn’t really know how to use them) and we were lacking an expert. The first day of the trip our canoes capsized and our food got soaked. We were off to a bad start. By the third day, we were hungry. We tried fishing, but the fish weren’t biting. Then my brother caught a snake.

Garter snake (Thamnophis elegans terrestris)

It was a garter snake. A big one. We thought “oh, boy! we’re gonna feast tonight!” After I decapitated it, my brother filleted it. As he sliced open its belly a bunch of baby snakes came tumbling out. We were horrified, but hungry… so we ate the thing anyway. It was disgusting.

Which brings me to networking. Great segue, right? I have coffee with at least two strangers a week. These strangers are experts in their field that I’ve meet on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media sites. When I started networking I wasn’t sure what the purpose was. My wife assured me that networking was important and it would help me with my career. So… I got coffee with strangers and I kept getting coffee with strangers.

These strangers laid out the terrain of the political and policy world for me. They told me what kind of experience different organizations look for when hiring people, who the big players were, and what to expect in my career.

These strangers also helped me find out what I was interested in and where I wanted to go. Knowing how to navigate the political and policy terrain was great, but it would have been useless if I didn’t know want I wanted to do. With their advice I narrowly avoided law school and dodged some terrible positions that would have set me back.

The last thing these strangers gave me was their expertise and stories about their journeys. I learned what path they took and how they got to where they are today. I ran ideas by them, learned about their mistakes, their accomplishments, and where they saw themselves in the future. It put me light years ahead of where I would have been if I had to figure everything out on my own.

It’s tough taking a journey into the unfamiliar wilderness that is a new career. That’s why networking is so important. Meeting with experts will help you figure out the terrain, help you navigate to where you want to go, and give you advice to help you survive.

If you lack the map, compass, and expert… you’re gonna end up eating a goddamn snake. And I assure you, it is disgusting.

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