The connector’s advantage was never knowing people. It’s knowing people. The size of your Rolodex matters less than the size of your commitment to the people in your life.
I have spent my entire life and career at the intersections of people and relationships. I strive to learn how to be better at connecting, failing and succeeding every day. I’ve read all the books, watched all the interviews, and know everything from the scripts to the science of it. But nothing compares to putting yourself in a position to create an authentic connection with someone else. Instincts take over and we must choose which ones to embrace and which ones to eradicate.
In the early days, I was a gatherer. I collected information, lessons, ideas, and yes, even people. Then, I reached a tipping point. I had so many people and resources at my disposal that they became disposable.
This was a problem.
I took for granted all those people, all that information and worse off, I would have kept them all to myself. I feared that my ability to have deep and meaningful relationships with others would be trampled by another person’s ability to develop what I thought was a competing relationship.
This wasn’t reality.
As I got older, I recognized the value of deep meaningful curated relationships. It completely shifted how I approached people and who I included on my journey. My intentions shifted from relationships for sport, to relationships of substance. It was no longer about entering a room of strangers and walking out with everyone knowing my name and story. Rather, it became about how well could I articulate the stories of others. How well do I understand the person and how well did I understand their story?
I began paring down the number of acquaintances in favor of intentional and focused opportunities to connect with people I trust and love. I found myself protecting my circle more, but at the same time seeking to make the world smaller by bringing disparate communities with shared values together. Friends become family and foundations are laid for a future.
Through this journey I will continue to learn, but there are some indispensable lessons I am compelled to share below.
You owe it to the rest of us to demand the best of yourself if you want our best in return.
By going first in anything, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same. Quiet your assumptions about what you and other people think, raise the volume on that urge you feel. Build the muscle of going first into your nature. Going first in building a relationship is the difference between jumping and falling.
Be Interested & Interesting
Ask questions and learn. Allow yourself the space to be a beginner on the person in front of you. Dive deeper into each angle of the conversation and take a journey together. Uncover the things they have forgotten about themselves and lie outside of what you see on the highlight reel. Seek experiences that make you more interesting by breaking the monotony and doing differently than you normally do. Read, watch, consume, travel, explore and learn — then share as you grow so others may benefit from you.
Seek and speak in stories.
Be flexible for plans will change, the unexpected will happen, and the field is open for possibility. The more time you spend assuming a direction, the less time you spend navigating the terrain and finding your footing. This doesn’t mean you sit back and let things happen, it means you are intentional with the possibility of what can happen.
Look up at the horizon not down at your feet.
Time is Now
Respect your time together. Be early, stay late, and don’t look at your watch. Set up contexts where you don’t have to worry about the next thing on the schedule. Make every minute count.
In matters of time: count up, not down.
Proximity is Paramount
Put yourself in an environment with the people you want to connect with. The greatest predictor of a relationship beginning is proximity of location. The greatest predictor of a relationship persisting is proximity of values. Technology can give us the illusion of connection, but it often supports our ability to be alone together. Seek those who believe what you believe and create moments where you can be with them in person.
Be with your tribe.
Allow Yourself to be Seen
You must include others on your journey, or you will exclude yourself from theirs. Be honest, be authentic, and open up to what is possible when you allow others to connect something special in them to something special in you. There is infinite power in shared emotional relationships and experiences. Without a surrender to openness, your ability to connect will be diminished by your ability to cover up. Don’t underestimate effort, we know you are trying.
Always a Special Occasion
In an instant, a moment can become a memory with a little bit of intention. The people, the places, and the context matter — make them matter to you. The person in front of you is a big deal and so is the time you have together. Turn a moment into a special occasion with small acts of thoughtfulness; take the extra step, go out of your way, and create favor. Make every moment memorable.
It’s your responsibility to make sure the other person has a good time.
There are no scripts, only social norms which we have chosen to accept. Cross the line from time to time. Take your cues from who is standing in front of you, not what path is laid out for everyone else. The more we become like each other, the less we become like ourselves. Respond authentically, reach out on your own terms, refuse to subscribe to what is expected. Walk past physical, emotional, or social lines in the sand in favor of building something special.
Go meet the people you want. Make a list. Figure out who they are, what they care about, and where you see value in a relationship. Approach authentically, ask for an introduction, and find a way to break through the barriers that stand in your way. They might be distance, time, location, access, or even interest, but there is always a way. There are no rules. Sometimes you may have to be patient and wait for the right moment. Sacrifice patience and prudence when you see an opportunity for progress. Don’t spend your time blocking and tackling when you could be running down the field.
It’s always your turn.
Love fear. Fear tells you you are on the right track. Be courageous to reach out to the mentor, the person you look up to, the one you care about. Be authentic, open up, and share. We are all scared of something. Most people who are afraid to ask the question at an event, or approach the speaker they admire, resign themselves to a default of silence. You will be surprised what becomes possible when you step up willing to do the work. In the end we all want to belong and when we are most vulnerable, the only thing we want to hear is: “Me too.”
Courage is a muscle.
Be a Friend, not a Fan
That celebrity is a person, just like you, treat them as such. Recognize that people have thoughts, emotions and feelings. You stand out not by being louder, but by being softer. If you want to be noticed, reach out authentically in a way that allows you to be most yourself, or take time to meet the people they care about. Circles don’t break, they just get bigger and smaller, if you want to be on the inside you have a responsibility to everyone else in it.
Relationships are a place to give, not a place to get. Don’t keep score and be okay with imbalance. When all you can do is receive, be grateful. When all you can do is give, be gracious. You don’t always show up knowing what you can give, but you must always show up willing to give what you can. Give to givers and abandon fairness for the sake of filling up the cup of those you love.
Expect nothing in return.
Creation over Comparison
There will always be something imperfect, but don’t look over the shoulder of who is in front of you in favor of comparing the conversation you are having with the one you could be. Each relationship is its own, it takes nurturing, intention, and a willingness to put your ego aside for the opportunity to create something meaningful together. Your assumptions are not the limit of possibility, your willingness to engage is.
The World is a Small Town
There will be gossip, there will be drama, there will be the opportunity to take advantage — choose otherwise. Be kind, respect others, and learn how to carve out your space to contribute. Memories last a long time, create ones you can be proud of. Know the stakes.
Your reputation is a function of how you treat people.
Going Through the Motions Doesn’t Count
All the social skills in the world are of no value without intentional practice and application. You can pretend to connect, to be real, and to show up, but if you are just walking through the steps and failing to put your whole self forward, it is of no value. Your authentic self demands of others the same. Don’t just tag along for the ride.
Be on purpose.
Begin Where You Are
You already have everything you need to connect with anyone you want. But you may just have to uncover and embrace your authentic self. You are at the source. Once you realize that you are the most powerful and important person in your network, you’ve arrived.
You are one of us.
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