The Networking Obsession Has Ruined Authenticity: Developing Bona Fide Friendships as A Young Professional

One of my greatest challenges as a young professional has been fostering genuine friendships. Trust me, making friends has never been difficult for me. I have always been characterized as the social butterfly. However, as a young professional it has been hard to make new friends and maintain existing friendships for a few reasons:

  1. Old Friends Are Hard to Maintain: Learning how to manage downtime and professional time is difficult after grad school. All of your friends are spread out around the country and it is a hassle to get your schedules all lined up perfectly in order to meet up with them for a few hours. You could talk on the phone but who does that anymore? Plus, when I get home from work, the only thing that I want to do is go out for a drink or a quick bite and then spend time with my e-family. aka. the stars of my Netflix shows. On the plus side, social media helps to give the illusion that I’m well connected, and my emoji conversations, keep me at least minimally connected with my college friends, so that I am at least invited to their weddings in the future.
  2. Trust Issues: Many young professionals spend 8+ of their waking hours at work, making it nearly impossible to make new friends that are not work related. Work friends are cool and all, but until I know that you are a trustworthy person that I can let my guard down around….we are not going out for after-work drinks. It is even more difficult to make friends when you’re career is one where you are directly in competition with all the other young people around you.
  3. People Seem To Forget How to Make Friends: More often than not it seems like every person that I meet has an agenda. They introduce themselves as their brand or with their title and by the end of the conversation they are trying to convince me that I could use their services. If they are not trying to make me their client, they are trying to find out who I know and how I can be a stepping stone for their career goals. I look into their eyes and I can see them thinking…”How many beers do I have to buy her in order for us to be considered friends? As a friend, will she then be a useful reference to me when I apply to X company?

AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR DAT!

4. Transience: Young professionals are nomads. One day they are in the cubicle next to you and the next they’re in grad school or some other company. It takes a hell of a lot of work and energy to put time into a relationship that will then slowly dissipate once they leave your office. I could tell you all about the strong relationships I thought I had built at my last job, but a year and a half later, the text messages take longer and longer to be returned. They do tell you that you go to work to work not to make friends. I guess that’s true for most people

SO WHAT THE HELL DO WE DO? I’M A SOCIAL PERSON AND I NEED FRIENDS?

When you find one of those rare gems of a work friend, when you go out, limit the amount of time that you spend bitching about work. Foster a relationship that extends beyond the walls of your job, or else when they move on to their next best thing, you’ll be just another thing they’ve left behind for someone new and shinier at their new place of employment.

Be Authentic and Less of A Tool: Unless you are at a networking event, introduce yourself with something that is slightly more interesting about yourself instead of leading with the highlights of your cv.

  • Example: Hey, I’m Josh and I love cooking paella, How about you? What do you like to do?

Be an Active Listener: instead of Thinking Ahead About How to Answer the Person or about how to one-up their answer, try listening to what they have to say. Respond when they’ve finished and you do not have to make yourself sound better than them. DUDE! We’re not in competition!

There is no need to try and one-up someone you’ve just met or try to impress them with your experiences or the list of important people that you know or have met.

Example of Douche Bag Conversation:

  • Person 1: Hey, I’m Shane and I love to travel.
  • Person 2: That’s cool, I’ve been to 35 countries in the last 5 years. So I love travel more but what’s your favorite travel destination?

Join a Club or a Meetup

  • Finding an authentic friend can be hard. Find a community with people that love doing the same stuff that you love to do. Hang out with them and share your love for yoga with goats but also talk about other things outside of your shared interest if a deeper connection is desired.

Allow Vulnerability: Nobody likes to be vulnerable or to let their guards down but in order to build deeper connections, it is necessary to let people into your world. I’m not saying to go around sharing your deepest darkest secrets with your work colleagues. DEFINITELY NOT THAT! But, be willing to let people in to see the side of you that you don’t show at the networking events, the parts of you that are goofy, the parts that are clumsy and a little bit ugly.

Don’t Take your Established Friendships for Granted: You’ve already put in years of work to establish bonds. Don’t let that invested time go to waste. Cherish your friends and make time for them. Don’t just make time for them when you want to party or vent about your problems. Actually make time for them to check in on their lives and celebrate their successes. Life is busy but don’t let it get in the way, Thank God for technology. It can help you. At a minimum, set up a monthly call with your closest 2 or 3 friends. It can be a solo chat or a 3 way video google hangout. Set the time aside so that it is accounted for, that way you won’t be meeting up for your friends graduation or wedding, reminiscing about the last time you hung out or spoke — a year ago.