A human being becomes whole not in virtue of a relation to himself but rather in virtue of an authentic relation to another human being.
Martin Buber, 20th century philosopher
Taylor, a young friend was struggling. Job rejections were painful enough, but even worse was the hollowness of getting no response. When you are just starting out, it is deflating when the path ahead is unknown. Taylor felt defeated even though he was giving his job search his very best effort.
I found myself in a similar position although at a different point in my life. Thirty years at one place was unusually long and it was time for a change. I had been traveling on a metaphorical ocean liner and decided to plunge into the sea without a lifeboat. Not surprisingly, I felt lost and adrift with no land in sight.
Starting a career, switching a job and in fact any major life event, whether moving to a new city or going through a relationship change causes these feelings of disorientation, self-doubt and fear. We all experience this at some point in our lives.
In each case, a natural reaction is to pull back, turn inward and grapple with these difficult emotions alone. Introspection is a good thing when you are facing obstacles: the walls and the potholes of life’s journey. It’s good to figure out who you are and what you want. And you need to have time alone to do that.
Then, the most productive next step may seem counterintuitive. You must reach out and meet as many people as you can. Taylor and I each did just that and the benefits were remarkably positive.
Here is what I observed from Taylor’s experience and my own as we each tried to find the right path for us.
Meeting people is the key to learning and opening doors
Reframing a job search to one of meeting people, totally changes the game. It takes the pressure off and it allows you access a treasure trove of value. Many people don’t have a job available, but they have information, knowledge, expertise and a network of their own. And most people when approached in the right way, are willing to share advice and help you.
People are willing to help you, but you have to help them help you.
When you meet with someone new, initial conversation is meant to lay the foundation for a relationship. Learn as much as you can about people you meet so you can establish a rapport and find common topics. Very important, be specific about how they might help you by learning about their area of expertise or tapping into their network.
Asking for something specific like an introduction to someone at a particular company is much better than asking for general help. The more specific your ‘ask’, the easier it is for someone to either help you, or if they can’t, let you know, and that’s fine too.
Networking is not a bad word when approached with the right mindset
The word networking has an “ick” factor associated with it. It seems transactional and impersonal. But it doesn’t have to be that at all. Building personal relationships and having great connections opens up new opportunities and has tremendous long-term value.
Networking is about finding people you really want to get to know and you can potentially help too. When networking is about sharing, learning and helping, it sows the seed for an authentic relationship, one where you mutually want to continue the conversation and want to help one another.
Yes, there will be rejection but take it in stride.
Not everyone can be helpful to you. That is okay. Not every interaction will be positive right at that moment. That is okay too. If you are sincere, enthusiastic and curious and you approach meeting people with that mindset, something will pay off. Many times rejections happen because you haven’t made your case convincingly, or the timing is not right or the person you approached had a bad day. Don’t take it personally.
Taylor got plenty of rejections as did I. It didn’t dissuade us. I crossed paths many times with Jim, who gave me one of my first job rejections. He even asked me for career advice at one point. The road is a long one. Don’t let it stop you from pursuing your goals and from developing relationships with people you meet.
Meet people face-to-face, it makes all the difference
In today’s world, we think we are so well connected because we have hundreds of “friends” and “contacts”. Meeting someone in person, takes a relationship to another level — a more meaningful, memorable and personal level. To really get the most out of any interaction, ask for an in-person meeting.
If you eat, you can meet. My coffee meetings and lunches were generally the most enjoyable and productive. It’s so much easier to say no to someone over email or even on the phone. It’s much easier to get a “yes” when you ask in person. Remember that.
Keep expanding your network so you can give “gifts” too
When someone introduces two people to one another, they are giving each a gift. The more people you know, the more gifts you can give. Introductions will help you expand your network and by sharing, you can expand other people’s network too. Keep giving these gifts of human connections.
Taylor never left a meeting without asking a super important question, “Who else can I meet.” This is how you continue to learn and to grow. Make it a habit to meet new people. Set your own target but 1–2 new people per week is totally doable.
Always show gratitude and follow-up
Relationships are like seeds, they need to be watered and nurtured. This is true for personal as well as professional relationships. Time is valuable and if someone spends time with you, they are giving you a scarce resource of theirs: their time. Always show your appreciation. Say thank you right away in an email or note. It makes you memorable and allows the seed of the relationship to grow. The benefits may not be visible right away, but the road is a long one.
I have so many people in my life who I met early on and have since circled back to in meaningful ways. It’s important to keep nurturing old contacts while making new ones too. Taylor is planting those seeds today. His effort will make them blossom.
Be helpful and have an open mind
Meeting people requires a generous spirit both on the part of the person you are meeting and very importantly on your part too. Do the advance work to see how you can be helpful. Even if you are the one asking for help, offer to help as well. I was so surprised how many times someone I didn’t think could help me, ended up helping me in countless and beautiful ways.
Taylor ended up getting a job that he loves. He continues to meet with people to learn and to grow. He is always happy to help someone who is searching for their path as so many continue to help him along his.
I continue to meet lots of people too. I advise young entrepreneurs and I love giving them access to my contacts for mutual benefit and success. I have found my path and keep finding new people to travel that path with me.
Whenever you feel like pulling in, resist the urge. Reach out. Tap your friends, family and people you know. Go out and meet new people. The more people you meet the luckier you will get. The road is a long one, but the path ahead will be made more enjoyable by those that walk along with you.
About Pat Hedley
If asked for one word to describe her, Pat would say curious. She loves to learn and does so through travel, reading and meeting lots of people. An investor and advisor to growth company entrepreneurs, Pat is founder of The Path Ahead. She is the author of Meet 100 People which encourages us all to meet in person to build the most authentic professional and personal relationships.