I hate small talk. Gab, chatter, formality…I hate it all.
As a result, “networking” is something that I’ve never enjoyed. I prefer a few, deep relationships to numerous, courteous ones. Yet, as I reflect back on my own career, it is the one thing I wish I’d done more of. Here’s why…
Helping is awesome
Your network is not about you. It’s about helping the people you meet.Take the “me” out of the equation, and you’ll find it more enjoyable. Connecting two dots can make a monumental shift in two persons’ lives, and sometimes the world. Had it not been for Bill Fernandez, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak likely wouldn’t have met.
It’s almost a thing of beauty how easy it is to connect people these days. An intro email, a group text…it doesn’t take much. To boot, it’s beneficial to you. Seth Godin tells us that if constantly create value for others in your network, you will never be looking for work.
Climbing the corporate ladder together
In your twenties, you begin with the belief that your career is all about you. It’s largely a product of the education system, where you’re encouraged to get good marks. Yet as you progress into your thirties, a funny thing happens. You see your friends succeeding. The intern you met working for a magazine a decade is now a Senior Editor, and helps you last that big article. The junior trader you used to help out after hours is now a portfolio manager.
Your networking grows because people grow. Your influence grows with the influence of those around you. My old boss used to tell me: spend time with the junior people, because one day they will be senior people.
Community ≠ Networking
It’s important to note that building community and networking are not the same thing. Your community helps to inspire you, to encourage you, and to keep you afloat even when you’re sinking. If networking is hitting the accelerator, community is making sure you always have gas, a destination, and a functioning vehicle.
If you don’t have community, shame on you. Where you live, somebody you don’t know (but could) is doing something awesome. I don’t care if you’re in the middle of Iowa, the Middle East, or Middle Earth, there’s something stirring. Sitting at home leaves you a near-zero percent chance of coming face-to-face with something inspiring or new.
Why you should (sometimes) work for free
Using a framework like the Assets-Skills-Connections framework can be very helpful in making career decisions. Start by assessing yourself on each of these. Which are you strongest in? Weakest?
When the next opportunity comes your way, judge it from each of these angles. If you’re skill- and connection-heavy but asset-poor, you probably need to say yes to the next high-paying gig you encounter (even if you hate it). If you’re asked to cater a dinner party for a really important person in your field, you should probably do it. Even if it’s free.
Each of these (assets, skills and connection) is like a wheel on a tricycle. Figure out which wheel needs repair, and do it!