Uggghhhhh, whose idea was this?!
Who was the first person to suggest that putting on a suit, gathering together in a room full of strangers, making frustrating small talk and passing out pieces of paper with our names on it was the way to get ahead in life? They must have been some unimaginative, pretentious egomaniac that wanted a chance to be seen while simultaneously pissing off the introverts…like me. They’re sadists. I’m convinced. It’s the only logical explanation.
I can imagine that after their first “hey-everyone-look-at-me” networking event, they said, “Yes, this is the only way to meet people and get ahead in the world! Everyone, follow my lead!” So they did, because no one wanted to hurt his feelings. And it just kinda stuck.
So here I am today. Signing up to attend many an after work mixer, conference or fundraiser, walking up to random strangers hoping that I don’t say something too nerdy or down-to-earth to make them recoil into their dry martinis.
Don’t get me wrong. I do like meeting interesting, receptive people from different walks of life, with whom I can build a personal and professional connections. My inner hippie is totally into all that. My inner over achiever is all for the connects.
I’m just not a fan of networking in the traditional, boring sense. It’s just so damn tedious and awkward! If networking felt more like recess than work with cocktails, I’d probably do it more often. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go like that. In reality, I attempt to make small talk and it goes down-hill once the other person realizes that I have a personality. So they shut down, afraid someone will see us having fun and whisk us off to be flogged out back.
Very rarely are people at these events showing you their true faces – the interesting ones they wear for their friends and family. They’re showing you the one that they wear in the conference rooms in order to appear accomplished and to be taken seriously.
They hide behind the same, bland mask that everyone receives on their first day at the office, wearing it almost constantly until it welds onto their faces. They don’t know what, outside of their corporate training, they should say or do in real life. So, by the time I get to them and try to have a human conversation, we get to this awkward silence and eventually drift to opposite corners of the room.
If the awkward silence isn’t enough to send me running top speed toward the door with Jimi Hendrix in my head singing “There must be some kind of way out of here!”, then it’s the moments when I get stuck with someone that really rubs me the wrong way, like that person that goes on and on about what they do and only ask what you do to see if they do something more difficult, just to make themselves look good. Honestly, sir, I don’t care that you just acquired a multi-million dollar account for your firm’s portfolio, I really don’t. Tell me instead what your inner college student likes to do. Are they still in there, hellooooo?! Let’s talk to them, because they’re probably the last person in there that was truly inspired or had anything interesting to say before your profession sucked it out of you.
Then there are the people that act like they’re better than you no matter what you do. You go to say hello, and they smirk at you like “Oh, hello there, underling! How might you entertain me with your insignificance today?” Then I excuse myself before I tell them to go choke on an hors d’oeuvre.
Recently, I read a book aptly titled I Hate Networking by Kyle Eschenroeder, and the world suddenly got warmer and more hopeful. You hate networking?! “Why, yes, so do I!” my little heart fluttered as I quickly downloaded and devoured every word. (For free.99 on Amazon Kindle. Woohoo!) I couldn’t believe it! You mean, there are other grown-ups that don’t like doing the robotic, awkward dance that all the other grownups in suits are doing either?! So I’m not just being anti-social or cynical?! Lovely! 😀
Because I was sick of pretending.
In this book, they talked about the importance of meeting lots of people to find and focus on the ones – preferably in the industry of your choice – with which you can build friendships or quality connections, and then work together in a professional manner to get certain goals accomplished for yourself and others. Put this way, it sounds way better and makes a hell of a lot more sense. Besides, I’d been doing this since undergrad! So, I was doing something right!
The book also emphasized the importance of being yourself, quirks and all. You attract the right people when you’re authentically you. There are no surprises for your new friends, and they’ll more than likely appreciate you more for your honesty. It’ll also keep these relationships interesting. Essentially, you avoid the waste of time and energy that it takes to juggle a ton of shallow connections and find the ones that actually work well. It also cuts out the redundant, showy, superficial corporate mating dance that we do just to know the “right people”.
This book reminded me that the way we network today might be a bit stale, and that it’s good to spice things up and be original. I’ve always felt in my gut that it was good to be different, anyway. I guess it’s just good to hear someone else say it. Yes, someone else gets it!
I will continue to look for interesting people and not feel bad for being picky about working mostly with people that I connect well with. Hell, why not? Reading this book made me feel better about my common-sense approach to networking, and I don’t feel so awkward about it anymore. We’ll see how the next event goes.