One of the biggest lessons I learnt in DC was that networking is important and really, the ‘real’ way to get around in this world. By the end of the program, I had distribute few (I was but an intern after all) but collected many business cards from people that I met at various events. Undoubtedly, the development of this particular skill enabled me to come out of my shell and really have no fear in getting to know people that I have never met before. I don’t insert myself into conversations at whim but rather, latch onto some sort of commonality between the to-be speaker and I/provide a (must be genuine) compliment. Men are a bit easier to speak to but that’s because I’m mainly around men during my free time (climbing and all…no, not that kind of climbing, rock climbing damn it). Women, well, usually there’s a familiarity sisterhood thing going for us but sometimes, oddly and unfortunately, we view our fellow woman as competition. But all that is a whole different discussion.
I certainly would not have met as many people as I did during my travels and even during my time here if I didn’t know how to ‘network’. Granted, I find myself much more comfortable speaking to people unofficially, say the person who’s in line with me at the grocery store or reading an interesting book at the coffee shop. No I’m (most likely) not hitting on you! Rather, I love hearing people’s stories. I think it’s a way we as people connect and learn from one another. Now…how does all this connect to this concept of ‘networking’?
As aforementioned, networking is one of those things that is pounded into our heads about how important it is. Yet I wonder, does that then create this mindset that we should get to know people with the understanding that we only really care about meeting these people so that we can use them to further our own professional objectives? With approximately a month left in my program in DC, I became very disenchanted with this idea. I saw it everywhere. I, myself, cannot be counted as innocent of this mindset. However, I truly resent it.
The good friends that I met throughout my education and into my career are first and foremost good friends. On some level, we all recognize the career status most of us have achieved and continue towards; that in the future, if our careers continue to build and grow, that we will be in certain positions of dare I say it? power. That through our shared experiences as students and young professionals and through our friendships, we have inadvertently created a professional network. At the present time and in the future, we will be/continue to be in positions to help one another. But let me emphasize this, our friendship comes first; if they don’t, they should. These friendships were not built upon the idea that we could ‘use’ one another but really, built on the general principles that define the concept of friendship that apply to everyone, even the little ones (well, okay, we may not be building forts out of blankets together..but you know). It aggravates me when I see some of my friendships slip into the ‘let’s use one another’ side of things. I absolutely loathe it.
I just recently joined LinkedIn; honestly, I think it’s a great tool to remain connected with the people that I met during my time abroad and otherwise. Although I am still in touch with my friends on a personal level, it’s also great to see how they are doing professionally as many of us are on the same boat. However, we must not forget the human side of our friendships, regardless of where they may have sprung from. That first and foremost, our friends are exactly that, our friends. If we fall into the idea of using one another and leave our ‘friendship’ at that, we are only building grounds for the ‘dog-eat-dog’ approach to the development of our careers. My fantastic mentor, MO, truly demonstrated to me that building genuine relationships with people and treating them with respect and care is a very viable way to build one’s career; just because you care, doesn’t automatically mean you’re incompetent. This is perhaps a wee bit extreme, but I hope it was thought provoking.