I'm a networker. A people person. I absolutely love meeting new humans, learning their stories, and figuring out how to create something with them. When I took the leap and went full-time with Puke Rainbows 1.5 years ago, I figured I'd have to network my butt off to get clients. So, I did.
Every marketing event. I was there.
I joined committees, a task force, wanted to do ALL THE THINGS!
But, the strangest thing happened.
I didn't get crap for business from those things. And it was a puzzling place I found myself in....networking, yet - my new clients would come from somewhere completely different. Places I didn't expect. Conversations in passing. A reference from an acquaintance.
And that's when I realized, I was stuck in the comfortable networking trap: only attending events focused on my industry, with people I already knew.
Derp. Erica, what in the world were you thinking? The first realization came when I attended Prestige Conference last spring. The crop of folks there were mainly entrepreneurs and developers. I WAS LOST AT FIRST. I didn't understand half of their inside jokes. I felt out of place. Then, I heard them talk about content. My ears perked up. They were speaking about it with LOATHING.
Whaaaa? There are people out there who DON'T like to produce content? I couldn't believe it. I was so used to going to events centered around content and marketing, that I was used to all of us fan girling all over each others content and how much we loved producing new, creative things...that, hearing someone bash what I did, was shocking. Now, does this mean those events you attend with fellow experts in your field are worthless? No, quite the opposite. They are wonderful - when partnered with perspective. And the realization that how other parts of the team feel about projects are just as important as how your team feels about it, when it comes to communication.
So, how do you find these other events? Ask a friend. Open your eyes. The internet is pretty damn cool. This month alone was filled with slightly "uncomfortable" networking on my end. Meaning, I was at an event where I wasn't the expert. Eeeeeeeek. For a perfectionist, type A person - this is a nightmare, I'm telling ya. But, it's humbling. Here is why it's great to network this way:
1. It puts you in the position of student once again.
Asking questions is a very healthy thing. We don't ask as many questions, when we have already read every trade journal or study on the topic.
2. You meet people who work in other industries.
This helps in a way that you can listen to their conversations, and figure out what it is they really need for their careers/businesses. Is there a way your skill set can help? Cool. Is there a way their skill set can help you be more efficient or creative? Definitely possible! When you network with people of all your same background, aren't you just competing for the same folks at those events?
3. You just might learn something new.
This year, I was a speaker at Prestige - the conference that first sparked this idea of uncomfortable networking for me. It was amazing. And, I learned so much! About small business law, estimating, the accounts side of business. I left with not only new networking pals, but a bunch of new facebook friends as well.
4. Outside perspective.
I met with Don Shelby last week for lunch. He's an amazing dude, with more awards and accolades to list. But, we didn't talk about television (the industry we used to work in together). No, we talked about his love for theater. How much fun he's having. How much hard work it is. We talked about being public speakers, and balancing authenticity with expectation. And in the end, when I felt as if I'd contributed nearly nothing to the conversation...he told me, "I always feel inspired after meeting with you. You keep my brain from becoming arthritic. Wicked smart." Which, was pretty incredible - considering I thought I had simply rambled about what I love, but hadn't contributed much to our conversation. His perspective on passion, helped re-light my fire.
5. You see more than what's on the surface for both positions, and people.
This networking theory can also be applied to our personal lives. Or, conversations in our professional lives. The people who hold certain positions, or like certain things socially - may be completely different under the surface. Or, their MOTIVATION for doing the things they love, could be completely different than you imagined.
For example: I had the privilege of working on a project with the lovely Jason Matheson. Jason is a talk show host, and a FORCE. Fierce and clever. I didn't know him well beforehand. But, after a few intimate interviews, I realized that he, too - was bullied as a child like I was. The confident, successful, on air personality became an insta-friend. Suddenly, when you listen to someone's story - your relationship with them changes. You understand each others strengths in a better way, making it easier to become an advocate for each other.
This can also happen in your personal life. All too often, we gravitate towards people who are "like us." Why? Because it keeps things comfortable. Easy conversations. No stress. A lot of smiling/nodding.
I met a lovely human back in December, and was invited to his birthday party this month. To be honest? I was nervous. I'm used to going to parties with people I know. And, to up the anxiety - it was a costume party, in May. FUN, huh? I mean it. Great idea! But, there again - was another layer of fear: what if I was the only one who went all out with a costume? Would people think I'm stupid? What if they chose a board game I didn't understand?
So, what happened?
I had a blast at the party. Met new friends. Who look at things differently than most of my friends do. Refreshing.
And this expanded knowledge base continued, as we spent more time together solo later in the month. Learning all about Ren Fest (I've gone twice, but - he's a performer), and the social importance of Dungeons and Dragons (which, I've never played - but now realize is a wonderful teaching tool for ethics and human interaction). These were topics I'm not used to speaking or learning about, but - more info about both helped me see things very differently, and appreciate the passion and love around these things. In turn, I nerded out about music, and raved about improv comedy, video, and a few of my other passions to him.
In closing, it's important for us to look at our circles of friends, and the events we attend. Are you 100% comfortable while you're there? Then, you might want to add something else to your networking repertoire, or a few other folks with different backgrounds to your circle of friends.
Because the more we learn about others, their needs, their motivations, the more we learn about ourselves.
Thanks for reading!