Updated: Oct 15, 2020
Hey beautiful soul,
Admit it. The minute your friends bailed on that networking event you all were supposed to attend, I'm sure at least half of you placed your big comfy shirt back over your head as you typed your "no worries, next time!" text. There's also a population of you whose stomach dropped and immediately envisioned a scene where you said something really stupid to someone extremely important. Closer to home, I'm definitely betting that a few of you second-guessed your own RSVP after that harrowing thought. No matter which category you fall under, it gives me great joy to tell you... I've definitely been there.
Though us millennials are all pretty clear on its importance, networking is turning out to be the bane of our professional existence. More than 70% of @lovedbydestiny Instagram poll respondents voted "Yes" to the question, "Are you intimidated by networking?" However, after asking people to complete the prompt "I am intimidated by networking because...," I gathered valuable insight on the reasons behind our anxiety. Here are three repeating themes:
"I'm so shy, feel awkward, and don't know what to say"
"I don't always feel like I have something valuable to share."
"Sometimes I feel like I'm not qualified enough."
These responses assume that we are lacking in some way compared to the person we are talking to, or attempting to talk to. Not to mention, this thought process also assumes that networking is transactional, when at its core, networking is about connecting and we connect using our whole self. I chalk up the discrepancy to the fact that we have been working with some outdated definitions for networking! Last year I made and nurtured three meaningful connections and through their stories, I'm excited to share the lessons that have helped me transcend networking anxiety.
Lesson # 1: Don't cancel the RSVP, challenge yourself to show up as your whole self in the most authentic way possible.
"You have to show up. You can’t build a network without deciding to be present, whether that’s online or offline."
Vicky Ayala, Brand Strategist
How we met: I was in search of a mentor smack in the middle of 2018 and decided to attend a networking event sponsored by Proud to be Latina. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to find someone of my background that could help me navigate the next phase of my professional career, which at the time I thought was writing.
The connector: Vicky complimented the Rose Quartz dangling from my neck which prompted me to ask her about the crystals dangling from her neck. I didn't know what they meant, and instead of pretending I did, to avoid be seen as incompetent, I used my curiosity as a tool. Being honest and authentic served as a gateway to keep the conversation flowing!
The next time you worry about being awkward, remember: Bring your entire self to your next networking event not just your office-self. When you talk to people, don't feel pressured to stick to work-related topics. For example, if Jane says something that reminds you of a show you love, let her know! You'll never know if:
a. Jane also watches the show you're referencing. Boom, more conversation.
b. Jane will want to learn more about the show you're referencing. Look at you being helpful!
Vicky is the mastermind behind my rebranding journey which began shortly after meeting her despite having ZERO intentions to be a blogger. Don't knock a connection simply because it isn't useful to you at the moment! You can check out her beginner-friendly brand strategy mentorship packages here for more information.
Lesson # 2: You are already your best self before you step into a room. Focus on being your truest self, and release the expectation that every interaction is supposed to lead somewhere.
"Networking done with authenticity and reciprocity will always lead to fulfilling relationships."
Minda Harts, CEO & Author of The Memo
How we met: The opening scenario to this blog post was exactly what happened to me on the day of Minda's signature networking event After Six: Career Conversations, which I stumbled upon via Her Agenda. My friends all bailed and my anxiety was like, "What it do, sis?"
The connector: When I don't know anyone in a room, I typically fall back into student mode and spend time absorbing knowledge. Therefore, to connect with Minda I simply learned about her. By practicing active listening and asking thoughtful questions, I was able to not only join the conversation later on, but also learn enough about her to know that she would make a great #MeFirst Series powerhouse - read her profile here!
The next time you worry about being valuable, remember: At the very least, you can learn something about someone that helps you avoid a mistake, learn a lesson, or learn something about yourself. Not every interaction needs to end with a coffee date and a deadline. You don't reap what you sow the day the seeds go in the ground, right? Give it time, but don't forget to grab a business card!
Not only did she co-found The Memo, and helped me secure my own seat at a bunch of events she brought me along to, but her debut book The Memo is out for pre-order! This book is a tool every woman of color should have in her professional toolbox. I already pre-ordered mine!
Lesson # 3: Quality connections beat the quantity of your connections. You've likely made one or two quality connections throughout your life. Put the Instagram post on pause, and make some phone calls!
"Like the tallest trees, our ability to thrive, to persist in all conditions, depends on how we connect. The time, love, and nurturing we give ultimately strengthens us by feeding our community."
Jessica Purcell, EOP Advisor
SUNY New Paltz
How we met: Jessica's face was amongst the first I saw upon arriving to SUNY New Paltz for freshman orientation. She spent the next three years making sure I made it past the homesick stage, took risks via new roles on campus, and most memorably, survived my first D in class.
The connector: Jessica supported me through every uncomfortable experience that unfolds for a first generation college student. We often don't think of these kinds of support systems as part of our network, but they are! Jessica is someone I count on for reference calls because she has actually witnessed my growth over the last 9 years.
The next time you worry about not being qualified, remember: You've probably networked more than you give yourself credit for! Think of all the relationships you've built with school advisors, old professors, old supervisors, managers, or even the lady at the library. Ask them out for coffee, learn about their new ventures, and offer your assistance if you can. When you position yourself as a helpful resource, your name is likely to surface when an opportunity comes across their desk.
If you've ever read Tuesdays with Morrie, then it will make sense when I tell you that Jess is my Morrie and I am unwilling to share her! Just kidding, but not really. You can read more about my favorite Educational Opportunity Program here.
There are plenty other ways to survive a networking event like preparing ahead of time, identifying who you really want to speak to, and considering the ways in which you could be helpful to other people in the room. Some members of our Loved by Destiny community had words of encouragement and #tangibletips to share before your next networking event:
"Remember what you bring to the table, and [don't forget] that you built your own, too!" @lisatalkslove
"Understand that you don't have to know everything, but rather are constantly growing and able to learn." @_genesisalejandra
"Remind yourself that you are a force to be reckoned with and people should hear what you have to say." @krystiesantiago
"Prep a 30-45 second elevator pitch depending on the event." @hoo.lee.eh.ta
The crux of networking is making a connection, whether it stems from the necklace you are wearing, the work you are currently doing, or the growth you've exhibited along the way. It's also worth acknowledging that not every connection you make is meant to flourish, and your inability to connect with someone doesn't make you less than. Luckily there are 7.5 billion other people you can try again with.
You can choose to let networking be the inhibiting factor between where you are and where you want to be, or you can take a calculated risk and execute that 45 second elevator pitch you practiced in the mirror before hopping on the train. Either way, the power to choose is yours. I hope you choose mindfully.
You are loved,
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