On Networking

Hey, everyone. Not dead, just incredibly busy doing things that will come to light next month and dealing with the gross(!) basic unfairness of two colds in one month. Plus holidays. Last night, I took to Facebook to post what I thought would be a random, short observation. It got big. People seem to find it helpful. So I’m sharing it here too. Hope to be back more regularly soon.

Right now, I’m working on two things that are incredibly ambitious. There is a a pretty good chance that I’ll manage to pull them both off, though neither is certain by any means. If I do, I will have succeeded in no small part because I am networked with a ridiculous number of skilled, passionate, and generous people. Chances are good that if you’ve just gotten to know me in the past few years, that network is one of the things you associate with me when you think of me. Chances are also good that you find the idea of networking intimidating, because some very large percentage of people do, and that percentage is higher in introverts, which describes a large chunk of my friend list.

Here’s what you need to know: This feels very foreign to me too. It is not “natural” to me in any way. This isn’t how I think of myself, though I’m trying to change that, because I’d like my self-image to be accurate now and again.

I was a pathologically shy child. By that, I mean that I would hide behind my mother rather than talk to the next-door neighbor who had been there all my life. I still remember a nightmare of being stuck with a stranger at a party. I endured humiliation rather than raise my hand in kindergarten. People looking at me made me want to run away. I didn’t play reindeer games, but it was by my own choice.

I think the first time I introduced myself to someone I didn’t know was the first day of seventh grade when our social studies/homeroom teacher told us to turn to the person next to us and meet them. (Several elementary schools fed our junior high.) I got incredibly lucky that the person I chose was, not “cool”, but incredibly cool and one of my best friends for the next five years. Meeting other good people without her would have been painful. Something similar is true for many of the friends I’ve made since too. I’ve had the good fortune to fall in with good crowds, because I wouldn’t have met these people otherwise.

I managed to lose much of the anxiety over time as my mental health improved generally. The self-consciousness started to unravel when I read(?) somewhere that it’s arrogant to think people are paying that much attention to you. (That approach probably would have pissed me off if I hadn’t been conditioned to abuse, but there it is.) Still, meeting people and getting to know them remained incredibly difficult work. When I say that, I mean hours to days of mental rehearsal and getting comfortable with the idea.

Then I started doing more activism. To get things done, I couldn’t afford all the lead-up time for an introduction. So I used my background in theater to pretend to myself and the world that I didn’t need it. Eventually, I pretended well enough and long enough that I really didn’t. I won’t say I’m terribly comfortable introducing myself to someone, but I’ve learned how to do it without overthinking it or stressing about it.

The result is that I know an amazing number of amazing people doing amazing work. Sometimes they help me get things done. Sometimes I help them. Sometimes I get to do some of it with them. Sometimes we just get to talk to each other about getting things done, which is fun in its own right. Sometimes–and this is some of the most fun–I get to play activist matchmaker and introduce other people who go off and make cool things happen.

So there you go. Networking: not something that just people who are naturally good at it do and enjoy.

On Networking
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2 thoughts on “On Networking

  1. 2

    Ah, it’s good to hear that you are not dead. (Yes, Al Dente, even if it’s false.)

    I still remember a nightmare of being stuck with a stranger at a party.

    I found an amazingly good solution: I just don’t go to parties … except when I really, really have to. It’s a solution which works, I swear! (What a genius I must be to think of something so workable and simple!)

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