This post is part of an illustrous Writer’s Guild called the Western Writers League. The topic for this series was poetry. No, it was networking. Here is what Chris wrote about it. We don’t know what happened to Ryan. Last time I heard from him, he was on a horse.
Teaching at the University, I oftentimes get asked about networking. It seems to be the kind of activity that lots of people have no idea how to approach. (I didn’t.)
It’s like you have never networked before, but everyone tells you how important it is, so now one needs to learn this seemingly very uncomfortable activity.
Scenes from awkward networking events come to mind, ones with me being dressed in some super uncomfortable outfit trying to strike up conversations with people I absolutely can’t relate to.
What do I wear when networking?
Who do I need to network with?
How do I follow up?
At what point is it ok for me to ask for a job?
Valid questions, ones which truly befuddled me when I was a recent grad.
And then I went to my first networking event. It was in LA, some advertising industry mixer. The first guy I met was an Austrian guy roughly my age who had come to America to do a year of public service at the Museum of Tolerance. Mostly we just talked about riding bikes.
His name was Marc and we went on to do an Ironman together, walked the John Muir Trail and oh, I also married him and his wife.
And I never went to another networking event again.
Because I sort of think that networking is bullshit.
But what is the alternative? I mean, isn’t it valuable to have meaningful relationships with people you like who at some point could become mutually beneficial?
Only “network” with people you’d like to be friends with. And then become friends. Go on adventures together. Drink too many beers together from time to time. Run together. Invite them over for dinner. Call them and catch up. Help them move. Do the shit that friends do.
And then be friends. For a year. Two, three, four, five, zehn, fifteen, twenty…you get the point. By the way, one of those words wasn’t in English. Did you catch which one? Duh…
Looking backward I now realize that all my most valuable business relationships (whatever that means) are with people who I consider to be good, scratch that, great friends.
My bosses at Geniuslink are Jesse and Jesse, who I went to both high school and college with. We have been great friends for as long as I have been in this country.
I advise A Hundred Years, run by Marc. Great friends.
Chris runs an agency called Corbin Brands. Together we won a big account a few years back, which we still advise. Before we ever worked together, we fished together. Him better than I. Much better.
Ryan runs Marmoset, an unbelievable music licensing agency in Portland. I help mentor some folks on his marketing team. We have been great friends for over a decade and have gotten into all kinds of trouble together. Mostly Ryan.
Frank runs an industrial feeding manufacturing company in the Midwest. I advise that company with their digital marketing. Last year Frank and I spent a week fly fishing in Wyoming.
Owen runs The Cycling House, the country’s most premiere cycling tourism company. I have been on the board for almost five years now, but it all started with us riding bikes together. By the way, I met Frank on that board.
Tim and Michelle are the founders of R2CGroup, my former employer. They’re by far the most successful couple I’ll ever meet. Most of all, they’re good friends of mine.
Carlyn helps run IdeaMensch. Last I checked, she’s still my girlfriend. No shared adventures yet, but I do love her wiener dog.
The list actually goes on….
So, to summarize, here is why I think networking is bullshit.
It’s trying to build a relationship for the sake of building a relationship, so at some point, it can mutually beneficial. The problem is the everything in between. It’s like hanging out with people you don’t like at all, just in case someday you can help each other move.
Here is what I’d do instead.
1. Build solid relationships with people you actually would want to be friends with. If it’s awkward, you’re doing it wrong. Be yourself at all costs. If you’re not hitting it off, you’re talking to the wrong person.
2. Become friends with those folks. Do the things that friends do together. If you’re ever wondering if it’s time to follow up with your network, go grab a beer with a friend of yours. Or do yoga, whatever floats your boat.
3. Offer to add value whenever you can. Be the first to offer to help them move. Give them advice when they’re looking for it. Be there for them. If you can help, do it.
Rinse, and repeat with however many awesome people can handle having in your life.
And if you think you have enough friends, that’s awesome too. Build great relationships with them.
Ps. There is a saying that you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with. It’s likely true and can really play in your favor if you’re pursuing the lifelong friendships rather than networking strategy.
Ps2. That pic is of Marc and I on Mount Whitney, after walking the entire JMT trail together. Marc is taller than I, but he’s not 6.5 as Carlyn claimed the other day.