At least once a week, when I emphasize the importance of networking to career transition, a solo business client elicits anything from a barely perceptible wince to an outright scoff. I usually share my antipathy for the word, “networking,” and help them think of it as a way to expand their circle with people they would like to spend more time.
Honestly, I am not sure if my disaffection for the word has more to do with the fact that it can seem nakedly self-serving to outwardly seek out people who can further our agendas. Maybe, it's that the word "networking" seems mechanical, as if we are all computers that need to be plugged into one another to communicate. It seems removed from the essence of the thing that it is attempting to describe – a way to reach out to others whom we can converse easily, share resources, and build meaningful friendships over coffee.
Since we tend to want to help people we like, the natural consequence of expanding our sphere is that more people will be looking out for you. If networking seems inauthentic, it doesn’t have to. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Your network should be filled with people who share your values, care about the same things, and inspire your desire to return the favor.
Perhaps networking seems distasteful as well because we think of friendships and valued relationships as something that happen spontaneously. Even if we have met some of our closest contacts at networking events, we still think of them as people whom we were meant to know. They fulfill a place in our lives because they belong there. We don’t like to think of friends as people we sought out to unscrupulously advance our careers or grow our LinkedIn to the All-Star status.
If the thought of networking makes you want to hide under a table, I invite you to reconsider. Below are a few ways to not just soften the experience but consider it as something you might eagerly anticipate:
Look for events about things you care about. For instance, the B Corps Luncheon hosted by B Local PDX is perfect for people who love social entrepreneurship.
Start your own meetup or small group focused on something you love, whether it’s motivational interviewing, exploring mindfulness meditation, or mountain biking on Sunday mornings. In the midst of writing this in a coffeehouse, a quick hello to a friend prompted a conversation about the Great Decisions groups that people are starting to discuss world affairs in small gatherings – you could start one of your own if small talk is really not your thing.
Consider less formal events that are geared around your interests, like art classes, recreation classes at REI, a Wordpress workshop at CanvasHost, or one of the Vision Board Brunches or Half-Day Writing Retreats offered at Brightside.
Consider extended classes at a community college or extended study programs offered by universities, like the Business of Craft Brewing Certificate at PSU. These are perfect for bookish introverts who tend to bond with other people who like to dive deeply into certain topics.
Seek out professional development groups that are mission-driven or focused on a certain industry, like the Oregon Counseling Association or PDXWIT.
Offer to serve on a board for a nonprofit or school or a government entity, like the Oregon Arts Commission.
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