There’s always been something really off-putting about the word networking to me. It’s formal and it feels like something you should do as opposed to something you want to do.
It’s not as if I don’t grasp the importance of having one though. I work for a company that offers career advice, after all, and I’m proud of the community I’ve built and am continuing to build. A couple of times a month, I’ll force (see my word choice?) myself to attend networking events. The fact that they’re actually called that tells you everything you need to know.
Often, I’ll connect with someone, and one of us will reach out on LinkedIn or via email to solidify the connection afterwards. This person is then someone I consider to be a part of my network. That’s great! Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong either if you genuinely enjoy attending these types of events. Often, there’s wine (red and white, and free!), cheese, and hummus. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to powerful panels and speakers and, like I said, meeting new people whom I stay in touch with long after the evening has ended.
But when we talk about networking in a limited way like we often do, and when we associate it with these planned engagements, we’re limiting ourselves. Why can’t the friends you have brunch with regularly on Sundays be a part of this sphere? What about the party you attend where you meet several individuals who share a similar interest in, say, travel in Asia or running marathons? If you don’t talk about what you do or what industry you’re in, does it mean that these people aren’t in your network?
Of course not! In fact, the idea is pretty ridiculous when you think about it point blank. And yet, I bet many of us have engaged in conversations and formed new relationships that, because they weren’t founded on the basis of career-talk, don’t make it into what you label as your professional group.
There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t and shouldn’t consider anyone you have a relationship with to be in your professional circle. In The Ascent, Alex Bec, writes about the power of these relationships, and the way that we can view them as being subtly but crucially different.
According to Bec’s understanding, a network equals connected things and a relationship equals the state in which things are connected. Often, the connections come via non-work related topics. Keeping this in mind, do you suddenly see how much stronger yours is? Or how much more meaningful it could be if you allow it to be? Can you suddenly think of a whole more people you can—and should!—email when you’re looking for a new job, trying to get the word out about a side project, or looking to discuss how to handle a tricky co-worker situation?
If you take one thing from this article, take this: Just because you didn’t meet someone through your job or at an industry-related event does not mean that person can’t help you on your career path. And isn’t that the whole point of your network—to form relationships with people who are looking to succeed and are willing to help out others along the way?