There’s a reason many people cringe when they talk about “networking.”
It generally evokes an image of strangers standing around, sipping warm chardonnay, and awkwardly exchanging business cards for what feels like hours. And as you probably know all too well, this dusty, old-school networking rarely results in meaningful connections—just a cheap wine hangover.
So, why do we keep going? Because you never know who you’ll meet. And no, I don’t mean you might meet a leader at your dream company who happens to be hiring. Rather, I mean that you could meet someone who you truly click with, someone who becomes a real friend. As the math goes, the more real friends you have, the more people you’ll have in your corner.
No, don’t worry, this isn’t an article full of cheesy quotes. It’s an article about how a bad wine mixer led to an amazing career opportunity.
When I was a young reporter, a bunch of journalists would get together for something called the Press Club. A woman named Laurel Touby, who was always wearing a pink boa, created this community for freelancers, writers, editors, and reporters to hang out and have cocktails. Like so many “networking” events, it sounded promising—but rarely led to anything worthwhile.
But, as it turned out, Laurel and I lived near each other, and we became friendly—running into each other at the gym or the coffee shop.
Over iced lattes one day, I suggested that she put the Press Club online. I was running an indie website as a side hustle and I offered to help her make that happen. It wasn’t a ton of work—a few meetings, a couple of after-hours emails. I was truly just happy to help.
Before long, the little Press Club meetings went online, became Mediabistro, and eventually sold to a big company for a fortune. I was thrilled to have been there at the beginning of her career and to have played some small part in launching her massive business.
Fast forward to two years later when Hearst Magazines wanted to launch a new teen magazine—CosmoGIRL! Laurel heard about the openings, thought it’d be a perfect fit for me, and offered to make the introduction. Long story short, I landed the job. It was an amazing opportunity to shape a new magazine. And it was there that I first realized how meaningful it could be to talk to young women about the complex emotions around growing into who you’re meant to be. (A realization that’s helped guide my career choices ever since.)
That’s how networking should actually work. I didn’t get recommended for the job because of a quick connection I made over watered-down drinks at some industry event. This transaction happened because we’d developed a real relationship and we trusted each other—making it a no-brainer to give each other a boost when opportunities popped up.
Back when we first met, we could’ve sized each other up and determined that neither of us had anything to offer the other person in the moment. We would’ve exchanged business cards, said casual “Hellos” when we bumped into each other in the future, and that would’ve been that. Instead, we saw something in the other person—no, not job leads—the potential for a friendship based on how much we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.
When you forget about getting a connection or a lead from someone and instead align yourself with people you think are doing fun, interesting, dynamic things, suddenly the stress of networking disappears. Events are no longer three-hour chances to meet the person who will change your life, but rather a way to see who you’d like to get drinks again with in the future. Because you never know where those next drinks will lead and if years down the road, you’ll be able to help each other in ways you can’t even imagine now.
Ann Shoket is the author of the new book, The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be. Let her know how you’re embracing the big life on Twitter.