I semi-recently moved to New York City, and am slowing pushing myself into the realm of “networking.” I’ve been working as a freelance producer since I was 24, and I’m currently looking for a more-consistent-less-hustle lifestyle. Which means I need to meet people who have “real jobs” and figure out what they do and how they do it.
I have to be honest: the very idea of “networking” makes me cringe.
Perhaps it’s the corporate parlance. I’m a natural connector, and completely agree with the idea of meeting people. Yes, I think, build human relationships! “Networking” however, adds a commercial tinge to the process that disturbs me. It’s like replacing a barter culture with money – it just feels dirty, even if the idea is similar. That said, I’m new to this city, and I don’t know everyone, and I’d particularly like to meet women mentors in my field, but I don’t know many.
Here’s a partial list of the things of things I’ve learned:
People who online date are probably way better at this than me. Which is to say, networking is a specific and artful form of modern human interaction that has two avenues: quantity or quality. I prefer to focus on a single point of similarity with folks in the room (“Nice scarf!”, “I overheard you talking about…”) choose to initiate a conversation (the Bumble path) versus pitching myself to anyone who will listen (the Tinder path).
Be gentle and be human. Humans are awkward, and networking is about socializing ourselves to others. I find myself truly listening and giving authentic feedback to people, especially the folks who take a deep breathe and give me their “pitch” at the beginning of a conversation. If we’re going to talk, it may as well be useful and honest.
Drink. I went through all the pros and cons at a recent Be Social Change mixer so you don’t have to. It went something like: 1 – Should I drink wine or will people think I’m an alcoholic? 2- I really want red wine but that will stain my lips 3 – I’ll take the white but honestly, red wine drinkers are way cooler than white, and I’m authentically a red wine drinker 4 – Fuck it, I’ll take both, it’s free right? 5 – Taste test both, discreetly discard other, and return for the winner. Wine makes everything easier.
It’s like high school. Stop hyperventilating and pick your crew. I went to a Vice event last night, and it was great, but everyone was super cool, and I had flashbacks to high school. I may be being relatively cool and smart, but I never really felt like I fit in. But guess where I was most comfortable? With the teachers. So I listened to the speakers, who had authority and weight, and I talked to them after. It was like spending lunch with Mr. O’Donnell. Way more easy and effective for me, plus closer to the sort of connections I want (re: older female mentors).
Just do it. I once spent literally 25 of 45 minutes listening to some dude on a microphone talking about joining his networking organization, which would have been more likely if the event was not just about telling people to join his organization. But I got a free water bottle, and may have found a friend. Other times I’ve found myself so confused about how to talk about myself that I’m glad I had the opportunity to realize I need to clarify some things. Again – it’s worth it – but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect.
Remember: Networking is a thing. It’s not that you’re bad at it – it’s that it’s a culture and a specific form of interaction, and the best way to get better at it is to try it. Go forth! Find your people. And drink the wine in the meantime.