What Networking and Your College Room mate have in Common

Allow me to start by asking you whether you’ve been approached before for some “change” by someone at random. Maybe they needed it to call someone, or buy a meal or perhaps gather enough for a bus or train ticket.

Has that ever happened to you?

Here is where it gets interesting, can you remember the thought(s) that was/were running through your head at the time? Do you recall how you felt when you were asked? And if this happened to you more than once, how many times did you actually have change in your pocket?

Its important to preface this next bit with the disclaimer that everyone is different and these scenarios often times bring out the best or worst in people, our goal is to simply focus on the emotional psychology that most people go through before they even make the decision to offer or withhold change.

I went to school in downtown Toronto and this scenario has often occurred several times in a single day for me – my initial reaction was fear, I wasn’t sure if the man was asking or demanding but as time went on and I began to experience it more often – I honestly can’t say that I have become “use to it”.

It’s deeply troubling when you see a person that is in apparent need, so it wasn’t “easy” to just walk by even if they didn’t really “need it”.

But consistently and in every case, I felt uncomfortable.

I worked evenings and weekends to finance my education, and when I didn’t I was studying as hard as I could to excel in it. It wasn’t easy – it was brutal! It was hard, and it hurt like hell. I knew that the road will be tough, I knew it would be hard but I was brave enough accept the challenge.

So every time I passed by a person asking for “spare change” I felt like they wanted the end result of my sacrifices. I was also very distressed and bothered by the fact that they really didn’t care who I was, they just wanted the spare change. They didn’t really care if they got it from me, an 80-year old lady on disability or an 8 year old girl who just dropped her allowance money – they just wanted the end result – the change.

At no point did we mention that this “person in need” is of a specific type in society, this could be the man on the corner of Yonge & Dundas or your college roommate who is asking for money. I did this for a reason – the person asking for change is of little relevance, what’s important is how the person being asked feels when this is happening.

…Why?

Because if we understand how asking people for something, without knowing them, working with them and establishing a relationship with them, can make them feel then, perhaps we can be better at …Networking.

I hope I haven’t lost you.

Networking in a professional setting is where a bunch of people, diverse in professional and cultural backgrounds get together for the goal of building and expanding their network of professional relationships.

People who do not know one another, have not worked with each other, and do not have any existing relationships or ties.

Networking events were always a hotbed for professionals seeking opportunities. Even in corporations today, internal networking events or sessions are often (but not always) frequented by those who “want-something-from-somebody” and see it as an opportunity to “get close” and “go in for the kill”.

Now whether you are new grad attending a networking session in hopes of pitching yourself as a strong candidate for a new role or an existing employee hoping get face time with a senior executive to market a question or an idea or even a concern. I want you to think about the feelings that are generated when complete strangers ask you for something. First impressions are extremely valuable, because they will be the ones that determine whether you will be remembered after you turn around and walk away.

My personal success at networking has always come from my desire to know more about the person I’m networking with, to understand them a little better and to perhaps get a view into what drives them, what keeps them moving. I don’t do this as part of an illicit scheme or strategy, I do this because I genuinely care about understanding the person I’m networking with and more importantly taking an interest in them.

When you take an interest in people, something strange happens – they start to take an interest in you. It’s in this special phase of the networking relationship that people start to help each other – it’s because they begin to care. You no longer become someone seeking a service, or a favour. You no longer become a person seeking to cash in on their years of service that have gotten them to where they are today, and perhaps more importantly, you become the type of person that cared enough to seek a connection when you didn’t necessarily require or need anything. That my friend is rare! It is sadly rare.

So my advice is to keep networking, keep smiling, keep building connections and keep taking an interest in others and learn to enjoy this process even if you don’t tangibly benefit because by doing so you are establishing yourself as a very rare commodity in today’s world of business – and rare commodities tend to have very high value.

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Learning to fail properly

Thomas Edison is a great inventor and an important figure in our history. Remarkably, his greatest asset (beyond innovation) was how he viewed failure.

Its been said that in his attempt to create the incandescent light bulb he experienced close to 10,000 failed experiments. Half way through his attempts to innovate this “miracle” light source, the local newspaper decided to write a satirical piece about Mr. Edison in an effort to depict him as the wacky and perhaps senile man whose failures to that point (close to 5,000 failed attempts at the time) have taught him nothing!

The local journalist asks Mr. Edison “After failing to create your incandescent light bulb 5,000 times, at what point will you realize that this innovation is simply an impossibility”

Mr. Edison responds in what perhaps is the most telling statement about his attitude to failure “Oh but you are mistaken Sir, I have not failed 5,000 times for I have discovered 5,000 ways in which the incandescent light bulb does not work!”

To Mr. Edison failure was a critical part of innovation because he viewed his failures as discoveries! They did not discourage him, de-motivate him or cause him to quit – this is evident by the remarkable number of failures he incurred not only in creating the light bulb but in every other innovation he had made from the Electrographic vote recorder, to the motion picture.

Thomas Edison knew how to fail properly. He understood how absolutely essential it was to fail, he accepted it, he embraced it but most of all he made sure that every failure was a stepping stone towards greatest.

We’ve all experienced failure at some point in our lives but the most telling trait about you is how you’ve responded to those failures.

Some of us are so adverse to failure that they are not willing to try anything or risk anything that might lead to failure. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” J.K. Rowling

I was one of those people, I felt that my life will only be defined by the successes that I gain and soiled by the failures I experience. I soon found myself doing nothing. I was not challenging myself; I was not growing or developing my capabilities. I simply existed day-to-day, taking refuge in my false sense of “success”. The key here is that I was not challenging myself.

To challenge yourself is to grow, and to grow is to fail! This is an inevitable reality, this is what Thomas Edison understood so well, failure is a basic and fundamental ingredient to success.

This principal is so important to understand because it applies to every part of your life both personally and professionally.

I have made a habit out of asking to be assigned to the toughest and hardest projects at work – projects that others were running away from! I can tell you for certain that there have been many times where I experienced failure, but I did not fail, I grew in ways that surprised even myself!

Never give up on yourself, keep pushing, keep battling! It’s not easy but the best things in life never are. You never know, maybe one day you’ll find yourself in the company of Success … but only if you hang on long enough!

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” Thomas Edison.