I arrived at my first CRN meeting and immediately noticed people all around me eagerly engaged in small talk. Not a single familiar face was to be found. I scanned the room, convinced I was the only one feeling alone and exposed. It took every ounce of strength I possessed at that moment to refrain from turning on my heels and leaving.
That’s how my first networking event began, and because of that there almost wasn’t a second. But there I was, trying not to look like a wallflower even though it felt as if “WALLFLOWER!!” was stamped on my forehead in indelible fluorescent ink. Combine that with my usual lack of confidence when it comes to attending networking events, and I was WAY outside my comfort zone.
I did the only thing I could: I scanned the room, took a deep breath, and said hello to a complete stranger. And I tried to act as if it was the most natural thing in the world…even though I’m the owner of the world’s worst poker face.
If you knew me, you’d know how incredibly difficult it was to take that first step. I’m a proud, committed introvert who’s devoted his life to disproving John Donne’s conviction that “no man is an island.” You want me to walk into a room and confidently speak with people I don’t know? I’d sooner try to out-swim a herd of bloodthirsty sharks while wearing concrete swim fins.
I found a way to take that first step into the void. As with many things in life, the first step is the hardest. Once I got past that, it gradually became easier. It might not ever be “easy,” but I forced myself into motion and momentum took over.
Once I took that step, I learned something that’s made networking less stressful. Few people truly feel comfortable while networking. I may never feel completely at ease and thoroughly enjoy networking- at least not in the way I enjoy sitting in a 100-level seat at a Trail Blazers game. It is becoming easier, though. I’m learning how to make small talk (which I’ve never liked), and developing that skill has lead to some very interesting conversations. Who knows where that might lead? I might even surprise myself and find a useful contact or two.
Here’s a couple tips if you’re thinking about coming to a CRN meeting:
- Networking is like any other learned skill: the more you do it, the better you become. Just Do It!
- The key to overcoming fear is to face what frightens you…and then do it.
I know that networking will probably always be stressful for me…but guess what? I’m not alone. I’ve learned that networking challenges most people, and there’s strength to be found in shared suffering. It takes courage to walk into a room and try to strike up conversations with people you’ve never met. I find it comforting to know I’m not alone in that fear. If nothing else works, I can always talk to someone about how nervous I’m feeling. I’ve lost track of how many conversations I’ve started that way, and the odds are good that the response I’ll get is, “Me too.”
I’ve done enough networking to understand that most of my fears have proven to be unfounded. Turns out that when people meet me, they like me. Go figure, eh? You’d think that wouldn’t surprise me, but it invariably does. People enjoy speaking with me. Who could have foreseen that??
Networking has turned out to be one of the best things this committed introvert has forced himself to do. I’ve made a few friends (something that’s never been easy), and I’ve helped a few people even as others have helped me. I’ve learned that networking means meeting people who legitimately want to help others, even as they’re searching for their next opportunity. I’m becoming more comfortable with allowing others to assist me, and I’ve found it to be rewarding to give AND receive.
No one will ever accuse me of being an extrovert, comfortable with glad-handing and making small talk with strangers. A very wise man once told me that it helped him to look at a room full of unfamiliar faces not as strangers but as potential friends. I’ve found that bit of wisdom to be invaluable.
I’m getting better at networking, and I know that in the long run it’s good for me to force myself out of my shell. Who knows? Maybe it will even help me get to where I want to be.