This post is dedicated to a dear dear dear friend. You know who. you. are.
This particular friend and I used to constantly have a debate about the purpose of “networking.” Coming from a family who sings hallelujah to business practices, networking is not something I am willing to sweep under the rug. This friend however was not as convinced as me or my dear Professor Stromboli (name modified for the purpose of anonymity) who always said
“your NETWORK is your NET WORTH”
So my love. Here is my rant to convince you that networking really is worth the egotistical, self-indulging, self-glorifying, just plain selfish trouble:
I present three specimens as evidence: (**Cautionary Note – each example will turn in to a tangent, so be brace yourself)
Here I will refer back to Post #1 of Musings of a Globe Jaunt in which I introduced Mr. Chibuzo Ekwekwo from Nigeria who came to speak at the Ashoka office. Immediately after his speech, I spoke with him at length about corruption across the African continent and youth involvement in politics as an avenue for widespread and generational change. When I finished speaking with him, I returned to my desk and sent him a quick email, thanking him for speaking and letting him know that he had made my first day at work extra-awesome. The next day he emailed me back, telling me that he would be happy to give me advice and help whenever or wherever I needed it, here or in Africa. Not only was it
for the both he and I, but I also created a relationship with someone I can call if/when I travel to West Africa, or perhaps someone who might have advice for me on African culture and government regulations that could be beneficial to me in my own business pursuits. Putting my selfish needs aside, he also had the opportunity to talk about himself, his organization of which he was understandably proud, and his country. He was able to pass on knowledge and opinions to me, someone who cares and is prepared to dedicate her future to helping improve situations that he, too is trying to fix. **You see, it’s in his best interests to make the contact as well. Let me tell you:
letting people talk about themselves
is one of the best gifts you can give someone. So yes, while I may have established a beneficial and potential business contact, I was genuinely excited to hear what he had to say and why he thought the things he did.
Plus I made a friend.
I was researching for my business idea the other night, looking for information on social enterprises and microlending. I was bouncing from page to page and I just so happened to land on a blog discussion. I was interested in one blogger’s comment and so I looked up her and her organization, which turned out to be going in a similar direction as the business I want to start. And…get set -à go…she used to work for Ashoka.
SMALL tiny itsy bitsy world.
I checked out her org and emailed her asking her questions about her company Ayllu check it out, she’s working on microfranchising in poor communities as a way to stimulate economic growth, focusing now on Brazil. We ended up talking over the phone for an hour yesterday; she gave me tons of advice on starting my own organization, on social enterprise in general. We discussed the possibility of me going to work with her in Brazil at some point next year, and when she comes to D.C. this summer we are going to meet. I gave her some opinions about her website and blog and its efficiency in relation to her mission. It was a great opportunity for me to hear about the challenges of starting something new, to hear someone tell me not to get discouraged, to never give up. And it was a great opportunity for her to spread awareness of her startup.
Plus I made a friend.
Let me preface.
The vibe in D.C. sucks. It’s nothing compared to California. In Cali people smile and say hi to each other and smile as the walk past people on the streets. I talk to everyone in LA. I talk to nobody in D.C. On the subway people sit in their corner and live in their newspapers/iPods/books/own worlds, with this shivery icky grimace. It’s so sad because all I want to do is know all their stories and their thoughts, but of course, they are scary so I am scared.
But finally, on the subway, I got to talk to somebody. He was wearing a Peace Corps shirt and stood right next to me, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to just ask if he had been in the Peace Corps. Sure enough, he told me his story and his experience in the Peace Corps, the advantages and disadvantages, his experiences after coming home. He worked for the Peace Corps after coming home and told me that if I had more questions I could always feel free to contact him.
**Peace Corps volunteers are contacts that I can’t make enough of; I really want to hear all the different experiences both good and bad, so I can make the right decision as to whether or not it is something I want to pursue after school.
Plus I made a friend.
I have not met this person yet, but I will later on in the summer, hence, expanding my network. The discussion relating to this person is interesting. So I thought I would write about it. It has nothing to do with networking really. But who cares.
So this guy’s organization works to fight violence in urban cities using a BOTTOM-UP strategy. He gets ex-felons/ex-gang members to mediate violence and stop shootings before they happen by calming down potential suspects and dissuading them from pulling their gun. Think “Minority Report” but subtract Tom Cruise and add Crips and Bloods.
So the worthwhile discussion, I think, is about this strategy compared to a more stringent law enforcement strategy. In New York, they reduced crime by flooding the city with police officers and lengthening prison sentences. Perhaps this works. I’m not the expert. But the results my sub-specimen man has had in other cities are staggering enough to consider an alternative. Is violence behavioral? Can you address the “epidemic” of violence as you would a disease, and change the societal norms as a way to stop its spread, just like smoking or aids. You can’t cure lung cancer and you probably can’t eradicate cigarettes, but can you get people to stop smoking? You can’t cure AIDS, but can you get people to wear condoms?
I don’t want this to be a discussion about gun control, cause it’s not. It’s a question of how we address societal problems as a community. The ex-felons and ex-gang members are street-smart, they can identify with criminals and communicate with them on a level a police officer cannot. So the question is:
Is society composed of good guys and bad guys? Or is it composed of just people, some with healthy behavior and others with unhealthy behavior? Do we isolate people, or find a way to incorporate them into society.
Back to networking/networthing.
My point is this.
Yes, networking is ultimately motivated by selfish desires. But let’s look at any good deed, any charity work. Why do you do it? Yes you want to help people but still
Because you want to feel good about yourself. You want to feel as though you made some kind of positive mark on the world. You want to give back because of all the things the world gave you. Maybe you want to go to Heaven or the afterlife or whatever that may be for you.
**Notice all instances of the word YOU.
*Write a paragraph on the psychological root of charity work without the word “I” or “You” and I’ll give you twenty bucks. And I’m basically broke. I digress.
I’m not saying these are the only reasons for being a good person. I believe that some people really do feel a genuine passion and love for others that drives the pursuit of good works, I know I feel that way. But I will also admit that a some of my drive comes from the guilt about how fortunate I am, and the need to feel as though I leave the world better than I came into it.
Then, maybe being selfish is not really all that bad if it makes you a good person.
So Networking. Specimen A, B, and C each had their individual benefits, but they had one small string in common did you catch it?
I made a friend.
I had human interaction. I challenged my mind and I opened myself up to somebody else’s thoughts, opinions, experiences. Whether selfish or not, we all want to be, or at least should want to be full of knowledge, full of experiences, full of life. People are life and the more people we know/interact with/love/argue with/sing with/dance with/exchange business cards with…the better people we are.
That’s my argument. It comes down to a sociological and psychological push for creating a community that can benefit from each other in many different ways. Would you rather live alone, depend on yourself for everything? No,
Let’s examine personal relationship for just a moment. We take advantage of the benefits of the people in our lives whether for business purposes or not: Why do we have romantic partners and friends? Is it a purely unselfish state of being with another person. Heck no. We use our friends/spouses/girlfriends/boyfriends for companionship, money, sex, advice, power, validation, attention, summer homes, jobs, whatever else. So you see: I am selfish. We are selfish. You are selfish.
Deal with it.
Having contacts, knowing people, being able to call friends in Nigeria, Brussels, and New Zealand, New York City, these aren’t bad things. Now we don’t’ want to use people and toss them on the back porch,
But it’s ok to have relationships that are mutually beneficial. Even if perhaps Chibuzo can’t get that much out of me now, who knows? Maybe in 5 years I’ll have an organization or have a contact he needs to help further his own organization.
So I conclude ———— Your Network really is your NetWorth. Not just in the business sense, but also in the intellectual, stimulating, experiential, sociological, community, psychological, intelligence, life, person, everything sense. The people you know and the experiences you have with those people make you who you are.
They make life worth it.