Tuesday, October 18, 2011
College and its Effects on Writing, Part 2
Okay, I'm back now. Time to talk about networking.
This is one of those things that, I feel, works out best when you don't realize it's happening. When you think to yourself "man, I suck at networking," I like to think that means you're probably doing it right.
For example: how many people do you know? Think carefully now, and don't just stop with the obvious answers.
Sure, you know your family. You know your close friends, the folks you hang out with all the time and share secrets with. Those are easy. You also know your coworkers, to an extent. And maybe even a few of your classmates, a bit. Those are also fairly obvious. But you also know your teachers and the guys on your sports team and the folks in your gaming group and in that show you were in and at that group you attend and the list goes on.
The list probably stretches into the hundreds if you really take some time to think about it.
Again, though, that's the easy part. Here's where it gets fun: how many of those people do you think would spot you a buck if you asked them to? How many of them do you think would write a letter of recommendation for you? At the very least, how many do you think have a good impression of you?
That's enough. Chances are, someone you know is going to be successful. So yeah, if that's your entire goal behind networking, you're done. Someday.
But let's take it a step further...
Do you realize how many people they know? You know, those people that you know. There's at least one hundred on your list -- even for self-described socially awkward recluses. And unless you've grown up in an extremely isolated community, most of the people on your list probably know at least fifty people that you don't know. More, if you've managed to make friends with a diverse set of people from a variety of backgrounds (yay for multiculturalism!) And, again, chances are that your friends would be willing to, at the very least, put you in touch with the people they know if they thought it would help you. So already we're up to over 5,000 potential contacts, potential sources for work, potential sources for advice, information, a couch to crash on, etc.
That's a big list.
And that's all it takes.
Meet people, make friends, exploit tree of contacts. In the nicest and most mutually respectful way, of course.
So, how does that apply to college?
Simple (and obvious), it FORCES you to meet new people. Oftentimes they're people who are from a different city, or who have different educational backgrounds, or different beliefs, or at least a different job. (I could take a minute to tie this in with the previous installment about challenging the way I think and my preconceived notions and things, and how meeting people who are different me in a mutually respectful manner helps me to grow as a person-*gasp*-but I won't.) So the chances of their networks overlapping with your network (or even each others'), is going to be really, really small.
Unless, of course, you stick with your clique from high school. Don't worry, I'm not going to rant about this one at all. Lips sealed shut.
I will say, however, that this is probably the most important reason why you need to get out and go do things during your first semester on campus. Find other people with similar interests and start looking for the people you want to keep around you. (Again, another topic for another day: peer influences.)
Sorry, back up a bit. Let me rephrase and get back to explaining how college helps networking. And how the best networking happens when you aren't looking.
So I was new on campus. Freshman year and all. I was excited, sure. I was scared, sure. But I was also looking for gamers. I wanted to be playing Magic, and D&D, and all manner of other things that I could get my hands on. (I also wanted to find some writers, but that search proved less fruitful, which is why I'm not talking about it yet.) No sooner had I finished my first week on campus than I had found a dedicated group of Magic the Gathering players meeting in the downstairs lounge (live on campus, people, seriously). I started going to the game nights and simply hung out with these folks.
Meanwhile, of course, I was meeting other people through class and advising and friends and such. So when the time came for me to run a D&D game, I had a healthy crop of eager players to include. (Side note: if you can manage it, run RPG games; DMs have to be good networkers or else they don't have a game, but the job also helps with improving organizational skills and time management and human resource management and communication and public speaking and all kinds of other things.) These folks became my friends for a time. Some of them graduated, others dissipated, the game ended.
So I started another one. My old players who still wanted to play invited new players, I found some others by various means, and we continued playing.
It's a game. That's all we were really doing, playing games. But I would not hesitate to ask any one of the players I've had the pleasure of organizing RPGs and game nights with (with one very notable exception) for a favor as we approach career-era life.
And I would do everything I can to help any one of them succeed in a heartbeat. I like these people, I want to see them do amazing things with their lives. And they seem to like me as well, so I'd like to assume the same for myself.
The main thing I want you to realize at this point is this: I had no idea. I didn't plan out this elaborate scheme to develop trust and respect and friendship among a wide variety of unaffiliated individuals so that I would have a strong network at the end of my college years. Please, I don't possess anywhere near that amount of forethought.
I was just having fun. I was doing the things I enjoy, with people I respect and care about. Much to my surprise, I realized this semester that that's pretty much exactly what networking is about. The good, easy kind at least. The kind that you can count on lasting.
To contrast, I just want to give a quick example from WorldCon.
I feel like I networked really well at WorldCon. Now, I don't have Brandon Sanderson or George Martin's cell phone on my speed dial or anything, but I did get to know a number of really cool individuals who are all driven to succeed in the creative economy (Rachel Litfin, Ed Litfin, Michael Todd Gallowglass, Brian Buhl, Matthew Rotundo, to name a few) as well as get to meet and hang out with a few folks who are already highly successful in their work (Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Eddie Schneider, etc.) That was all very fulfilling and, again, the more effective networking I was doing happened without me initially realizing it.
However, and this is kind of a big deal for me, I had to work really hard to make that happen in such a short amount of time. We're talking a matter of days here, people. I managed to make personal connections with individuals who I hadn't even known existed until I met them in a matter of days -- hours even!
That's a big deal for me, especially when you consider it took me the better part of a year in college to feel comfortable enough organizing an RPG for some folks I had been hanging out with for that entire time.
It required a huge shift in my outlook toward meeting people -- aggressively outgoing instead of patiently reclusive. It was a shift that was helped along by the fantastic tone and community that is present at a WorldCon, but it was still a major shift for me. I think I talked about it a bit during my WorldCon recap posts, but I'm going to reiterate that it was hugely fulfilling and hugely draining, but definitely not something I'd be able to maintain as the norm.
Which is why I much prefer and advocate the friendship approach to networking. (See above.)
Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments below. Please ask for clarifications if any of this has been at all confusing (I do tend to ramble).
Until next time...