I have never loved the idea of networking. The idea of attending a formal event designed to persuade strangers that they should help advance your career prospects has never been my ideal night out. Working in graduate recruitment for a number of years meant I had the opportunity to practice a lot of related skills, so I thought I was fairly comfortable with professional socialising and networking.
I was therefore surprised to feel a pang of nervousness at the prospect of attending a networking event solo last month. I didn’t really know anybody else that was attending, but thought it would be a good opportunity to make some new contacts and connect with some (hopefully) familiar faces.
I registered to attend the event with enthusiasm, pleased I was practicing what I preach in terms of reaching out and embracing my extended network. As the event approached, doubt crept in. What if everybody else already knew everyone? What if I ran out of things to say to people?
By the time the event rolled around, I did not want to go. I texted my friend moaning about how it wasn’t fair I had to attend this event with such a high potential for social awkwardness. When she responded reminding me that I didn’t HAVE to go, I was a bit taken aback. I wanted solidarity – for her to agree that it wasn’t fair etc etc. She very helpfully reminded me that nobody was making me go along to the event. I had chosen to sign up, and I was attending mainly for selfish reasons. Why was I being a martyr about it?
I realised I had succumbed to the victim mentality that coach Steve Chandler talks about in many of his books. Chandler talks about our choice to be reactive or proactive with opportunities and challenges life presents to us. He believes that those who take ownership and recognise their ability to choose how to respond to any circumstance or situation generate better results than those who moan and curse external circumstances.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget we all have choices. If we aren’t getting the recognition or progression we want at work, there are tonnes of things we can point the finger at – our bosses, our peers, corporate politics. While these factors may have a huge and direct impact on our circumstances, we can still choose how we respond to all of the above. We can have an honest conversation with our boss, we can look for a new job, we can ask a friend for advice – or we can moan to our peers without taking action.
As a coach it’s not my job to tell you which of these options would be right for you and your circumstances – I’m here to remind you that you always have more choices that you initially recognise. For me considering this networking event, I had forgotten that I had choices – I had chosen to sign up to the event, and I could decide to attend the event, or I could decide to stay on the sofa and watch Netfix.
I could also choose to focus on the risks of attending (social awkwardness, stilted small talk) or I could focus on the potential opportunities from attending (new business, increased confidence, and expanding my network).
As it turns out, I did go, and I was glad that I did. There were some awkward moments, including mishearing the lady on the door and repeatedly spelling out my surname even though she wasn’t asking for it, but I’m pleased I pushed myself to attend. And Netflix was still waiting for me when I got home.
What circumstances have you been complaining about recently that you could choose to respond differently to?
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