Who do you know?
Friends, family, colleagues, fellow university alumni, that person you met last night. How broad is your network of human connections? Do your connections have strong connections? How well do you keep up with that network?
I moved to Charleston, South Carolina with the intent of staying in the area for a while. When I moved to town, I wouldn’t have claimed to know a single person in the lowcountry well. Over the past year, I made a conscious effort to broaden my network, both getting to know a wide diversity of people and getting a wide diversity of people to know me. This has led me to become quite used to the idea of organized networking, but I still find myself on occasion being reminded of how totally bizarre the activity of “networking” actually is. Think about it. People go out of their way, usually to some central bar, restaurant, rooftop, or outdoor venue just to walk around, shake hands, tell the same story of your background and future interests over and over again hoping that one of the people you cross paths with will have some common interest or background or even better, be pursuing someone who fits your profile. Why do we do this? What, I believe, allows this odd concept to persist is that story we’ve all heard about the friend of a colleague’s sister’s roommate finding his dream job or next seed investor or love of his life through a connection they made at one of these types of events. And that little nugget of possibility leads us all to attend hoping for similar self-advancing outcomes.
That’s what I’ve told myself at least. You just never know. You just never know who will be there, who you’ll meet. But after living in Charleston for more than a year and going to as many of these events as possible, I’ve started to see consistent repetition in the sort of people, places, and conversations that occur around the Charleston area. I now go to these various events literally most nights of the week. There is a wide range from the more formal business networking to the more casual sharing drinks and getting to know each other, but they all exist for people to broaden their networks of connections. In the past couple weeks, I’ve been to a Charleston Young Professionals event, Tech After Five, a Millennials Mixer Meetup, I’m in a bocce ball league organized through Chucktown Social, I ran an alumni event for my grad school, a Young Adults of Charleston Meetup, a Clemson Lowcountry Dinner Club event, and participated in a Product Group Meetup. And those are all just during weekdays. Over the past couple quarters, I’ve started to see many repeat faces at all these events, and there has now developed a sort of “regulars” crew that make plans to attend these events independently but end up running into each other multiple times a week. Is that good or bad? If the point of going to these events is to meet new people, do repeated “hey, how have you been?” conversations start to imply that the original purpose is being lost?
My business background and budgeting consciousness has lead to me wondering what the return on the investment of all that time and all those beverages truly has been. I’ve met may people through these events that I now consider good friends, but it has not lead yet to any sort of notable lifestyle advancement, other than being far busier, I suppose.
But I guess that’s exactly the point. Latent possibility combined with persistent uncertainty. You simply never know when someone who knows your name and is familiar with your background will introduce you to a connection of there’s and change your life. So while I still consider myself relatively new to the area and still see huge possible upsides to knowing the right people, I will continue going to these many networking events, introducing myself, shaking hands, trying to explain what Product Management at Blackbaud is, giving the highest level hint of my international background, and then asking, “how about you?”