As our “new normal” called life continues, I’m reminded of a time in my career when I was very much in my shell and content with where I was at in life.  I didn’t want to take risks at the time because I didn’t see any value in the future prospects of these efforts.  I was in a well-paying job and had many skills that I had learned over time.  Things couldn’t have been any better or so I thought…..

There are times in our careers where sometimes we feel stalled or that we know it all.  What was happening to me at the time wasn’t a stalled career, it was that I felt that I had met my pinnacle career moment.  I felt established in the career I had and didn’t think that I had to learn any more.  Reality soon set in when I was laid off from that comfortable job with lots of promise and what I had perceived as a top-notch career for me.  This was an extremely challenging time for me as I had been in the professional working world for around seven years at that time.  I struggled day by day to both get the nerve to apply for positions, interview, and then repeat this cycle.  I was only out of work for two months, but this experience taught me a lesson I had never imagined would have come out of this grueling experience.  The lesson I learned was the power of networking.

I was not a great networker at the time of this layoff situation and although I had a LinkedIn profile, it was not enough to keep me relevant in the ever-changing career world.  Each day of unemployment was longer than the day before.  I felt repulsed and ashamed to be collecting unemployment checks, even though it was a natural benefit of life.  I’d never felt this down on myself over a layoff situation and began to lose hope.  A quote I often recall during this time was, “Tough time times don’t last, tough people do”.  I lived and breathed this each day and fought though job application denials and “no” responses following on-site interviews.  After a month of being unemployed, I leaned on my faith and the help of others to find both myself and what would be my next full-time job!

I did however, fall into the trap again of feeling too comfortable in my current role, current skillset, and overall current phase of life.  I was in this new position for two years when I was presented with an opportunity to attend a young professionals networking event.  I had the night free and it turned out to be a networking event on how to network followed by practice time with other meeting attendees.  I had no clue what to expect that night and limited foresight into how this would turn my career in a positive direction. 

The night started off with a networking presentation from Joyce Layman, who has been dubbed as a LinkedIn guru.  She showed us so many examples of how easy it is to network and how relevant it can be with an exercise where we selected a celebrity and worked around the room to see whose connections would link up to this individual.  After going through 6 – 7 connections, we found that someone would have the contact information for this individual’s professional agency.  All within a simple five-minute exercise!  That opened my eyes so much to the fact that a simple conversation with someone new can lead to another connection or many more!  The key that Joyce also mentioned is to lead with a networking intent to take an interest in someone else’s needs rather than going in trying to impress your new contact with all of your achievements.  This experience reminded me of one of my favorite quotes.  You may have heard of it but it generally goes as follows: “You can gain more friends in one month by taking an interest in others than you can in one year by trying to get others to take an interest in you”.  I believe in this quote wholeheartedly and I hope everyone gains as much perspective from it as I have!

The final part of the night involved trying out networking.  It was like all of our school dances at first where the men stood on one side and the women stood on the other.  After a few minutes, everyone was practicing their networking and I eventually jumped in too.  Yes, it was hard.  Yes, it was awkward.  Yes, I stumbled through it.  What was important from that night was that I got out of my comfort zone and learned a lot about myself and others in the process.  Networking is not something that is perfected overnight and it truly gave me the confidence to connect with others both at future networking events and also reaching out to future connections on LinkedIn along with other social media channels. 

For anyone who is afraid of networking, there is nothing to worry about and you gain so much more than when you had started by networking and getting to know others.  It will get easier over time!  The economy in our new normal is looking fairly bleak in the short term and we all need each other now more than ever!  I challenge everyone who reads this blog post to reach out to three new contacts on LinkedIn or at your company or any other organization you’re involved with and start a new conversation or simply learn something new from someone else.  Lead with the intent of getting to know them and listen more in this new conversation than you speak and you’ll really enjoy it.  As always, reach out any time if you have any questions or need an extra networking nudge.  We’re all in this together!