If there is one thing I am absolutely terrible at, it is networking. I am sure this has hurt my career, but I just can’t get the hang of it. More to the point, I don’t think I want to. Don’t get me wrong, I like making friends and learning about what other people are working on, but there is something about the goal directed self-promotion that I find off putting.
I have friends and cousins who are master networkers and this has taken them places. On occasion, they have tried to put me in touch with people who could potentially help my career. For my part, either I am able to bond or I am not. If I bond, I like to know a person deeply, in other words, I want to be a friend, not a rung in someone’s ladder and likewise, I want friends and colleagues, not contacts.
This comes back to haunt me every time I attend a conference, corporate event or training school. People are exchanging business cards, trying to sell ideas, I just want to make conversation, find out what other people are working on and learn new ideas. However, I don’t have enough money to make me a funding source so nobody is interested.
There is one class of people however who don’t care who I am, the truly passionate. They are just glad to find someone willing to discuss their favorite topic. Often, they are the most fun to talk to. Others tend to lose interest once they realize that a contact will probably not advance their interests.
I was once invited to a corporate shmoozefest held in honor of a pioneer of the Indian software industry. One of my cousins was organizing the event. I found the social dynamics of the event interesting.
The guests could be divided into two clear groups, the ‘old boys’ (which also had a couple of ladies) and the ‘wannabes’. The old boys were generally over 60 and had known each other for years. For them it was a private function where they could catch up with each other and reminiscence over drinks. The wannabes on the other hand were a generally a couple of decades younger and operating on a tight schedule. They buzzed around the room like pollinating honeybees, trying to zoom onto possible investors or customers. If one was spotted a proboscis would shoot out bearing a visiting card. This was ‘networking’ in action. That left me, the youngest in the room, a bemused bystander who nobody wanted to talk to, at least not after they realised I wasn’t rich enough to afford their services.
Still, the evening wasn’t a total loss, the food was nice and I did meet one financial adviser who was there only because his client had invited him and didn’t know anybody. He advised me off an investment I was considering at the time.