network /ˈnetˌwərk/ noun: an arrangement with intersecting lines; a complex system.
I wonder when we decided to make it a verb. Just the word “networking” can cause most to cringe; to recoil and turn the other way hoping to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of being in a room with people you don’t know. The expectation to introduce yourself to as many as possible before the night’s over weighing on you. I’ve always looked at networking like going to the gym: there is a part of me that dreads it but when it’s all said and done, I’m always better for it. I always make it a goal to take away one thing from a conversation, speaker, or introduction, and then I can consider the event a success as I’m leaving with something I didn’t have before.
Needless to say, when the time comes to attend another networking event, I head out thinking what’s in it for me? Will it be worth my time? Will I leave with that nugget of information or idea that will help me along the way? At a recent networking event focused on women in technology, I left with something unexpected and unlike the advice I had noted in the past. My approach to these events has always been simple: be open to meeting people while sharing my story and my message. But as the speakers shared their businesses, career paths, and projects, I realized that not only is it important to listen and hear the stories of others, but by just being in the room I was taking a step forward in supporting all women. In other words, showing up to support other women is powerful in and of itself. Sure, the stories can be inspiring, motivating, sometimes emotional and heart-wrenching, but more importantly they demonstrate our diversity, vulnerability and compassion - the true soft skills that make us powerful contributors in the workplace and our communities. In the past, I’ve been so focused on what’s in it for me, that I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to think about what’s in it for us.
And this came at a time where I was starting to doubt my influence. A whirlwind summer followed by a focus on my other side hustle, left me out of touch with my writing and wondering if it was worth it anymore. Just when I thought my voice didn’t count, didn’t matter, I was reminded of the importance of it - that every story, every woman, every person, has the power to make a difference. It creates a domino effect: a perfect chain reaction of energy passed on from woman to woman building moment for change.
I often leave these events both inspired and overwhelmed as I think of the possibilities of my passion projects and to-do list waiting for me at home. Writing a blog and working on a small business can often be isolating, and as the responsibilities pile up, so does the self-criticism and self-doubt. But hearing stories from other women reminds me that we all fall into this trap: worrying that we are incapable of the job, unqualified for the promotion, or that our ideas are too big, our goals too lofty. We are left thinking it’s too crowded for one more. But what I’m learning is it isn’t those that are the most clever that are making it, it’s those that are showing up everyday driven by their passion to make change. And I’ve decided there’s room for me, too.