How Networking Can Inspire, Support, and Lead to Change.

By Phyllis Smith

Is there a process behind networking?

Christine McShane shared her successful process for networking on the January Women Inspiring Women call. I think of my range of experiences in networking with a nod to a classic Western: the Good, the Bad, and the Productive.  

Chrstine McShane content and networking specialist

Looking for friends in all the wrong places 

I woke up from the long sleep which was Covid after working from home exclusively and realized that I hadn’t made any new friends at work in a very long time. This stemmed from our online call culture where, knowing we had allocated an hour to talk about a complex subject, we eschewed any friendly banter (What did you do over the weekend? How is your dog?) and dove right in to the topic at hand. This made the time spent online efficient but very impersonal. I missed having people to talk to about silly things like the latest food fad or how great Ted Lasso was. 

My effort to make some new friends drew me to a women’s group for the first time this past December. That would have been intimidating to me—having dinner with a group of people I didn’t know—but they were also having a Yankee Swap so I knew that I could participate in that and take the pressure off of having to make small talk for the entire night. Christine had suggested attending your first networking event not just to mingle and chat but perhaps to also have another focus for the meetup. This worked marvelously and I came home with a delicious bottle of wine having met some really fun new people. I am planning on attending an upcoming book club organized by the same group in mid-February. I will let you know how it goes! 

The Women Inspiring Women Network

Going to a networking event solo makes me feel a lot like I’m that little girl going to my first day of school at a new school. Christine recommended the buddy system to overcome this. That way you will have someone to talk to and debrief with afterwards. She also mentioned determining whether a network was for you by noticing how you were welcomed. My story about a warm welcome leading to a nourishing and loving community goes like this. Whenever I would think about moving to a new location or even out of state, I would find comfort in the fact that wherever I went I would have two automatic communities: the horse world and the local church. 

I was raised Episcopalian—the term I use is “Cradle Episcopalian”—and one of the nice things about Episcopal churches is that they tend to be in every town and they are known to be a welcoming community. When my partner and I moved to our town, we were looking for something to do one evening. The local Episcopal church was having a benefit which we attended not knowing anyone. We were greeted warmly and ended up talking to someone from a local land conservation group. He mentioned that they needed volunteers at an upcoming event. We were given the tricky job of parking organizer but ended up having a great day. The people we met that day and at future events have become some of our closest friends in the community. I recently celebrated my 60th birthday with some of them a few weekends ago.

So here is the workflow of that story for my techy friends:
try out a community -> meet people -> do some work with those people -> if you are made to feel welcome and enjoy yourself -> rinse/repeat -> fruitful networking relationship.
 

Staying too long or when to move on from a network

One of my longest running engagements with an important network in my life was too long by about 5 years. Why did I stay? Oh, inertia but also the hope that I would continue to get out of it what I once had. Also, I did have contacts there who I cared about and it was comfortable. Towards the end of my time there though I realized I hadn’t been participating in anything fulfilling with the community. In computers, especially in the days before they were super fast, we talked about processing cycles. Certain calculations or other activities could take up more cycles than others. As I get older, I realize I only have a set number of cycles per day/week/month. The cycles I spent on this network were more than what I was getting out of it and I realized I could use those cycles somewhere else which was more productive and brought back the joy I had felt. Christine mentioned thinking about whether a network you are trying on for size to see if it is full of your people. This one had been in the past but was no longer giving me that energy. The decision to leave was bittersweet but looking back was completely the correct one. 

How many networks does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Christine shared her metaphor of thinking about multiple communities as having friends for different activities, say ones who you pour your heart out to and ones you meet at the dog parkI find this to be true and so fulfilling. I have my community network consisting of people who live in my town and adjacent communities who care about preserving open space and providing opportunities for people to spend time outside. I have my horse communities where I have a chance to share my passion with like-minded folks. I have my previous high-tech work network of former colleagues. I also have my newly formed career-change network which includes the lovely folks who I see once a month at Women Inspiring Women. Each one of these is like a part of a puzzle but with the sum equally so much greater than its parts. 

words to describe what you're looking for in a community

None of us want to walk through this crazy life alone. We cannot always achieve our dreams or even pass a nice day without some people in our corner. Networking—connecting with people who are your tribe or who get you thinking in a new or exciting way or who simply want to get you know you better—can give you support. Over the years I have developed a support network, but I realize as I try out a different livelihood, I need to look at new opportunities. Thank you, LRobInspires for the Women Inspiring Women network—so far it has led to great things for me and I’m sure for others!

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