Everyone finds success differently, whether it’s by pulling bootstraps a little tighter or knowing the right people at the right time. In my case, I found success only after doing something I typically dread: networking. But after moving to a new city—where I knew no one, and no one knew me—I didn’t really have a choice. If I wanted to get somewhere, connecting with people was the key.
Over time, dread turned to desire, and I not only started to benefit from networking, but I started to enjoy it. So I began helping others connect within the community, too, attending lunches and speaking at networking events. And now, eight years later, I’ve found a full-time career I love, one I started from scratch. But this didn’t happen overnight. It took proactivity and a willingness to connect. It meant getting out of my comfort zone, confronting my fear and putting myself out there.
Related: The Perfect Recipe for Networking
Often, we get stuck in analysis paralysis, believing we are “too young for this” and “there aren’t enough opportunities for that” instead of simply getting started where we are. Put that thinking aside and use the following tips that will help you make connections today for success tomorrow:
1. Be curious. You’ll find all types of people this way.
I think people struggle to reach their true potential because they’re quick to make comparisons—and comparison is the thief of joy, after all. When you shift your mindset and approach opportunities or new challenges from a state of curiosity, you open doors you didn’t know existed (and meet people you’d never dream of meeting). Stay curious and open minded, ditch the need to compare old opportunities with new ones, and find new worlds.
My motto? Channel the curious kid in you, and your creative dreams will come true. Growing up, I dabbled in just about everything—from band and choir to basketball and acting—because I needed to know more about all the things life offered. This increased my energy, fueled my creativity and had long-lasting effects on my emotional well-being. Above all, curiosity put me in environments among people with whom I likely never would’ve crossed paths; I even made a few lifelong friends along the way.
So even today, I play. I regularly channel my inner curious kid by trying one new thing every month: rock climbing, sky diving, simulated flying lessons. You name it, I’ll test it. And by dabbling in new things, I inevitably make new connections. If you do the same, know this: A handful of these connections will, in fact, serve as influencers who will undoubtedly push you in the right (and most successful) directions.
2. Be coachable.
Being coached isn’t easy; I get it. It can feel a lot like criticism, and criticism can feel cold, especially when it’s coming from someone you don’t know. But when you’re coachable, it can be the very thing that leads you to your next opportunity. You don’t always have to agree, but if you’re merely open to learning, coachability will take you a long way. In my experience, coachability will help build bridges and connections far quicker than anything else.
I learned to be coachable in my time as an eighth grade science teacher. If it has to be said, eighth graders have no filter, and everything is fair game. Your teaching methods, your clothes, the booger in your nose during allergy season—all of it. After two years of daily feedback (or criticism, however you prefer to look at it), I had to choose between feeling insecure by their comments or discovering how they made me coachable. By seeking coachability opportunities like teaching, I’ve met some amazing people who are now mentors and mentees and constantly help move me forward.
Coachability comes with practice. Additionally, it involves getting to the root of your fears: Are you afraid of being wrong? Losing control? For me, it was fear of vulnerability, so I made it a point to let my guard down as a teacher. For instance, in class, I’d share anecdotes about me that made me feel vulnerable, thereby leaving me open to feedback (warranted or not), but also helping me buck up and mold the person I wanted to be.
3. Be willing to connect.
Fact: No one likes to network, and I mean no one. Most often, it’s because it feels purely transactional and even superficial. Even if you’re the bubbliest person in the room, networking can still be difficult to navigate. But to find success, I strongly encourage embracing the willingness to connect. Try to suspend your ideas about a person and his or her motivations. Be willing to talk and make new connections without those preconceptions hanging in the air.
When I moved to a new city, I forced myself out of my comfort zone, electing to meet 100 people in 100 days. Here are a few ways I pulled it off (and inevitably found professional and personal success) that you can use, too:
- First, I had regular one-on-ones. I met people in person, whether it involved grabbing coffee, eating lunch at a new deli in town, or having dinner at an old neighborhood standby. To this day, I do this almost weekly. I start with those I know (professionally or personally), and then I ask them to recommend other folks. And just like that, my connections grow exponentially.
- Second, I started volunteering. It’s one of the fastest and most rewarding ways to meet new people, many of whom are highly influential. Join a committee, serve as a camp counselor, participate in nonprofit clubs, volunteer at local churches, or host a charity event. The volunteer possibilities are endless, as are the list of connections you’ll make along the way.
- Finally, I became a mentor, but I was always willing to be the mentee, too. The term “mentor” has become synonymous with “time commitment”—this occasionally deters people. But mentorship can be whatever both parties decide it should be. It can be a quick cup of coffee here or a half-hour phone call there; it can be a weekly, monthly or even quarterly check-in. The insights a mentor can provide to her mentee—and the other way around—are boundless (and so are the benefits). Make a mentor-mentee relationship what works for you, time wise and otherwise.
Perhaps selfishly, our motivation to network may come solely from the desire to be successful. But remember: Others out there are going after it, too, so help them find connections. Be the person who introduces Evelyn to Jaime because you know an unbelievable partnership can flourish. It benefits you, too—they’ll remember you for it, and a relationship with them will bloom as well.