The power of proactively networking

I’ve reached another turning point in my life, another coming of age.
I’ve realized the power of proactive networking, and I have a feeling
that it’s going to change my life.

You see, I used to shy away from networking because I couldn’t think
of how I could add value to the conversation or what I could take
away. I went to a few networking events before I got tired of being
given the once-over by schmoozers who moved on when they realized that
I couldn’t give them any deals or opportunities. As a student, what
could I offer? And what could I ask them for? I didn’t want to waste
their time, didn’t want to prevent them from meeting other people they
could deal with.

I was insecure. That was exactly how I felt when I moved to Canada
from the Philippines, torn away from *my* network and suddenly back at
the bottom of the totem pole. I didn’t believe I could offer any
value, and so I couldn’t.

Over the past year and after so many conversations and books, though,
I think I’ve finally found myself—and I can’t believe that I hadn’t
realized this earlier.

How did I go about it? I credit two books with sparking a particularly
large number of aha! moments: Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone” and
Tim Sanders’ “Love is the Killer App.” Both books taught me that my
love of reading and learning could be valuable to other people, so I
had something to start with. My interest in other people helps them
discover more about life and themselves—another reason why people
enjoy sharing their insights with me. I give people an opportunity to
help, and in so doing, they grow as well. All I need to do is ask.

As I practiced the suggestions in these books, I found it easier and
easier – and more and more fun. I discovered that by consciously
reaching out, I could enrich my life and the lives of people around
me.

I don’t think of it as my “network”, not in the cold and calculating
sense of just wanting to add more nodes to a graph. No, these are
people whom I want to help grow and who care about my growth.

And last night, I realized something amazing: the power of
proactivity, of making things happen instead of waiting for things to
occur.

After a wonderful conversation about all sorts of topics including the
meaning of life, the challenges of entrepreneurship, and the joy of
networking, I asked my seven guests point-blank what they wanted and
how I could help them succeed. They told me—and my mind kicked into
high gear, thinking of whom I could introduce to them and what I could
help them with.

*This* is one of the things I’m not only good at, but I love doing.
Perhaps this is one of the things that I am meant to do. I’ve jokingly
described how I enjoy stuffing large amounts of information into my
brain in order to bring out one or two relevant items when people need
them. I’ve applied it in geeky contexts before: familiarizing myself with a list of open source
packages (all of Debian, at one point) helped me recommend just the right package for Jijo Sevilla when he was working on a point-of-sale system, while my background in computer science helped me tell Simon exactly which keywords he should use to find a good algorithm for a feature he wants to include in his product.

I want to do it with people, too. I want to keep people’s wants and
haves in mind. I *love* making those connections.

This was one of Sam Watkins‘ brilliant ideas,
some years ago: write down your wants and haves on your card, and
exchange this with others. OpenBC is a social networking site that’s playing around with the idea, too, which is why I like OpenBC a lot. The key point is: proactively find out what people want / have, and make those connections happen!

One of the difficulties I had was figuring out how to keep in touch
with people, how to do followup. Followup is incredibly important.
Proactively choosing to make things happen makes it really easy to
follow up and exercise those networking muscles. Every person I meet
and every conversation I have has the potential to reactivate old
connections, and I want to review old connections to find out what I
can help them with now. If they’re in my network, it’s because I think
they’re cool and I want them to succeed – and we’ll keep growing
together!

That gives me even more confidence when it comes to meeting other
people. I now bring *lots* of value to the conversation. Sure, I’m not
a CEO or even someone with decision-making power. Even as a student,
though, I can help people succeed. I’ve been told I have interesting
ideas and that I’m a good listener. I love asking questions and having
conversations. And I know lots of really cool people. I want to know
more peopl because the more people I know, the more interconnections I
can make and the more stories I can tell.

“Your network is your net worth,” said Tim Sanders – and mine is growing. I care about the people in it. I want them to succeed. I want to learn from all these interesting people – strangers, acquaintances, friends. That gives me the chutzpah I need to walk up to someone I’ve never met – the power of proactive networking.

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