Networking–Building the Web
One of the critical success factors in business, community work, the military or your personal life is the ability to network – to actively create a web of relationships that can help you accomplish what you want to achieve as well as to feel connected in the world. Once again, this is about actively being the author of your life vs. waiting for relationships to happen to you. Networking is how you build your web of relationships.
Networking is a verb. You build a network by actively networking.
You can approach the building of relationships as a teenager just as you will as an adult. The principles are the same, so if you follow them as a teenager you will increase your chances of success just as you will as an adult.
This builds on the work you do to know and appreciate yourself (significance and purpose, personal characteristics and values as well as the range of competencies you are developing). It’s important to know and appreciate what you are bringing to a relationship – it’s probably more than you might think at first.
Unfortunately, it takes work to build a network and there is no guarantee of immediate success. In fact, as noted earlier, developing relationships with other teenagers comes with a lot of disappointments and you have to power through those and keep networking.
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you.
You have to go to them sometimes.”
A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh
The best network is one that helps you find your way on the journey from childhood to adulthood. It can encourage you, support you, help you recover from setbacks, challenge you – and also just have some fun.
Poverty, I realized, wasn’t only a lack of financial resources; it was isolation from the kind of people that could help you make more of yourself.
Being Interested in and Giving to Others – The Key
If you are truly interested in others and curious about them, they will get that. This doesn’t mean that you have to ignore your interests and needs, but it does mean that you don’t lead with them. You can’t fake interest in others very well or for very long, so don’t even try.
You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
Many/most people will respond to your interest and then become interested in you. Then you have a relationship. It may be a deep and lasting relationship or it might be a more casual relationship, but it will take its place in your network.
Stephen Covey’s quote from the section on listening is also appropriate here:
Seek first to understand – then seek to be understood.
As with being interested in others, giving to others can be tough when you really want them giving to you. Fortunately, the giving is usually in small ways and will simply allow you to behave in ways that fits what you have discovered about your significance and values. It’s you being you.
As with being interested in others, you will run into plenty of people who can’t give anything to you because they are so sunk in themselves. You can let those relationships go too and move on.
Networking is simply the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give and take, win-win relationships. It works best, however, when emphasizing the ‘give’ part.
You Have Something to Offer
Networking is not just about getting your needs met. It is also about what you bring to the relationship – whether with other teenagers or with adults.
To Other Teenagers. You probably have much more to offer to peers in a relationship than you think. Whether a particular person sees that value or not is another story – and it’s always about “fit.” But, don’t sell yourself short. You might bring curiosity, empathy, companionship in activities, listening, competencies, shared experiences, support, personal characteristics, a sense of purpose, a sense of humor, shared goals, etc.
To Adults. Networking with adults often comes with the question, “But I’m just a teenager – what am I bringing to the relationship?”
As a teenager you bring life, energy, curiosity and possibility. Plus, most adults want to make a difference for young people – most remember those that helped them on their path and appreciate the opportunity to give back.
Many adults often assume that teenagers aren’t interested in a relationship with them, so are surprised and pleased to find that is not the case. If you give adults a chance to be part of your life – particularly if you tell them how they can support you in achieving your goals – you will be surprised at how many respond.
You might also be surprised at how you can support others – both teenagers and adults. That can be in little or big ways, so explore the possibilities. Networking is not just about getting your needs met. Some relationships in your network will be focused on supporting you, but others will be more balanced. That’s the way it works.
“A friend may be waiting behind a stranger’s face.”
Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter