Somewhere along the way in life, whether in high school, college, or during the many steps of our career, the community of who we know (our friends, family, neighbors, teachers, etc) influenced, informed and shaped who we became. This happened in small and large ways, day after day, year after year, and will continue to happen for generations to come.
Sometimes when we think about 'needing to network' we get wrapped up in wanting or needing to 'put ourselves out there' to 'meet new people' and go to networking events and meet with people we don't know. And do not get me wrong, there is much value in going to industry events and building new relationships with people you do not know.
But I've always thought of networking as the spiral effect that happens when you surround yourself with genuinely great people, who know other great people, who all want to help one another, because they're all so great (haha). While I am being a little 'tongue-in-cheek' I think you get my point. Building true relationships and surrounding yourself with people who have shared values and passions will ultimately lead you down a path of success.
I've formulated this opinion over years of experience as a recruiter and working in career services (and now at LinkedIn)... but I had this point of view about networking and community long before I had my career.
I am a first generation high school graduate. As in, neither of my parents graduated high school. For my father it was circumstance, and needing to work at a young age to help support his mom and sister. For my mom, it was a failed school system that did not recognize she had dyslexia and allowed her to flunk and feel like a failure. And so, they worked in labor related fields and raised three kids, not unlike many hard working families.
And as the oldest child, by the time I got to 10th grade and had to figure out PSATs and ACTs and SATs and applying to colleges and deciding which classes to take in HS that would help me get to college... I did not have anyone in my immediate family who could help me figure those things out.
So, as is true for many kids in my same situation, I leaned on my community. The teachers and counselors at school, the parents of my close friends, the adults I went to church with... all of these people became my network. And with their help, me and my family were able to get the first McCain to college.
There are honestly many layers to my complex story, like all humans. I too have dyslexia. For me, this was identified early in life, by a teacher and school system that knew how to identify early childhood learning disabilities. Instead of feeling like a failure, as my mom was made to feel... my 'network' of teachers and tutors gave me the tools to overcome the challenges I faced when my numbers and letters wanted to invert themselves. I learned how to realize when it was happening and thankfully I grew up with spell check! I still struggled though- I was (and am) a slow reader and reading comprehension was (and is) hard for me. I spent hours on homework! And I had to find other ways to learn and absorb information that worked for me. Again, my community and network taught me that not all kids learn the same way, and that there were other options.
Even with all those struggles... I was a straight A student. I graduated with one the highest GPAs in my state. From 9th-12th grade I was part of a NASA engineering internship program (yes that NASA) called NURTURE for students who excelled in math and science (imagine a dyslexic daughter of a dyslexic mom who failed math and dropped out of high school having the honor to work with NASA engineers... amazing!) I went on to college at the University of Central Florida and was an Honors Student and LEAD Scholar. I had an amazing educational experience. I was very lucky.
And after achieving many great things in my life at the ripe age of 22, I left the state of Florida and came to New York knowing all of 1 person. And I thought, I truly truly believed, that all my 'awesomeness' on paper would land me a great job right away. But it didn't.
I didn't know anyone. And without going on and on with this post... It took me over a year to land my first real full time job here in New York. I waited tables, bartended and temped, like every 22 & 23 year old does in this city :) And it's not because there weren't jobs (this was pre-economic downturn, back in the early 2000s), and it's not because I wasn't 'putting myself out there' and applying (I'm VERY outgoing) :)... it's because I didn't know anyone yet and I didn't have a community. (And to my roommate Jodi- you are not 'no one'... I did know 1 person) :)
It was very literally not until I started to get involved with volunteering in the city, and met people at the various restaurants I was working at, and joined a church, that I finally started to get some doors opened. My resume hadn't changed, my qualifications weren't any different... my 'overcoming the odds' background wasn't any less a part of who I was or how hard I was willing to work... the only thing that had changed was who I knew.
And in this life... it is all about who you know. Period. And 'knowing the right person' isn't about having the most connections on social media... it's about truly taking the time to build relationships. And that.... well that takes time. And, it's hard. Let's be honest.
But it is time well spent. It's honestly time BEST spent... because it's the one thing that everything else in life will eventually come down to... who do you know? And who is there for you when you really need them?