Holding it all together as a professional–not to mention finding time for networking–in today’s competitive workplace often feels like walking a thin, greased tightrope. Just open LinkedIn and view the images of your suggested connections for two minutes. Read their titles. Check out their white, shiny teeth and unwrinkled suits. Feel intimidated yet?
The good news is you don’t have to perform at your best 100% of the time to network successfully. You really don’t. You simply have to be your best self as often as possible.
How do you accomplish that?
You don’t become your best self by arriving earlier, staying later, spending more on your work wardrobe, paying an additional $200 per month for Botox injections, or by obsessing about metrics constantly. You won’t feel like your best self by focusing so much on return on investment that you neglect to listen to people during conversations. And you probably won’t feel like the best version of yourself after spending hours having superficial conversations with people over drinks week after week. You will not feel like yourself after giving the same spiel to everyone you interact with—at the grocery store, at the career fair, or online.
You become your best self by getting outside yourself.
This isn’t meant to be a super touchy feely article—it’s just the truth.
I’ve learned from experience that when I’m honestly seeking to serve others in my community or even at work, I forget about ROI, making connections, branding myself, and pitching my services to clients. I stop worrying about whether my suit is trendy enough, whether my nail polish is the color of the season, and whether my forehead wrinkles are peeking out from behind my bangs.
When I get outside myself and into service, I am a better version of myself. And if I am serving in an area I am good at and truly enjoy, and I am serving an organization I respect whose aligns with my own values, I’m the best version of myself.
We don’t all work for companies or organizations we respect, but we all have the option to volunteer for organizations with great causes and missions. I don’t know of many non-profit organizations willing to turn their noses up to professional volunteers. I’ve volunteered as a writer, editor, fundraiser, event organizer, teacher, board member, and more. Whatever your specific passion or professional talents, there’s an organization out there willing to put them to work. Why not utilize your skills, build your resume, and make professional connections while contributing to a great cause?
When you’re volunteering alongside other professionals—and I don’t mean just sitting in a board meeting next to other suits who are there simply to be seen, because I’ve done that before—you’ll build genuine relationships with professionals. This isn’t just networking—it’s relationship building at its finest, and if you ever need to call upon these friends, you’ll find that they’re willing to help. I’ve called upon former fellow volunteers to serve as references during my job searches, to speak at events on campus, and to donate to charities. The friendships—not connections—I have made by networking while serving are some of my strongest. They know the Bethany who is passionate about serving. They know the Bethany who cares about a cause and is committed to something greater than the bottom dollar. They know the best version of Bethany.
Why not let others get to know the best version of you, too?