How do we make connections?
This is a question that I have pondered most of my life. I have been constantly fascinated by the connective tissue that forms solid relationships. My mind has marveled at how some people seem to connect instantly, to fearlessly cross the room and introduce themselves, leading inevitably to successful interactions and a dream life. Like so many others, I envied the popular kid and sat comfortable but discontented in my corner. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Two years ago I left the military ready to conquer the world. I had served for 13 years, built up a ton of experience and acquired five degrees. That next opportunity was waiting for me, I just had to get out there, network and take it. There was only one problem, I had never had to network before and I didn't know where to start. Still, how hard could it be?
I was intimidated in a room full of people where interaction felt forced. Everyone had something to sell or, like me, were looking for work. We shook hands, shared quick banter and worked our way around the room. Afterwards I would go back to my apartment, empty the rainbow collection of various finish business cards, plan some calls and fall into bed exhausted. It was the pure definition of a grind and I couldn't wait to return to Afghanistan before going back out to another networking event.
It all worked out well enough. I got a job with a great tech company in Charleston, which later translated to a consulting gig and, ultimately, led me to begin a career in financial services. It was in that last role that networking reared its ugly head again with one difference, now I had to network for my living. I was petrified of it, but determined to conquer the fear of something that felt so minor compared to what I had already done in my life. I looked for advice everywhere, from my mentor in that business, from every book and article I could find. I was armed and ready...
And completely clueless. Don't get me wrong, I learned a great deal about diving into that well. I was no longer afraid of speaking to them and I was now armed with my own sales pitch, but it still felt hollow. Make no mistake, a lot of people network just like I was, and they do very well at it. They are not swindlers or con men, they are seasoned professionals who are incredibly able to identify ideal clients, foster trust and build an amazing work relationship. I just wanted more. I don't know why, but I wanted to connect to people beyond my sales pitch. I wanted to be known as a human being, not a business card.
Then it happened.
At 1 Million Cups in Charleston, on a day when we were going around and introducing ourselves. I was somewhere in the forties for my number to intro myself, armed with prepared pitch language and ready to go. The first five people spoke, and I was confident and ready to go. The sixth person gave my pitch word word for word. Then the twelfth, and the sixteenth...and four more beyond that, all before me. I was petrified. I needed to meet people and so I was scrambling to sound somewhat unique in a room filled with competitors. I scribbled something down and, as I remember it, it was pretty good. People responded, my reputation was set, I was the collected professional taking his seat in victory.
"What do you need?"
I forgot that question. I was supposed to answer it after my elevator pitch and completely forgot to do so. Humor has always been my defense mechanism so I offered a Friday coffee and appealed to the room that I didn't want to spend that time alone. A gentleman by the name of Job jumped at the offer but, after the group broke for the day and I approached him to set the appointment, he informed me we would do no business at that meeting. I accepted the meeting, resigned that I would at least have a nice coffee meeting before a holiday weekend. I never thought that meeting would change my entire perspective.
Jon is now a friend of mine, we see each other every week and speak frequently. He supports my ideas and endeavors, is personally invested in my life. He's not the only one. Actually in my year in financial services I made more friends than any other year in my life. Sallie, Derek, Sarah, Paul, John and many more became friends of mine who have seen me through good and bad. They have stood by me, vouched for me, celebrated with me and are always a welcome sight for me.
How the hell did that happen?
I'm not entirely certain. I'd love to tell you I had no agenda, but of course I did. There was always the press to do business and get paid, but somehow it wasn't the top priority in my mind. Maybe it was learning their stories? Time invested in them? Or intentionality in developing my relationship with them? We all came form diverse backgrounds with different beliefs and positions on a number of things. We were all in business in some fashion, but we were not all in sales, nor were we all even in the same field or industry. I have poured through books, consumed podcasts and studies to figure out what the major change was. The truth is simple. I have no idea.
This brings us to now. I have left my job in financial services, grabbed a website and a social media presence and announced a challenge to myself. Meet 100 people in 100 days, with no agenda, and tell the story in the hopes to figure out how we connect as human beings. The 100 can be from anywhere, any job or social strata. We can meet anywhere, playing a game or hanging out on the beach, even waiting for an oil change to be done. If I don't have someone before hand, simply go out and meet someone at random. Approach a total stranger and see if we can connect. Each day I will share that piece of the story. It won't be a profile of a person, but a story of connecting. I don't know what will happen or what I will learn.
You should definitely keep up.
Here's my invite to you. Watch me take this journey. Share what you have learned, either publicly or just with me. See if this inspires you. Share this with your friends and networks, see what we can learn about connecting with people.
1 guy, 100 people, 100 days, no agendas.