"Networking" is the dominant topic of conversation in college. "Are you going to Nonprofit Networking tonight?" "Did you go to Women's Networking Night last week?" "Hey! Wanna go to Entertainment Networking Night together?" I even remember a college panel I went to in high school on which one of the panelists said that his campus was small enough to have an intimate academic experience but big enough to "network." I remember thinking--"Does he just mean making friends?"
The word "networking" presents itself in an intimidating way. It implies expansion; the expansion of your professional brand to as many people as possible. Its connotations transport me into a world of handshakes, ironed dress shirts, and sensible high heels. Friendship, on the other hand, has always made me think of genuine laughs, great meals, and connection on a personal level rather than on a basis of someone's career trajectory. I always thought that the two were mutually exclusive.
But now that I'm nearly halfway through my first semester of college, my perception has changed. It was, funnily enough, at UCLA's Women's Networking Night last week. One of the panelists, an incredibly accomplished lawyer, stated that her tactic for finding business partners is connecting on a level deeper than work. She said that once she connects with someone on a moral or ethical level, or even on opinions on things like pop culture or food, she knows that she can pursue a genuine connection with them that may help her later on. She presented networking as something that stemmed from genuine friendship.
This thought to me was revolutionary. I'd always seen networking as a robotic means of elevating one's career, but I've learned that it doesn't have to be that way. The best connections are authentic. The best way to make a friend is to be nice and show you care about them, and this applies wholeheartedly to professional pursuits.
When meeting someone you aspire to be, first ask them about their day rather than asking them if you can friend them on LinkedIn. This sounds intuitive, but being authentic is harder than you might think. Despite my intentions, I often find myself reverting to conventional questions when meeting professional people. "Are there any internships available at your company? Where can I send my cover letter?" It's not that these questions aren't valid, but that they're stereotypical questions that cultivate purely business relationships, rather than friendships. And friends are who people remember. Friends are who people help.
I'm at an age where the #1 thing on everyone's mind is advancing their career, but amidst all that, it's imperative to remember human connections and compassion. I quote icon and genius Brene Brown when I say that authenticity is "a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen." It's not just about being an authentic networker and friend, it's about being an authentic person. People follow authentic people; they follow genuine sentiments and real expressions of care. The more authentic you are, the more successful you'll be.