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Power Networking

“Networking is simply the cultivating of mutually beneficial, give and take, win-win relationships. It works best, however, when emphasizing the give part.”
~ Bob Burg, speaker and author

The story of Jimmy Fallon’s rise is a testament to networking. While most people view networking as a chore, he sees it as a way of life. He made it a habit to stay in touch with almost everyone he met. Nothing big. Just a note here and there a couple of times a year. As a result, his name was familiar to a lot of folks. It turns out he wasn’t even on the shortlist to take over as the king of late-night talk shows. But someone in the search committee remembered hearing from him and mentioned his name. The rest is history.

Networking doesn’t need to be difficult; it just needs to be consistent. People love “just because” notes that show you are thinking about them. We all want to be remembered when we die, but receiving your flowers is far more ingratiating when you can still smell them.

I set out on a course of connection with a different friend every day for two weeks. Firstly, I wanted them to know how important they were to me and that I missed them. But I also wanted to see how this experience would impact me (and perhaps them as well).

I was new at Amazon, just finishing my first year, and my transition had been different than any other work experience I had ever had. You would think that the technical and environmental aspects would have been the largest hurdle, but I would say the biggest challenge was the social isolation and immediate disconnection from the countless friends and mentors garnered over a lifetime. The almost three decades of suiting up with comrades, battle buddies, and peers develop common ties that are extremely hard to maintain while simultaneously trying to learn how to thrive in a business market.

So with my first real time off in over a year, I dusted off my old contact list and started dialing, texting, and arranging lunches with as many friends and mentors who had time to reply or an empty stomach to fill.

For some, it was easy to plan to get together at a local restaurant or bar. But for a couple of friends and a few family members, reconnecting meant traveling. I fondly recall the great lunch dates that we arranged and was happy to discover that, even after months and years of not regularly connecting, we were able to hit the reset button and return pretty much to where we left off.

I was able to still draw great value from the friendships that we built years earlier. And after reflection, I found six enduring experiences that will drive me to stay in contact more regularly with both friends and family in the future.

There is nothing more satisfying than a knowing conversation. These are conversations with people who know your backstory. They know all the inside jokes. They have cried and shared tears. They know where the bodies are buried. There were people whose knowledge of me gave me a sense of comfort and connection I did not even realize I desperately needed.

A knowing conversation can bring both laughter and sad reflection when recalling shared experiences, but the simple act of remembering with someone other than yourself is, in a way, cathartic. I met with two Ranger Buddies for a conversation overflowing with laughter, pain, and talk of the joys and ills of retirement. My talks with my three high school friends covered the military, kids, and marriage. Sitting down with my two mentors rewarded me with challenges and growth opportunities. My talk with my two college buddies was consumed by the ups and downs of family and work. Then there was my mom and my sisters… I’ll let your imagination fill in those blanks.

Real friendships endure. The strain that we place on friendships is unfair and would be unnecessary if we just spent a few extra moments each week engaging in the countless methods available to stay in contact. But despite ourselves, the easy and nonjudgmental nature of talking and reflecting with someone that you know and love is fueled by the crucible of your shared experiences. You have pooled your thoughts on infatuations, disappointments, failures, and achievements. Recollections may not be exact, but you remember how you felt and sought them out to share the experience. Experiences are the kindling that keeps a flicker of flame going, but why take advantage of the past to fuel friendships that should be stoked and energized by both present and future associations?

It was time well-spent. To have invested two weeks of precious vacation time in this endeavor may have been the most valuable time off that I have had in this lifetime, save for the 10-day Mediterranean vacation cruise I spent with my wife in 2017. Sorry, friends, the Mediterranean trip still wins first prize. That excursion honestly continues to bring wave after wave of smiles to my face. But it was another example of the power of networking. We often build our external network while our inner network crumbles.

But time with my friends runs a close second. I traveled to Washington and Houston and ate seafood, Tex-Mex, southern fried foods, and hamburgers. We shared desserts, drank sweet tea, swapped pictures, told work and war stories, and laughed together. Heck, I am still smiling about some of our conversations. It was definitely time well spent, and it should not have taken me years to do it.

Everyone wants to do better. The fact is that I was not alone in my procrastination. Somehow, as a culture, we have slipped into a thought process that liking a post on Facebook and Instagram is equivalent to staying in contact. Or that sharing a knowing wink emoji or a heart is communication. Many romantic relationships are now being played out completely digitally, giving rise to the catfishing phenomenon.

We have moved from a society that was once high-touch to one that is decidedly high-tech. We have reaped the advantages of speed and reach. We can connect with 100 people in an hour and say hi to someone around the globe. But for all we have gained, we have lost the heart-to-heart connection that comes from taking time to focus on just one heart at a time. Those connections are weaved through eye contact, handshakes, and the clatter of a noisy restaurant surrounding you as you swap photos of your kids and drop a few tears at the remembrance of a mutual friend who has passed from this life.

We all know that it falls short of what we want to do for our friends and family and for the person everyone promised to do better. It is hard not to because we all want to feel that way all the time. The best-laid plans…

Time is the great equalizer between all human beings. It is the only thing about life that is truly fair. We all get the same 24 hours. The rich cannot buy more hours. The poor person cannot sell their time or have it taken away. The only difference in a day is what we make of it. At Amazon, we learn to value time like it is gold. The time it takes to do our work, the time it takes to ship, and the time it takes to resolve a customer or associate concern are all measures of what kind of company Amazon tries to be.

I learned to value time in the military as well. The person standing next to you today may be resting in the coffin you carry tomorrow. So, building relationships, sharing laughs, and having each other’s back is paramount.

Time is also quite impatient. It waits for no one. The fact that intentions sometimes go awry should be dissuaded by the simple fact that we are getting older. And to think of losing one of these friends is a heavy burden. To think that they and my family may someday not have me around is unthinkable; yet, it is an all-too-real possibility in our uncertain world. A few minutes daily to share an update and check in with someone you love is not asking too much. My wife is great at this, and I admire how she always reaches out and stays in contact with her friends. And my mother would often caution us, “Do not let another day go by without touching bases.” Spoken like a true military mom!

Promise to meet. This assertion is palpable, and why shouldn’t we do better when it takes little out of our day to call someone on the way home from work or to pen or text them a note that you are thinking of them? And why wouldn’t you want to meet when the feeling is mutual and the emotions are almost always positive? Coffee or lunch is a great way to reconnect. Sharing a coffee only takes 30 minutes or so. And you have to eat lunch anyway. Why not combine these activities with some food for the soul by sharing them with a friend?

The hit ‘80s sitcom Cheers remarked in its opening that you sometimes want to go where “everybody knows your name.” To be known, to be missed, to be appreciated—this are the stuff a good life is based on.

I savored the thoughts of those two weeks of meetings and considered how I could do better as a husband, son, father, mentee, and friend. A lunch per month, a call per week, a dinner every three months, and a short vacation every two years are all easy to do. Of course, what is easy to do is also easy not to do. It takes no time before a month has passed, and we shirk the commitments we made. Putting them in your calendar might seem mechanical, but it’s necessary. The pace of our modern world requires that we schedule time to be with the people who feed our spirits.

There was a time in our not-too-distant history when communities moved in a cohesive cycle. Businesses were all centrally located in the town and opened and closed at about the same time. We all went to church as a community. The holidays brought all activity to a grinding halt to make room for picnics and barbecues. Those days are so long gone that we chuckle at the thought of them. Our global economy has robbed us of ever having a world like that again. So we have to make time to live in community with others.

It is remarkably easy to become a power networker. Just stay in touch. It doesn’t matter what the degree of frequency is: twice a year, quarterly, or monthly (but no more frequently than that for distant contacts). You can send a quick hello and ask how things are going. You can share information that might be helpful to them (never a sales pitch). You can wish them a happy birthday if you happen to know it. It takes just minutes to go through your contact list and send a note to each person, but it pays in dividends! For those closer friends, take the time to meet and spend time together. Even an hour-long conversation with an old friend a couple of times a yearl will be huge!

To be honest, it does not seem like a lot to maintain, but we find excuses not to do them, and I think that it is affecting our health and mental well-being. Do better with me.

After all, the days may be long, but the years are short.


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