Like many of us, I often receive invites to connect on professional networks. However, it has made little sense to me to connect with others arbitrarily, simply on the basis of what they do without having any idea of who they are. For instance, I often get invited by (well-meaning) coaches or consultants to connect with them because they want to expand their network or offer (unsolicited) help. In my mind, their reasoning for connecting is hardly justified and feels forced for the most part not the least of which is because it doesn’t tell me anything about them (apart from what they do).
But here’s the thing. I’m not interested in expanding my network with anyone and everyone. I’m simply not interested in increasing the number of my contacts for vanity’s sake, just so I can say I have 1000s of “connections”, which is of little inherent value. I’d rather be connected to a few, who get what I’m about and I get what they are about.
The other problem they fail to realize (which is not entirely their failing) is I’m not a “coach/consultant” in the conventional sense like they happen to be (and this isn’t a knock against them). But, for me, coaching/consulting simply happens to be one of the ways I get to share my philosophy with others (along with writing, speaking, and community building). Ergo, I’m not a “writer”, “speaker”, or a “community builder” per se, even as I do all of those things as part of sharing my philosophy with others. You see, I don’t define myself by nouns, because who I am is much greater than what I do. And, so are you.
Also, it’s not about “saying the right thing” to others, just so we can connect with them. In fact, that would be rather manipulative (even if expressed in the most benign way possible). Rather, it’s about showing up as who you are and finding those who believe what you believe. There is no agenda. Real connection happens not in “how we do things”, but in the being of ourselves.
We don’t always have to connect with others (add each other) in the literal sense of the word. We can simply follow those we feel connected to on these networks. That’s what I do a lot of the time anyway. Sometimes it so happens that after I’ve followed someone for a while, that person will invite me to connect with them (without sharing why and it won’t be necessary) and I’ll be happy to do so, because I already know what they are about, so then it wouldn’t matter what they’d say anyway.
Who are the others?
As I shared briefly in the previous draft, I believe life is about finding the others and doing something great with them (both personally and professionally). By “others” I mean those like us, because we get along best with those who believe what we believe. Of course, this requires us to stay true to ourselves to begin with, so we can find others like us (and say no to others who we don’t feel a natural connection with).
Dr. Seuss has aptly said:
Be who you are and say what you feel, those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.
Finding the others
In our search for finding the others, the idea isn’t to persuade or convince people about our viewpoints; that would defeat the purpose of connecting in the first place. It’s only when we find others that we are able to connect with (sans any effort), magic ensues. They get you and you get them. Then, it would be rather unnatural to not be connected with them. This is true in all areas of our lives, as you’ll see below. We are only meant to get along with the few than the many (and not only that’s okay, but it shows that you stand for something).
As I shared earlier in the piece, everything I do professionally is in service of finding the others, be it through writing, coaching, speaking, or community building. These are simply ways for me to find “my people”, so that together, we can build a community and advance the cause we care about. They are with me (not because of me per se), but because the cause I’m looking to advance resonates deeply with them. That’s the only reason for them to show up.
The same thing is true in our personal lives including friendships. We are not friends with everyone for a reason. In other words, if everyone is your friend, then who is your friend?! We are not meant to get along with everyone, but only with the few who share our beliefs and worldviews. This is hardly a knock against those who have a different value system than our own, rather it’s an acknowledgement that there are things we may strongly believe even as we are open to changing our minds, because in the end it isn’t about us, rather its about advancing the learning by sharing our ideas with each other, so we may all move forward.
Elbert Hubbard, an American writer, once said:
Never explain — your friends do not need it, and your enemies will not believe you anyway.
I remember meeting one of my friends at a creative talk a few years ago. We happen to be sitting next to each other and I commented on his Fedora and talked about his paper notebook and pen. After the talk, I invited him for coffee and we ended up chatting for the next couple of hours, where time ceased to exist. From that point on, we have been meeting quite regularly (even virtually for some time during the pandemic).
By the way, I’ve found this feeling of time ceasing to exist to be quite common when you’ve found the others. The reason I attend these events is to connect with others like myself (or as I like to say, if you want to meet “your people”, start doing things you like), and finding events that interest you is one way of doing it.
Likewise, we aren’t meant to work with everyone in our business. If everyone is our client/customer, then who is our real client/customer? If we can’t articulate why our customers are our customers or why our employees are our employees, then that’s a problem because no amount of focusing on the external will help solve it. It all starts with us. It would be a fallacy to think “the problem is out there”.
Who we decide to work with determines in no small part how we will end up working with them. For instance, many service business owners struggle to get paid for their work. While there might be many issues at play here, I suspect the big one might be they are working with the wrong type of clients (i.e. wrong for them, but not wrong from a moral sense). And this isn’t to put down those clients, rather the result of their own responsibility for not working with the right ones (for them). In other words, the problem lies not with the clients, but with them, because we teach others how to be with us. It would serve us well if we shift our focus from putting others down to taking responsibility for doing things right.
Building trust and loyalty
The thing is we naturally connect with others whose work we feel gravitated to. When someone inspires us, we naturally follow them. There is no coercing required. There is no manipulation involved. It’s all voluntary. Either someone is right for us or not, and that’s okay. It means we are doing something right. It means we know our values and what we believe in. We can try to “convince” others through rational thinking, but that won’t win their hearts (among other things).
Speaking of manipulation, marketing isn’t about persuading or convincing others to buy what you have, as is commonly believed. That approach is short-term, manipulative, ineffective, and expensive at best. On the contrary, its about finding the others who believe what you believe by way of sharing your ideas that others connect with, because what you might be offering is so remarkable (worth making a remark about) that others can’t help but share it with their network because it resonates with them on a visceral level. When we keep our promise by delivering on it, we build trust and loyalty (with the select few).
When we look for jobs in organizations, we want to look for cultures that share a vision of the world that we want to live in and whose values align with our own strengths. When there’s a mismatch between the two, then it might not work out. Better to find out sooner than later for both involved. While we hope that employers would do their best to ensure a good fit, we can’t rely solely on themselves, rather we need to be proactive for ourselves to ensure the fit (just like dating). Also, it would be a mistake to think things would somehow turn out any different (better) later on, when they don’t feel right at the outset. The same is true in relationships.
We might get in relationships with others only to find out later that we want to change each other in little (and big ways). That shows value differences at some level and any efforts to reconcile would be futile because we were not right for each other to begin with, simply because our views diverged in matters among other things. We can find the others and things might still not work out, and here’s why. Instead of being curious about each other at the outset in ways we are weird, we may ignore those at our peril only for it to come and bite us later. The thing is we are all weird in our own complex, beautiful ways. The only ones who are not weird are the ones we haven’t got to know yet. So, embrace your weird and give others the space to be themselves, so they can be themselves.
Unlike the other relationships in our lives including friendships, we don’t get to choose our family members, which is okay, even as we may not get along with them. And what I mean by “get along with” here is simply that we may have a different way of seeing the world. But that’s okay as long as we simply accept each other for who we are rather than feel the need to impose our views on each other. While we may be “different” from them, we can still revel in each other’s company without imposing our values and expectations, all the while knowing that life is short and all we have is each other, if only for a brief time. Despite our so-called value differences, we may have more in common than what we might otherwise believe.
As you can derive from the aforementioned examples, this idea of finding the others can manifest itself in interesting ways in the many areas of our lives. When we find the others and stay connected with them, life becomes a joyride. The best we can do is trust ourselves by not letting our thinking get in the way of our feeling, so we can connect with the others, because in our hearts, we already know who we are (and what we want), even if it’s going to take us a while to catch up to ourselves.