Trying to Network as an Introvert

“It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know” says the salesman father to his straight-A-student and introverted daughter.

I used to think I was outgoing, once upon a time. Then I went to a summer camp in Chicago with no one I knew and realized I am not that person.

I hate networking. It all seems fake and I’m terrible at small talk. I’ve only successfully networked once. I don’t even really remember how we met, but he ended up recommending me for a job before we ever met in person. Let’s call him Joe. Very nice guy, and probably the closest thing to a mentor that I have.

Joe and I get together every time I’m back at my Alma Mater. He understands some of the painful parts of my job that I hate. He knows a lot of people in the industry and in the business world in general. Any time I mention any potential company I might want to work for, he seems to know someone who works/has worked there. I picked a good person to network with.

Joe works for the university, and because he works with students trying to find a job, he encounters a lot of people like me. Young professionals, out there in the world trying to figure it out. So occasionally I get emails where he tries to connect me with these people – people with their first real job, in my general metro area. Which seems great, right? So I reach out to the first few all “hey let’s get coffee!” and got nothing back. So I stopped trying to reach out.

I just recently received a LinkedIn message from one of these people Joe suggested (months ago) I connect with. Which is sort of great, right? Even if it’s months later, she’s still trying to connect. But between the phone tag I’m playing with her right now, all I can think about is: wtf am I going to say to this person?

I know what to say to random recruiters when they call. I know what to say to people who are asking me for help finding a job. I know what to say to lots of other strangers that I have to interact with.  I have scripts for a lot of situations. I have answers ready to the questions I expect them to ask. But this is a new thing for me. And I haven’t had to put my fake bubbly face on in awhile. Then again, do I have to? I’m not trying to impress this person like I’m interviewing for a job. She’s just a person that’s nice to know, right? But still: wtf do I say to this person? What do we talk about?

Hopefully she’s outgoing and extroverted and good at small talk and this will all be okay. It’s all about who you know.

Curse of the What Ifs

Sometimes the ‘what ifs’ still get me.

What if I had ended that relationship any sooner? Would I have studied abroad? What if I studied something differently altogether? What if I stayed in school another year, what if I learned a language? Where could I be now – if I hadn’t narrowed the search, and limited myself just for you?

What if I ever told my childhood crush how I felt?

What if I ever demanded a relationship from the boy who wouldn’t commit?

What if I hadn’t sacrificed so much of myself for you? What if I don’t even realize the extent of what I gave up? Who would I be now, where would I be, without those sacrifices?

What if I don’t deserve any better? What if I keep repeating those mistakes? What if I can’t ever be the person I think I can be?

What if I don’t have all the potential I think I have?

What if I’ve already missed some chances I needed to take?

Life Advisor?

What’s the adult, real-life version of an academic advisor? Ya know, the person who tells you that you’re doing awesome, and then tells you exactly what classes to take next semester? They look at your resume, and tell you you’re awesome, but give you small tweaks to make your resume reflect that awesomeness, and make you seem even more awesome? Is there a life advisor somewhere I’m not aware of?

About a year ago, when I was sitting through Alumni Days – listening to successful, graduated alumni talk about life after college – one of them said something that just recently sort of hit me.

There are no semesters, no constant evaluation in life. There’s nothing, and I mean nothing to break up the monotony. In college – while it could be brutal – there were breaks. There were finals (brutal) but then you were done, and then you went to new classes with new people and new professors and new topics. Now, there are intense deadlines (brutal) but no breaks, and on Monday I return to the same tasks, with the same people, working on the same project. Nothing actually changes, nothing moves forward…

In college, once you pass XYZ1000, you move on to XYZ2000. You fail that class? Oh it’s cool, just take it again.

In life, you manage to complete something, and then you have to do that thing again. And again. And again. Maybe some small things are different, maybe after a year (or several…usually several) maybe, maybe, you get promoted and get to make more money to do those things. But fuck something up? You could get fired. You don’t get to try it again.

Essentially, the consequences for fucking up are greater, but the rewards are lesser. And there are no life advisors to tell you you’re awesome, or which projects to take on, or what the hell to do about your resume. Instead, the other adults just… let you flail around out there, watching you squirm. They probably enjoy it, too. Buncha jerks.