A part of fulfilling your career intention is to develop a network of people and resources for you to lend your talents to and to avail when needed.
Notice that it’s not about what you can take from the network, it’s also about what you give to the network. Because if you take and take, and don’t give, you might be facing resources that have dried up and a ghost town of people that don’t have time for you.
Your (optimized) network is a pretty amazing thing. When it’s humming like a well-oiled machine, the right people, perfect answers, or the best leads show up right at the time they’re needed. How do you get it humming?
The logic behind a good network is YOU. Think of your network as a reflecting pool. It gives out whatever the looker is pulling into the view. You want your network to be more helpful? Be more helpful. You want to your network to offer free services to you? Offer free services. You want your network to point you to jobs that might fit you? Share jobs with others.
What I’m saying is that to optimize your network, first optimize your Inner Network. This is what I’ve learned over the years. It started when my time at one organization ended after a great 10-year run in various positions. Most if not all of my friends, social interactions, workout buddies, and work network were from the community of folks who worked at that same organization. I chose a layoff thinking I could get a new position within the four months of severance I received. But because my experience was in several positions and I didn’t have an outside network, was I ever wrong!
When I think about the Inner Network, I like this picture of interconnected sticks and connectors. Some just don’t connect. The more disconnects, the weaker the structure.
Check yourself to see if any of these disconnects seem familiar.
Security. Somewhere along the way, maybe you got burned by another human, likely a trusted one, and now a part of you interprets that experience with defining the parameters that aren't to be trusted. If so, this could create a disconnect of trust-building. If this resonates with you or irritates you, or you immediately dismiss it, then maybe it’s there, lurking unseen. Get help in learning how you can feel more secure and safe in certain situations. Understand that not all people or situations are like the one that chipped away at your trust. Find a coach or therapist to help you in this area, or if you’re a DIYer like me, then study teachings and topics about trust, security, and intimacy. I have grown a lot in this area, with help from a trusted advisor, by understanding my own thoughts about my place in the world and the lack of security I felt I from my childhood story, facing those things, and relinquishing their control on my behaviors.
Fears. After I reached a point of one loss after another, I finally realized my response to crumbling infrastructure in my weakened personal economy, career, and marriage was based on a series of crippling fears. They had driven my decisions for decades. I found ways to acknowledge fears, look it in the eye, appreciate it for its safekeeping objective, and then let fears go. More and more, these days, my decisions are based on fear’s cousin – intuition – and I can recognize fear and also keep it from running the show. There’s a logic to developing that reliable “gut response” and embracing the idea of “inclusive efficacy” or the realization that bad turns of events can have a positive impact. I feel like the more I develop this within myself, the better I can handle rough situations.
Lack Mindset. A lack mindset connects nowhere. Scratch that. A lack mindset connects to lack. Its language is “but,” “I can’t,” and other words of assuming the worst possibility. If you go to your network with this mindset, unknowingly your network will likely respond with pity or with no response at all. Do you feel like you’re not being heard? Take a look at your mindset affecting your comments and requests. This changes when you begin focusing on your strengths, your passions, and your skills. They form a unique story that causes people to connect and respond with similar passion, action, and support. They are your best assets.
Judgment. I grew up in a highly intellectual environment. It fueled my curiosity and drove me to research through books and articles. It also set my perspective of the world on seeing what was bad and scrutinizing it, judging what was wrong, and determining what others should be doing. This judgment caused my Inner Network to have disconnections to listening to people, to criticize myself and be harsh when I made a mistake, and to be less tolerant of others’ mistakes. I let go of that by noticing what was going on and softening my view. I made the most strides with this when I learned how to be kind to myself when I said or did something undesirable. Now, I experience connection to be kind to others in the moment. A much more enjoyable flow!
Self-Obstruction. Ever get in your own way? I think we all have. It’s a part of our natural protection mechanisms and it’s really a great system meant to support your safety. But if we’re not aware of it, it might be causing inner conflict or just flat out complacency. Conflict can be subtle, when “on one hand” we want to do something, but “on the other hand” we want to retreat. Or it can be aggressive, imparting control, negativity, or rage on others. Conflict or complacency can be resolved by understanding more about why you do the things you do and why you don’t do the things you think would be good for you. The disconnect happens in yourself. Bringing more purpose, enthusiasm, and acceptance in your own life will form new connections of integrity and courage.
When I strengthened these areas, my networking became more effective, focused, refined, and clear. The idea is to strive for improvement, not to achieve a picture of perfection. When you go to your network with a mindset of security, courage, personal strength, acceptance, and enthusiasm, you’ll find it can be a safe place to offer your skills, ask for help, collaborate, and achieve your goals.
It takes courage to ask for help in these areas. I help my clients look at strengths, their own response to situations, and their personality types as a launching place to build a career they are wanting. If you feel you would benefit from a deeper dive, develop a network of therapist(s), coaches, groups, and activities that will support you. Give yourself a break and relieve the pressure of time. It could take time, and in fact, the most rewarding efforts do.
Dori "Story" Gilbert is Chief Storycologist; passionate about professionals, their journey, and their ability to direct a career story they love.