Adventure In Networking: #Research

“The successful networkers I know, the ones receiving tons of referrals and feeling truly happy about themselves, continually put the other person’s needs ahead of their own.” – Bob Burg

Lately, I have been doing a ton of networking. It was important for me to research and really grasp what’s going on in the networking world. I also wanted to understand the needs of other networkers, considering that the networking I do is typically very focused, specific and is mostly around my role with NetworkInAustin. You see, time and time again NIA members have told me how much our NetStorming event rocks. They tell me it is the best networking event they’ve ever attended. While I love hearing this, I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t admit that I really didn’t understand why. So, I set out this month on a mission to find out exactly what our “special sauce” is and how we can build and improve upon it. Hopefully you’ll find tips and tidbits here that will help you when you’re out there networking.

First, when engaging with someone or being engaged at an event, I try to connect with the person on a personal level. So I asked if they were from Austin and/or where they grew up. I told them about being a native Austinite (surprise, most people aren’t! ) and what it was like growing up here. Then I asked what brought them to the event or how they heard about it. Interestingly, the common theme I heard over and over was “Well, I hate networking”” I don’t network”, and “I’m very busy, I don’t need to network.” What I realized from these conversations is many people don’t understand that there are reasons to network aside from just gaining business.

Networking is about building relationships. Often times a connection will provide fruit that you never expected. Which is why it’s important to connect with the person first. Find something, anything to connect about. Ask if they have pets or children. Usually they’ll have one or the other. Or if they’re insane like me, they may have both. Notice how they light up when talking about them. Ask what they’ve done recently that was fun. Or ask what their favorite restaurant is. Again, remember to try to connect on a personal level. Keep in mind, if there is business to be had then it will be had.

Also, keep in mind, that now is the time to develop relationships, not just when you need them. There is no better way to do that than to give back. You can share ideas or make introductions. There may come a time, (heck, I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that there WILL be) a day where you’ll need to call on those you’ve helped and leverage the relationships that you’ve built. Networking from a place of desperation is never a good thing. Like any relationship, your networking efforts are and should be a two-way street.

During my crash course in networking events, I also wanted to find out where folks spend their time networking. So I asked what other events they attend. I wasn’t just doing this for my own personal gain and I wasn’t asking in order to promote NIA events. It’s actually a question I’m asked a lot and as I mentioned earlier, the number of networking events I attend is very limited. The answer that I most commonly heard was “Anywhere that’s free” and “I never pay for networking events.” I totally get that. If I had paid for every networking event that I attended while doing my research this month, I would’ve gone broke. However, what I found when comparing the events that I attended “free” versus those that I paid to attend, I generally left the paid events with more solid connections than those I attended for “free.” I also left feeling less (for lack of a better word) “icky.”  Perhaps, you may be wondering why I have “free” in quotations. Let me explain. Networking is never really actually free. First of all, you are spending your time. And we all know that time is money. Second of all, even if there is no fee to attend the actual event, you usually have to buy lunch, coffee, or drinks. Which means it’s not free. Though some of the “free” events I attended were actually quite good, in general, I found that the events I paid to attend offered a better quality of attendees. Mostly because the folks there almost always shared the same philosophy around networking that I hold dear.

In conclusion, I suggest that you do not do as I did. Don’t take the shotgun approach to networking. Focus your networking efforts. Ask a trusted friend or client where they spend their time and why they find it beneficial. Then find a group and stick with it. It’s important to understand that in most networking situations you shouldn’t expect to gain business immediately. It takes time to build trust when you’re new to a group . Don’t rush to measure  results (ROI) before 6-12 months. This time frame is where you should start to see opportunity IF you’re consistent in your involvement, take the time to get to know attendees beyond what they do for a living and attend regular events. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of the fact that networking can and should be fun!

Gratitude & The Good Life

“The single greatest thing you can do to change your life today would be to start being grateful for what you have right now. And the more grateful you are, the more you get.” -Oprah

Like most people I find it’s really easy to be grateful in the “good” times. When everything is going well and as we feel it should be. Recently though, I’ve started looking at gratitude in an entirely new way. I have to say, gratitude has always been an area that I’ve been pretty good at. For me, the issue has been finding (or making) the time to reflect upon and express the gratitude I feel.

Most of us think of gratitude as a response to something. Someone gives us a gift, we’re grateful. Someone is kind to us, we’re grateful. Something good happens, we’re grateful.

For example, when I was a little, I was taught to always say thank you.  So I did, even when I didn’t mean it. I was trained to write thank you notes, even if I didn’t feel like doing it. So I went through the motions, I wrote the notes, but I can’t say that my gratitude was always heart-felt. It was polite. Expected.

Thinking back on this, I realize that gratitude can become an automatic response that loses its meaning if we are not conscious of what else it can be. “Thank you” can become no more than a rote response if we’re not careful.

However, when we truly live with an authentic and grateful heart, our life expands. We live in a state of contentment. We are attractive to be around.

I feel that gratitude should not be just a result of something that happens to us—it needs to be an attitude we cultivate by practice. And the more we are grateful for, the more we find to be grateful for.

So let this be an invitation, for you and for me, to up our level of gratitude. Let us always see as much of the good as possible in each and every situation.

I’m really challenging myself to live life powerfully. I believe that doing so really can change the world. This means expressing who I truly am. It means taking powerful action to enhance my life. Living in a state of gratitude helps me do this.

How about you? Are you looking to live a life with more gratitude ? Here are a few suggestions to help you:

1. Before you get out of bed in the morning, let the first two words out of your mouth be “thank you.”  Every day. Without fail. Take a few moments to tune into all of the blessings in your life, and all that you are grateful for. Eckhart Tolle says “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” 

2. Find gratitude in every moment. Let’s not be grateful only for favors, gifts, and acts of kindness. Not just when thing are going smoothly. Let’s notice all of the small things too—and consciously fill our hearts with gratitude. This way when something goes wrong, we have a deep reservoir of gratitude to pull from. We’re already in the habit of feeling grateful.

3. Focus on the here and now. When we’re in the past, trying to change what can’t be changed, or in the future, worrying about what might or might not happen, we’re missing what’s happening now, in this moment. We’re missing the joy of now. Tune in. Really take account of your life. Find all of the things to be grateful for right now, today, the way things are.

4. Start a gratitude journal. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Even just writing five words that describe why or what made you grateful on any given day will help. Also, it’s fun to go back through journals as time goes by. You’ll see how it’s changed you more than you thought possible.

 5. Express your gratitude. Reach out and tell people how and why you are grateful for them. You’ll be amazed at how this comes back to you multiplied many times over. Just make sure it’s authentic and comes from a place of expecting nothing in return. The gift of gratitude can be more powerful and well received than any other gift out there. Best of all, it’s free.

So there you have it. Five ways to start flexing your gratitude muscle. Now, how about you? How do you cultivate and express gratitude in your life?

Reflection

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs

Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought “Wow, is that what I really look like?!?”  Or looked in the mirror and thought “Just who is that person staring back at me?” Well, it’s happened to me more times than I care to admit. And each time I’m left wondering how it’s possible that what I think and feel on the inside is so very different from what actually is. This happened for me recently, so I began to ask myself some serious questions and really reflect on where I was and where I wanted to go. Allow me to explain:

For so long I tried to be everything to everyone. It’s just my nature not only to want to succeed but to excel in all that I do. I’ve been scolded for this time and time again by my friends as they tell me I’m way too hard on myself. Still, I’ve continually tried to be the best student, the best wife, the best mom, the best friend, the best housekeeper (ha!), the best employee, the best whatever, and so on and so on. While excelling is great, the problem lies in the fact that I attempt to be the best at all of these things at any given time.

About five months or so ago, right around my 30th birthday, during a conversation with a few dear friends we were talking about my upcoming milestone birthday. I was lamenting that turning 30 felt like I was going to finally have to grow up. My friends assured me that their 30’s have (or had) been their best years yet. They all explained how they finally became more of themselves. They figured out who they are. And as a result they knew better and did better.

Shortly after that conversation that I had a major breakthrough (or was it breakdown?) where I realized that I was literally running on empty. I was giving so much to those around me that I had almost (ok, mostly) forgotten who I was. I said yes when I really wanted to say no. I cared more about what others thought of me than I reasonably should. Instead of doing what made me happy I allowed myself to settle. I set my dreams aside and put goals on hold because it was easier than confronting issues head on. This way was rather easy, I could avoid changing what really needed to be changed. MYSELF. I realized I was standing in my own way.

At the time, I also had toxic people in my life that I needed to see less of or cut out altogether. I was holding on to resentment instead of voicing my feelings and allowing things to naturally run there course. Basically, I was afraid to “rock the boat.” I definitely had the “disease to please.” And it was all at my own expense.

 I think this way of thinking can be partially attributed to the fact that we as women (and some men, too) are raised to take care of other people—and to seek their approval and love by doing so. We want to be seen as “the nice girl.” We prefer that everyone gets their needs met without any conflict. But what often happens is that no matter what we do to make others happy, we are still left feeling empty.

Needless to say I was running on fumes. The “nice girl” reflection on the outside was vastly different from what I felt on the inside. I knew I needed to start being more of who I was really meant to be. Not what everyone else thought I should be. So I had to get clear—about who I am, what I stand for, and why. I got really comfortable with the word “no.” It’s okay to say no! “No, that doesn’t work for me.” “No, I don’t think so” or just plain ol’ “No!” Then I had to make others aware of my new limits and resist the feeling that I was selfish because I took care of myself first. The outcome was that I got really clear about what I want, where I’m going, and how I plan to get there. If I could go back a few months (or even years!) this is what I would say to “the nice girl”:

  1. You’re not superhuman. You require sleep, healthy food, fresh air, and exercise. Things don’t go well when these necessities get ignored.
  2. If how you present yourself is not congruent with who you really are deep within, you won’t come across as authentic—and people will sense it. Authenticity trumps perfection, and sharing who you really are enables you to create true connection.
  3. The more you act like yourself, instead of what you think everyone wants, the more successful (and respected) you’ll become.
  4. Understand that being yourself means you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Embrace this.
  5. Part of being true to who you really are is untangling from other people’s expectations. This is extremely difficult, yet essential to success.

Go BIG Or Go Home!

“What you get by achieving your goals is to as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”- Zig Ziglar

I believe that it’s important not only to set goals but to set BIG goals. A.K.A stretch goals. The thing is, when we set big goals, it forces us to learn new things, connect with new people and search out new resources. It challenges us to grow, evolve, and change. We become more of whom we are meant to be. Which will in turn allow us to make a bigger impact with what we have to offer.

Recently, I accomplished a BIG important goal of my own. I lost the 15 pounds that have been nagging me for forever. If you know me, you know that I love food. So yes, this was indeed a stretch goal. I knew that I was going to have to change my lifestyle and the way I thought about food. I realized that I needed to start taking better care of myself. You see, as a wife and a mom to five (a.k.a expert juggler) I am often the last item on my to do list. Yet, I understood that if I wanted to accomplish my goal this had to change. Unfortunately, there wasn’t some magical secret, diet pill or shortcut. I just figured out, like anything else, that it was the little choices I made each day that would get me to where I wanted to be. So I put myself on my calendar. I made it to the gym. NO MATTER WHAT. I planned my meals ahead of time. I knew who to go to for help and who to search out for accountability. Most importantly, I kept the end result top of mind. Was it easy ? Uh, no. But the thing is, the end goal wasn’t what really mattered. It was what I learned along the way. I learned to love myself more. I learned not to settle for anything less than my best. I learned what is truly important and when to say no. The truth is it really wasn’t just about losing the 15 pounds. It was about how much I had to change to make it happen. How much I had to grow, how much I had to think, and ultimately how I had to hold myself accountable. I had to become somebody more than who I was. The best part of reaching my goal (aside from shopping in a smaller size) has been the mind shift. The realization that there are many, many more goals I’d like to accomplish. Blogging again and taking my career to the next level are just a few of them. So here I am now. While I certainly don’t have all the answers on how I’m going to get it all done, I do know that I have the resources, the willpower and that there is still a much bigger impact to be made. The lesson in the journey, for me, was understanding that the the reason for setting BIG goals is so that we can become the person that it takes to achieve them

So how about you?

  • What do you have to do to get what you really want? 
  • Are you willing to change? Reaching big goals this requires willingness. You simply can’t get big results if you’re not willing to grow and evolve.
  • Are you willing to ask for help? You’ll need a network of people who know things you don’t and who have accomplished the things you’re looking to accomplish. In a nutshell, if you want to succeed hang out with folks who already have those things now.

Need help? Want expert advice? Support me in my most favorite job and join us on February 13th as Honorée Corder  presents “Setting and Exceeding Your Big, Hairy Audacious Goals in 2012.”