My father and I have had arguments about family for most of my life. My father keeps insisting that now that I am an adult I should make a pilgrimage twice a year to go to his family reunions. I don’t see the point in going to these because I had many of these events from my childhood where I felt kind of like we were the Anne of Cleeves juice glass in the collection of wives of Henry VIII. We needed to be there so that there would be a complete set of my father’s siblings and family, but once we were accounted for we were kind of ignored and forgotten.
I came to terms with this at some point in my early adulthood because, honestly, what do you say to people you only see twice a year? Most of my relatives were much older than I was. My cousins were in college and getting married when I was in Jr. High. We were at different points in our lives.
The advent of Facebook and the Internet has made it much easier to connect with my relatives and keep up with what they are doing. We’re also now all adults and it’s a little easier to connect with people when you’re at the same point in your life.
Yet still I fight with my father over the necessity to go there and see people in person. We would have incredibly heated arguments over this and I could never articulate why this bothered me so much until recently, and yes, it does has something to do with networking.
I guess the things that bothers me about going to various family reunions is that they are perfunctory and superficial. You go, you say hi to the host, you eat your sandwich, you go home.
I observed over many years that most people’s relationships with their families were much different than my own.
I grew up in a very small town where most people had a huge network of cousins and other relatives who were all around the same age. They were thick as thieves in school and continue to voluntarily spend time together as adults. People weren’t just cousins, they were friends as well.
My cousins were not my friends. I really think that they could have been.
I remember as a kid being hauled to the family Christmas brunch where I would usually find a nice corner to sit in and read my Babysitter’s Club books while I waited for presents to be opened so that we could go back to the hotel and go swimming. One thing that happened every year was that my cousins would all go out to a movie and I was always invited to go. My dad would tell them no, I wasn’t allowed to go with them.
After a few years they stopped asking and whatever relationship I had with them withered until I became an adult and reconnected with them on social media.
My mother’s family was closer in both age and geographically and I barely saw them either. I will now go on Facebook and see every cousin of my mother’s, except her, go on a week-long camping trip and other various adventures that we are never included in because we’re not really a member of the family.
I keep fighting with my dad because I think we have different ideas of what “family” is.
My dad thinks that family is people you are related to by blood who are obligated to take you in if you are in trouble. He sees them like Social Security. You show up once a year to let them know you are alive so that if you are at a point where you might not be you can show up with your hand out and expect to be taken care of.
To me, what I observed, is that family are your social circle and your safety net. Family is people you want to spend time with and who you want to help if they’re in trouble. My dad has no interest in a meaningful relationship with any member of his or my mother’s extended family and he assumes that the blood tie is enough to fulfill this goal.
So What Does this Have to do with Networking?
I’ve noticed that some people are taking the wrong approach to networking.
Many people think that having several hundred LinkedIn connections is a network. It isn’t.
Jeremy Sherman was talking at the mini-360iDev in Greenville last year about how he networked with a journalist he hoped would feature him in a piece for his magazine. The only reason this tactic worked was because Jeremy actually made friends with this person. They liked one another and it was a real, meaningful relationship. He made it clear it wasn’t a mercenary tactic, he just really wanted to befriend the guy and that it worked out because he treated the journalist as a human being and not an opportunity.
All of the opportunities I have had have come from having meaningful relationships with people in this community.
It means a lot to me that the Kleins, the Remsiks, and the Wilkers have given me the opportunity to speak at their conferences. I like all of them as people very much. If I didn’t get to speak at 360iDev in two weeks (buy your tickets!), I would still like the Wilkers very much and would have found a way to go (but I am glad I didn’t have to).
I made friends with Chris Adamson because I liked the work that he did. We hung out at Anime Central the last two years because we were friends and we both had a mutual enjoyment of anime.
If I had gone into my friendship with him with the agenda that I was going to get something out of him, our friendship would never have materialized. People can sense users a mile away. Don’t be a user.
I am at a point right now where if I lost my job this afternoon, I have a large number of people I would go to for help, not just to find another job, but just because they’re friends who I think can give me advice and comfort about what to do. I have a lot of people in this community that I consider to be close friends and confidants and it makes my life and career richer for having a meaningful relationship with them.
Networking is about building meaningful relationships with people. It’s about seeing them as people and spending time with them even if it doesn’t immediately get you anything. It’s about finding people you genuinely like and who genuinely like you. If you go to one conference and meet someone once and never follow up with them, then I am sorry, they are not a connection in your network.
If you’re going to go to the expense and time of attending a conference, make the most of it. Meet as many people as you can. Find people who like the same things you do and keep in touch with them. You can’t pick your family, but you can pick the people you choose to be connected to.