By: Jason Shriner, The Aubergine Chef
Let’s just get it out there that I’m young and I’m pretty naïve to the world. I do my best to keep up with current events and stay professional. But even in high school and college I was cynical, and let’s face it, kind of arrogant.
I come from the generation where everybody is told they MUST go to college. But it’s not just that we must to go to college – but because we go to college we will not have to flip burgers and we’ll make six figures right away. My parents told me I’d have to work hard, but I never realized that pre-graduation-working-hard and real-life-working-hard would be so different.
My same college bound generation also had one serious chip on our shoulder: I can do this all on my own. We got into the habit of thinking that our successes were brought about purely because of our own effort. I studied hard for a test and I got an A. But I learned over time that this cause-and-effect thought process was very flawed. I got that A because of my teachers who pushed me to succeed. I was able to study hard because my parents were working hard to feed me. The list could go on.
But before I came to that epiphany whenever I heard a teacher or professor try to tell me, “You need to network and connect with people,” all I heard was, “You can’t do it on your own. You need friends in high places.” My friends and I scoffed at that idea of nepotism. Why when I worked so hard in school to get my own A’s and when I graduate “magic” college and get my dream job will I need somebody else’s help to succeed in the real world? What’s worse is I began to think, “People who network must be cheesy, weak, and lazy.”
What’s sad is I didn’t come to my epiphany on networking until after I started working at McGlothlin Properties and started my food blog – years after graduating college. I realized that the fellow real estate agents I worked with and the bakers, like Sweet Intentions, I sent referrals to was networking. And it didn’t feel forced or cheesy. And I didn’t think that those people were weak or lazy. I referred them business and asked for their advice because I thought that they were genuine, inspiring, and hard-working. And I didn’t just arbitrarily give them business because I knew them or liked them. I knew they would do a good job for the people I referred which in turn would reflect well on me. Then they referred me business and asked for my advice. That right there is networking.
I quickly began to become passionate about networking. I wanted to learn about all the different kinds of businesses that existed in my area and what experiences we could share with one another. I’ve met a man whose daughter designs for Hot Topic and Zynga. I’ve met a remarkable woman with limitless energy who is just as passionate about helping people –even her competition – as she is at growing her business. I discovered the Manassas Park Community Center who invited me to teach classes at their facility because of networking. I wouldn’t have met these amazing and inspiring people or be where I am today without networking.
So I send this message to my generation and the younger generations: Please stop thinking networking is the same as nepotism. You won’t get business or referrals just because you know somebody or because you graduated college. You have to prove to your fellow business owners that you deserve referrals just as those business owners have proved it to you. Networking is about building connections and making a genuine lasting relationship in the business community. The sooner you understand that the sooner you’ll be a success.
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