In your career as a geek, there’s a list of essential career intangibles. These are the things you need to do in order to be successful, which are also maddeningly difficult to measure. There is no direct correlation between completing these activities and a raise. It’s unlikely that accomplishing these indefinite tasks will end up in your review, but via organizational and social osmosis, you’ve learned these intangibles are essential in order to grow.
I want to talk about one: networking.
There are two types of networking. Basic networking is what you do at work. It’s a target rich environment with co-workers, your boss, and those of interest in close proximity. It’s work, but it’s easy work because your day is full of those you depend on and you’ve learned that professionally befriending these people keeps you comfortably in the know.
The other type of networking I’m going to call people networking and it’s harder work. This is when you put yourself out there. It’s attending a conference where you know no one. It’s driving to the city to sit in a coffee shop with ten strangers bonded by a programming language. It’s a leap for the socially awkward, but the infrequent reward is that you discover Your People.
I don’t have a good definition for these people, so I made a list. My hope is that as you read this list you’ll think of at least one person you know who is already Your People:
- Your connection with Your People instant and obvious; it transcends age and experience.
- The best way to discover if someone is Your People is absence. If, when they return, it’s as if they never left, they are Your People.
- There are more of them than you expect, but their number is disguised by the ebb and flow of their presence in your life.
- An investment of time with them will be repaid, but not in a way you can predict or expect. That is the point.
- Your People will piss you off because the relationship is genuine. They do not coddle and they do not spin. Consequently, Your People error-correct you in ways that others cannot.
- You may call on each other without reason, randomly. During these random visits, hours of time will vanish and neither you nor Your People will notice.
- Conversely, long silences are also acceptable and comfortable.
- Your People have a knack for showing up when you need them, even if you didn’t know you needed them prior to their arrival. I don’t know how they do this, but the more People you have, the more likely it is that this will happen.
- Your People rarely demand anything. But when either you or they make a request, neither the request nor the agreement to do it is ever in question.
- Your People keep in you in balance. Their presence reminds you first that that you’re never flying solo and, second, that there are two sides to every story.
- Your People instinctively know who you are and are able to say accurate and valuable things to you and about you with stunningly little data.
- You get mail all day from everyone, but you always stop to read mail from Your People.
- Your People will always be Your People — even if they leave and never return.
When I’m talking about Your People, I am not thinking of your best friend. Sure, your best friend might be Your People, but I’m talking about a larger population who aren’t necessarily your friends and who isn’t your family. These are a strange lot of people you’ve discovered in a motley array of places because you were searching for them.
Furthermore, I am not suggesting that those who are not Your People are somehow less valuable. In fact, the majority of the folks in your life are going to be extraordinarily more work than those who are instantly familiar. The work in bridging the gap between you and those who are harder to know is also an essential intangible skill.
Lastly, while Your People may be less work, they are harder people to have in your life. These are not people that let you sit in place, these are people who hold a mirror up to your fuck-ups, and who explain, in excruciating detail, exactly what you don’t want to hear. If they did not do these things, they would not be Your People.
You Tell Stories
All day. It’s a constant story being composed in your head. You’re doing it right now. You think you’re reading this paragraph that I’ve written, but what you’re actually doing is telling yourself the story of reading this paragraph. It’s your inner dialogue and it’s often full of shit.
I’m not saying you deliberately lie to yourself. Ok, maybe I am, but we’re all doing it. We’re all gathering data through the course of the day and creating a story based on that data, our experience, and our moods. It’s a perfectly natural phenomenon to guide the narrative in our favor. We see the world how we want. A carpenter sees all problems as a nail. I see problems as finite state machines.
As we edit our days into these stories, there is always a risk of fiction. This is why you need to identify and nurture Your People.
You tell these stories to Your People without reservation. Your People love your stories — fiction and all. They love how you tell them, they laugh about the lies you tell yourself, and then they stop and they tell you the truth.
Networking is the art of finding those who are willing to listen to and critique your stories, so go look at your Inbox. Better yet, go look at your Sent box. Check your phone and see who you call the most and who calls you. I’m certain that, right now, one of Your People wants to hear a story and they have one for you, too.