on karma + cultivating real relationships {some advice. long read}

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Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge. ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Omega Point

It’s rare you hear me talk shop in these parts, as I’ve been pretty deliberate with how I’ve managed to compartmentalize certain aspects of my life. Longtime readers of this space know that I have an uncanny affection for business and the artistic and creative, and I’m able to move through these spheres fairly seamlessly. While I’m methodical, strategic and decisive in a professional environment, when it comes down to me crafting prose and architecting sentences, I become something of a wavering fakir; I’m forever changing my mind, forever revising a single image to unpack it, restructure and rewire it, so that the thing that I’m describing takes on a new form, reinvents itself. It’s rare that what I do to make a living {digital marketing strategy and management consulting} intersects with my more personal and creative pursuits, until I started to allow more people to fill in the frame. As soon as I opened the door, albeit a peep, a rush of people flew in, and suddenly it occurs to me, to quote the venerable French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, for everything that rises must converge. I’m hyper-aware of the fact that the success of my work is predicated by the kind of people with whom I surround myself. People aren’t fractions or compartments; people can’t be so neatly stacked onto shelves, and suddenly my world is converging. The walls between my personal and professional pursuits are crumbling, and what rises from the rubble are the people who held my hand through the journey.

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If you know me, you know how I abhor the term “networking.” I hate working a room, collecting business cards and making small talk. I’m painfully shy in large groups of people {social or otherwise}, and I tend to leave events quickly, if I even attend them at all. People have often mistaken that for snobbery, but I’m just really uncomfortable with the act of trading a card as a means of connection, and when I hear of people who name-drop and social-climb to be connected with a certain kind of person as if that connection will grant stardom by osmosis, as if we’ll bask in the proverbial glow simply by association — I cringe. Admittedly, all of this makes me an extremist {one of my great flaws}, and the accumulation of people into my world has been painfully slow. While the means may not be valiant, the ends have allowed me to cultivate deeper, more meaningful relationships with people, and have also afforded me a means of making smarter connections between people. People have often called me a “connector,” because I’m always thinking of brilliant matches, because I’m always thinking about how to make the people in my life richer in life and heart.

From food blogging to marketing and fiction writing, I’ve adopted a few rules for myself that have made my path to cultivating relationships an easier one.

1. Excise the barnacles: Have you ever suffered through a coffee, the kind of get-together that makes you bleary-eyed, and you come home to only fall flat into bed? I used to accept every repeat meal/coffee invite from people who drained the life out of me. These are people who repeatedly take without consciously giving, and when they do give the gifts tend to be material. These are people who are forever asking you to connect them with Person X, do you know anyone at Company Y?, and their dramas are on the level of a telenovela. You see that blood draining from my face? That’s you. So now I only meet people who add texture and energy to my life; I leave these catch-ups invigorated and inspired to create, to do, and the others I see very sparingly. Doing this hasn’t made me “popular,” but it has created a quality to my life that I won’t give up. Surround yourself with people who complement and add, not subtract and deplete. Be surgical about this.

2. Give without expecting the world in return: Trust me on this one. Once you’ve gotten rid of the barnacles, offer help without expecting anything in return. Karma will pay you back, I really believe this. Whenever my good friends or old colleagues and I meet up, I’m always crafting ways in which I can help, people I can connect them to who can take them where they need to go. You may not get repaid now or ever, but your kindness and selflessness builds character, and people always want to be associated with people of great character.

3. Try not to be an asshole. No, really: You’d be surprised how and when people may resurface in your life. Recently, an old client of mine applied for a job at a company where I was consulting. I remember the client, and how she was fair, smart and kind, and I was in a position to help her resume rise above the pack. She now has a job at this company, and on her first day she joked and said, I’m glad we had a good relationship. Everyone has bad days, weeks or months, but word-of-mouth is powerful, and although I’ve had my difficult moments I try really hard to be fair and kind to everyone, and that has helped me. Another person who I vouched for a senior marketing position in the company {he didn’t get it} recently called me about working on a project with him. In short, do well by people, which sort of leads me to my next point.

4. Your C network is a rich terrain. Harvest it: This week, a work colleague and I gave a talk about “networking” and cultivating relationships, and I drew three large concentric circles on a piece of paper. Think of them as orbits. Your A orbit represents your crew {close friends and tight-knit colleagues}. These folks you see quite often and you tend to have similar networks and information. Your B/C networks extend farther out, with a great deal of your C network being composed of colleagues, vendors and new friends with whom you’ve worked on congenial terms, but there weren’t any deep and meaningful relationship {this is okay!}. These folks have a network of folks you won’t come into contact with every day, and I’ve found that I’ve garnered more leads and projects from folks out of my “orbit” than my closest friends. It’s also easier, professionally, as business between friends can be prickly.

5. Cultivate real relationships: This should be captain obvious, but in practice it clearly isn’t. I honestly don’t care how “big” a blogger you are, how well you’re “connected,” rather I care about whether or not I can share a meal with you, which, essentially, goes back to my first point. I don’t go into relationships expecting anything from people — I honestly just want to meet people who add light to my life. That may sound trite, but I don’t care, and it’s allowed me to attract a group of folks I see often, help often, love always. I rarely ask for favors, and if I do, it comes without strings. My requests are brief and are always reciprocated {whether it be now or another point in time}, and I only befriend people, professional or otherwise, with whom I can share a meal.

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28 thoughts on “on karma + cultivating real relationships {some advice. long read}

  1. What a fantastic read. I too have been called a connector. I love your advice to expand your C circle and to only befriend people you would share a meal with. I am taking it to heart.

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  2. This is pure gold! Seriously! I’m trying—also realizing I may like the company of a few hens and alpacas in the field as opposed to a bunch of suits at a networking event—what’s wrong with me:)?!

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  3. This is outstanding advice, Felicia.

    I have been speaking with some very close expat friends about this whole networking thing as an Americans living abroad. I know it’s important but I work for myself, and in a difficult country.

    Trying to figure things out and this post was very timely. I must share it! x

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  4. This is my favorite thing I’ve read today – and such incredible advice. I think we are very alike… I despise networking and have been working // am still working on “excising the barnacles,” and cultivating a closer circle… and also prioritizing “me time” which is still, something I have a hard time with between work + the blog. But I find I am so much better {especially at point 3!} when I do that… for it when I make time for myself I’m just a better, happier human.

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  5. As someone who also hate networking and am responsible for developing relationships and opportunities in a new city, I needed to read this. Especially the part about the C network. Going into this new job, my therapist told me, go into every “networking” opportunity with a sense of curiosity – what do i want to learn from this?. It’s helped me stick around events and meetings longer than I would’ve otherwise..

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  6. Excellent advice. The piece about connecting with folks you share a meal with recently when I was offered the option of coffee or lunch with someone I was meeting for the first time. I chose lunch, thinking this was a person I want a lasting relationship with. I’m so glad I did. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone for a first time meeting, but it was worth it!

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