Networking. What an amazing word. You hear it all the time, everywhere. This word, though, does not do the power justice that lays behind it. Let’s name it differently:
Because that’s what it is.
“Networking” to me has something strategic in it. I don’t like to think about it that way.
Because every time I “networked”, I have made new friends or connected more deeply to the ones I already had. It enriched my life.
There are three big events that have shaped my life and made me the person i am today, and I am going to tell you about them and what I think happened there – so you can learn about them and find ways to “network” for yourself.
Example #1 – Holstein Chamber Orchestra
-> Leverage your skill.
I play the cello. I have inherited the instrument from my Grandma, and I started playing when I was 14 years old – older than most kids that learn to play an instrument, and people say “you can’t really learn an instrument when you are past 10”.
And like so many things “people say”, that’s almost complete BS. But I digress 😉
After three months of daily practicing, I finally got my first clear sound out of my instrument. A great feeling. Soon I played better and joined the school orchestra.
At the same time, my friend Stefan was playing in a youth symphony orchestra. The “Holstein Chamber Orchestra”. A big dream of mine, but he played way better than me.
I forgot about that orchestra, until a few years later, Stefan told me they were looking for cellists.
I jumped at this opportunity… and won a plethora of new friendships. The orchestra traveled all over Europe in summer – what can be better than hanging out with your friends in great summer weather and playing cool music?
Playing my cello gave me access to a lot of people I would have never known otherwise.
And these friendships still last to this day. And generate further friendships.
If you love music and learn an instrument, there are a whole host of amateur orchestras in almost any city of the world you can join. Or bands. Jazz, rock, pop – you name it.
You don’t need to learn an instrument, though. Are you great at a certain team sport? People meet all the time to play. Or maybe you have another trade you can offer?
As long as you can help people with a skill or trade they need, you can unlock a whole host of new contacts and friends.
Example #2 – ORC CUP
-> Dare to be different. People accept you BECAUSE of who you are.
Nowadays, everyone always stresses the importance of being a “team player”. Don’t ruffle feathers. Be as inclusive as possible. While these are absolutely noble goals to live by, we must not forget that we act as individuals and that simply not everyone gets along with everyone else.
Here is an example from my own life. I studied in Hanover, Germany; ca. 200 miles to the south of my hometown, Hamburg. One day, as fall semester began, I noticed another student sitting in the same train and bus as me.
To my surprise, I saw him next day standing in the auditorium. I just shouted “hey, you must be from North Germany too, am I right?” and at that point he thought I was crazy, because I was just charging directly towards him without a polite “hello” first.
Half a year later, I sat on the chemistry table in the lecture hall with my cello and played when the professor entered. It won me a beer. I wasn’t shy.
I must have impressed my friend Boris with my brashness, though, since he introduced me later on to a Fantasy Football simulation named “ORC CUP”. This is not your standard fantasy football, though… in ORC CUP, the players manage teams made out of actual fantasy characters, like Orcs, Trolls, Elves, Cartoons or whatever their fantasy permits. And yes, only crazy people would play such a game, and it is likely that Boris would not have asked me if I would have come up as a person that was only polite.
Once again, by doing what I felt like and what I wanted, I made a lot of new friends. One of them, RIPley, is still one of my best friends to date.
Always be yourself, dare to be different. Of course, always be respectful and treat people as you would like to be treated… but if you really really enjoy what you are doing, keep doing it. People don’t really look at what you are doing. At a certain point, they are swayed by the good emotions you bring.
And those that really like you will take you for who you are.
You will build stronger friendships by living life your own way.
Example #3 – my PhD thesis advisor
-> Always catch the opportunities where you can give and do somebody else a favor.
By the end of my University studies, I went to a summer lab course.
I was very excited about this opportunity and loved the research we were doing.
And then, when one of the PhD students had to leave a bit earlier to take care of her daughter, I volunteered to take a plate out for her later that evening. It cost me literally nothing, yet it helped her in her schedule.
We stayed friends.
Then, one year later, when I applied for my PhD in another institute, one of the group leaders there directly asked me if I wanted to join his up and coming lab.
He did not know me, but… he knew that student that I had treated well. And she had fully and completely vouched for me.
It’s absolutely crazy to become aware that that one small act of 10 seconds secured my career in one of the best labs I have ever worked.
The help I offered came back thousandfold.
So there you have it.
1. Learn a fun skill that makes you happy.
2. Be yourself in whatever you are doing.
3. Watch out for the opportunities to lend a helping hand.
If you get together with people and follow either of these rules, you will increase your circle of friends and have new opportunities come your way.
If you are further looking to enhance your social skills, these links here have helped me a ton: