Was I always as excited about networking as I am today? Obviously, not.
As a young, outgoing Croatian living and studying in Madrid, life was all about going out, studying, part-time working and meeting new people. When you are in your 20s and 30s, people come in and out of your life all the time, especially if you live in a big city. If you also move around a lot, you will probably loose touch with the majority of those people. In short, you can be surrounded by people in one stage of your life and then be alone somewhere down the road and wonder: what has just happened?
For me, meeting people has always come easy and Madrid was the best training ground. The Spanish are naturally gregarious and they will use any opportunity to chat (or chat you up!). I was ( and still am) quite confident and bubbly, so meeting new people gives me energy. But when I was younger, most of these interactions was with my peers. I wasn't interested in expanding my circle beyond my fellow youngsters from university, work or weekend parties. I didn't call this ebb and flow of people networking and it never occurred to me that these people I now knew by name or by sight were people in my network. I had no idea that one day there could be opportunities from this network such as access to information, connections, jobs or business.
When you are young, and starting your career, you may think that a job is something the government provides, or you find yourself because of your studies or CV. Maybe your family has a business or some good connections, so it seems like things will work out easily. The sheer amount of time and effort it takes to find opportunities - that never struck me until I was older. As a naive 20-something, I had a University diploma, and some work experience. I spoke three languages (in Spain!) and the world was to be my oyster. But, as most of us know, it's not that easy. Finding a stable and interesting job was really hard. Contracts were short-term and the pay was low.
Networking came to the rescue. I was lucky in that I learned about networking from my mother, a professional diplomat with an excellent understanding of culture, a warm personality and a love for people. I only realised how valuable those lessons were much later. But most jobs I have had since I was in my late 20s and early 30s were due to networking. It wasn't usually my peers who freely and directly provided the information or opportunities. It was the older generation, who held the connections who knew someone, who in turn knew me. Being the right person at the right time in the right place meant everything.
Young people should be taught about the value of networking early. Networking is a skill that can help you throughout your life span, especially for work, but also for any situation when you might be on your own, like moving, starting to study or work, changing jobs...but also divorce and lost friendships. Networking is not primarily about business or getting a job, but rather about collecting and planting seeds, which may or may not grow later on. These seeds are not commercial exchanges, they are investments into your social capital.
These days, I feel like anything is possible when I realise that I do know a number of nice and interesting people and they know and trust me. We connect from time to time on a variety of topics, and sometimes years go by but the network is still there. I don't have a neighbourhood community, and my family of origin is far away, so networking gives me that sense of connection, an access to information, social ties and potential for friendship.
Let's tell our kids that networking is important, and teach them early on:
I get emails from people every day, telling me about their communication woes. Now that you are ready to do something about it, drop me a line and I will tell you what we can do next.