Article by Keisha Mabry
Everyone finds success differently, whether by pulling on their bootstraps or being in the right place at the right time. In my case, I found success only after doing something I used to dread: networking. After moving to a new city — where I knew no one and no one knew me — I didn’t really have a choice. If I wanted to get somewhere, connecting with people was going to be key.
Over time, my dread turned into desire. I not only started to benefit from networking, but I also started to enjoy it. Eventually, I began helping others connect within the community, too, attending lunches and speaking at networking events. Now, eight years later, I’ve found a full-time career I love — one I started from scratch. This didn’t happen overnight. It took proactivity and a willingness to connect. It meant getting out of my comfort zone, confronting my fear, and putting myself out there.
Often, we get stuck in analysis paralysis, believing we are “too young for this” or “there aren’t enough opportunities for that” instead of simply getting started where we are. Put that thinking aside and use the following tips to make connections today for success tomorrow:
1. Be Curious
I think people struggle to reach their true potential because they’re quick to make comparisons — and comparison is the thief of joy, after all. When you shift your mindset and approach new opportunities and challenges in a state of curiosity, you can open doors you didn’t know existed and meet people you never dreamt of meeting.
My motto? Channel the curious kid inside yourself and your creative dreams will come true. Growing up, I dabbled in just about everything — from band and choir to basketball and acting — because I needed to know more about all the things life had to offer. This increased my energy, fueled my creativity, and had long-lasting effects on my emotional well-being. Most importantly, my curiosity put me into environments alongside people with whom I likely never would’ve otherwise crossed paths. I even made a few lifelong friends along the way.
Even today, I play. I regularly channel my inner curious kid by trying one new thing every month. Rock climbing, sky diving, simulated flying lessons: You name it, I’ll test it. By dabbling in new things, I inevitably make new connections. If you do the same, know this: A handful of these connections will, in fact, serve as influencers who will undoubtedly push you in the right (and most successful) direction.
2. Be Coachable
Being coached isn’t easy. It can feel a lot like criticism, and criticism can feel cold, especially when it’s coming from someone you don’t know. When you’re coachable, however, criticism can be the very thing that leads you to your next opportunity. You don’t always have to agree with someone’s criticism, but if you’re open to learning, coachability will take you a long way. In my experience, coachability will help build bridges and connections far more quickly than anything else.
I learned to be coachable in my time as an eighth-grade science teacher. As I’m sure you’re aware, eighth-graders have no filter, and everything is fair game: your teaching methods, your clothes, the booger in your nose during allergy season — all of it. After two years of daily feedback (or criticism, depending on how you look at it), I had to choose between feeling insecure or becoming coachable. By choosing coachability, I’ve met some amazing people who are now my mentors and mentees who constantly help move me forward.
Coachability comes with practice. Additionally, it involves getting to the root of your fears. Are you afraid of being wrong? Losing control? For me, it was fear of vulnerability, so I made it a point to let my guard down as a teacher. For instance, in class, I’d share anecdotes about myself that made me feel vulnerable. This left me open to feedback (warranted or not), but it also helped me buck up and mold myself into the person I wanted to be.
3. Be Willing to Connect
No one likes to network — and I mean no one. This is because networking often feels purely transactional and even superficial. Even if you’re the bubbliest person in the room, networking can still be difficult. To find success, I strongly encourage embracing the willingness to connect. Try to suspend your judgments about other people and their motivations. Be willing to talk and make new connections without your preconceptions hanging in the air.
When I moved to a new city, I forced myself out of my comfort zone by electing to meet 100 people in 100 days. Here are a few ways I pulled it off:
- First, I had regular one-on-one meetings. I met people in person to grab coffee, eat lunch at a new deli in town, or have dinner at an old neighborhood standby. I still do this almost weekly. I start with people I know professionally or personally, and I ask them to recommend other folks. Just like that, my connections grow exponentially.
- Second, I started volunteering. This is one of the fastest and most rewarding ways to meet new people, many of whom are highly influential in their communities. Join a committee, serve as a camp counselor, participate in nonprofit clubs, volunteer at local churches, or host a charity event. The possibilities are endless, as is the list of connections you’ll make along the way.
- Finally, I became a mentor, but I was always willing to be the mentee, too. The term “mentor” has become synonymous with “time commitment,” which occasionally deters people. However, mentorship can be whatever both parties decide it should be. It can be a quick cup of coffee here or a half-hour phone call there; it can be a weekly, monthly, or even quarterly check-in. The insights a mentor can provide to a mentee — and the other way around — are boundless, as are the benefits. Make a mentor-mentee relationship that works for you.
Perhaps it is selfish, but the motivation to network may come solely from the desire to be successful. Remember: Other people are going after it, too, so help them find connections. Be the person who introduces Evelyn to Jaime because you know an unbelievable partnership can flourish. Doing so benefits you, too: They’ll remember you for it, and your relationships with them will bloom.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Keisha Mabry is an author, speaker, and social entrepreneur who has been featured on National Public Radio, the Nine Network, Facebook, Forbes, NextStepU, The Business Journal, Blavity, Ellevate, and the United State of Women for her work in personal branding and networking. In addition, Keisha is a TEDx speaker, a lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis, an Aspen Ideas scholar, a Hatch scholar, and a contributor to the Huffington Post and Watch the Yard. She has also written a book: Hey Friend: 100 Ways to Connect With 100 People in 100 Days.