Why it’s more important to focus on what you do, rather than who you know.
I just returned home from a book launch hosted by an acquaintance I met on a press junket. I walked to the metro station around the corner from my apartment, alighted two stops later, then walked for about nine-minutes to the bar where the launch party was taking place.
I didn’t really want to go, but thought that it would be a friendly gesture of goodwill. Also, I’ve recently completed a manuscript and am hoping to find publisher, I felt that the launch would be a good way to connect with the “right crowd” — fellow working authors who could introduce me to someone who might advance my career or get me in on a new and interesting project. It also occurred to me that attending the event might bring me a little good karma (I celebrate and support your victories, so the law of reciprocity dictates that you will witness and be happy for my little triumphs in the future) my way.
There was a large group of people milling around outside the bar. Near the entrance, a few people were selling the books that were being launched. I could not see my acquaintance, the host. There were two or three vaguely familiar faces (people I had been introduced to and perhaps chatted with briefly at other press events, creative writing conferences and literary gatherings) in the crowd, but I couldn’t quite place them, and they didn’t seem to recognise me either.
I attempted to purchase a book, but I only had a $50 and the booksellers did not have change, so it didn’t happen. I stood outside scanning the sea of faces for anyone whom I might know, or could perhaps talk to. I had no interest in going inside, where people were squashed together like tinned fish and shouting to be heard.
To digress a little, I do not drink alcohol or smoke, not anymore, so there is little I can do with myself in or around bars these days except stare into my iPhone or pretend I am waiting for someone.
I saw a creative writing teacher and author whom I had interacted with briefly a year ago. She was engrossed in conversation with three women and did not see me, or perhaps just found it too inconvenient to acknowledge a new presence in mid-banter. I chose not to intrude.
Five minutes after had I arrived at the bar, I turned back in the direction of the metro station and went home.
My first thought was: “I’m such a whoosie! I should have given myself at least half an hour to warm up. I’m so anti-social, what’s wrong with me? I’m a total wimp!” My second thought was: “This is exactly why I will never get any further in my writing career. I don’t get ‘out there’ enough. If I don’t network, how am I going to meet the people who will help me get ahead?” My third thought was: “Phew, boy am I glad to be going home. I think I have an idea for an article.”
At that moment, another smaller voice chimed in: “If I get ahead on someone else’s coattails, doesn’t that mean I’m not really that good at what I do?” It got me thinking about my priorities in my creative and professional life. What’s more important? Focusing on my craft or expending energy to establish industry connections?
As a writer, shouldn’t it be my words, rather than physical presence, or my ability to high-five and chitchat with charm, that gets me noticed? Shouldn’t it be my singular voice on paper or screen, rather than the pedigree of my associates that makes the best impression?
Likewise, if you’re a painter, a web designer, a lawyer, a carpenter, or whatever your profession may be, shouldn’t it be your work skills and talents that make you stand out from others in your industry?
On the train ride home, I read a post by Zat Rana on Medium, which mentioned, “History has already proven — over time, the market will reward the best.” This offered me some assurance that I really have nothing to lose by not playing the “show your face”, “be a part of the scene” game.
I was not leaving the party out of cowardice or lack of social tenacity. I wasn’t even leaving because I score low marks on the extraversion scale, or because I don’t drink. I simply wasn’t having any fun. There was no one there whose company I honestly cared for, I have better things to do with my time, and I couldn’t even purchase the bloody book and offer the “support” I had hoped to! So why torture myself by sticking around and grinning at strangers?
Networking is essential for sales people or anyone in public relations and marketing, but if your job is about creating and delivering products and services that matter, then it might be more helpful to connect with people one-on-one, as your authentic, “non-professional”, “agenda-less” self, rather than to put yourself in an opportunistic social setting. Let your work speak for you.
As a writer, networking has never sat well with me, and this evening I realised why — because so much of it is about keeping my mask in place, schmoozing and looking for short cuts rather that hunkering down and doing what I do well, the best way I know how.