Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I heart Networking

You've heard the phrase, “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know." Well, I like to think it’s really a little of both. However, this week I am shunning the pro-education side (kidding...kinda), and reflecting on the impact that professional networking has had on me and will have on my future. It would be naïve of me to think that I can get to where I want to be by doing everything alone; with all the books and college degrees around me I can stand. We need people, people. We just have to embrace it.

To start my work week, I had the privilege of attending a very organized “business networking” meeting. This particular group requires membership and has very methodical ways of making introductions and referrals. It reminded me of all the leadership trainings and professional workshops I had attended years ago in college, and as a board member for a state-wide non-profit organization.  Name tags. Structure. Hand shakes. Coffee. Business cards. Bagels. It was pretty laid back for a group of its type though. I enjoyed it.

On the other hand, I also network constantly by interacting with others in the “film community” through local events and especially social media. (AKA – I’m a raging facebookaholic. I admit it.) Whether you enjoy the many positive and negative facets of facebookdom or not, it’s part of our culture. Unfortunately, we still have issues with the “professional” and “personal” realms that sometimes clash online. Dilemmas abound: To add or not to add those colleagues at your new job. To post my real thoughts on someone’s offensive rant or not. To quietly block and curse through a bitten tongue…you get the picture. says that a network (as a noun) is: a “supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.” So, in its basic form, “networking” is being part of a “supportive system”. That means I should try to be supportive, and seek out others who do the same. We all hold hands and share information, and then pat each other on the back. Boom. Done. Easy? Not really.

Networking doesn’t have to be some aggressive way of throwing your business card at strangers foreheads. And, it doesn’t have to be some big moronic circle jerk (pardon my language). Being part of a supportive network, and expecting it to help you in your own endeavors, requires us all to act professionally, with tact, and treat others with some modicum of respect when interacting with them – whether they are functioning in a role above or below your own in the hierarchy of an organization AND whether you are in a volunteer role or paid. Just because you’re an “artist” or working for free or deferred pay doesn’t give you an excuse to completely ignore a colleague when they are trying to contact you about a project, or skip out on doing paperwork and making contracts. It also doesn’t give you some “free pass” to be a douchebag to others, whether on the clock, on lunch break or online – you can actually say whatever you want, but PEOPLE NOTICE these things and the smart ones will NOT refer others to you.

Yeah, so there are some clueless people and some a-holes on almost every job. But, if you want to keep moving forward, finding people that share the same values as you and actually want to improve themselves and their work, you need to treat every “gig” like it is your own personal project. Do your best to follow through on your word. Keep the public negative, gossipy, whiny, juvenile, useless chatter to a minimum. Also, it helps to take responsibility for your mistakes, too, instead blaming other people. Defending yourself is fine, to a point. However, throwing people under busses is a very unprofessional thing for anyone to do, especially for a person in a leadership position. Apologize for mistakes, learn from them (which may mean steering clear of working with certain people again), and move on – and the best parts of your network will inevitably stay intact.

No, I’m not at the point where I’d call myself “successful” – or even half way there yet. But, I know I’m not going to get there by just sitting on my butt alone reading books about how to make movies. And, I don’t have the money to just pay my way through the crowd and hire all the folks who worked on Spielberg’s last movie. I’m going to have to make connections with people, and maintain the relationships I already have with others in my network who are a supportive, positive influence on me. Hopefully, I’ll serve the same function for the group around me, too.
Can we all hold hands and sing “Kumbayah” now?

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