When I was fresh out of college in New York City, I networked like a maniac and looking back on it, I really needed to chill. (My overeagerness must have been so off-putting, but I was young and hungry to succeed — had a lot to learn and STILL DO.)
Somewhere along the way, I picked up an awful habit of beginning a conversation with, “What do you do?”
At any social gathering, I’m sure you’ve been asked it or even asked it yourself.
It wasn’t until I was visiting Madrid a few years later that I was called out on the absurdity of the question.
“What a person does to make money isn’t who they are,” my friend explained. “Here, that would be considered rude to ask and Americans do it all the time.”
The conversation was an epiphany for me and I began approaching networking events and social gatherings in the United States with an entirely new perspective. I stopped asking the question but inevitably, the other person would end up asking, “What do you do?”
I’d respond by talking about things I enjoyed doing — making music and writing for different websites. Of course, that was often met with, “But what do you do to make money?”
At the time, it was a range of things — working in admin, doing translation work, being a promo model (which often involved dressing up in crazy outfits and handing out samples like bags of organic popcorn) — but those things didn’t define me and I really began to understand just how rude that question can be.
Why is it asked so often at networking events? Is a person’s salary and influence used to decide whether or not they’re worth knowing?
That’s pretty cold and awful.
As the years have gone by, I’ve changed quite a bit when it comes to meeting new people and no one notices it more than my bestie of 16 years.
We were at a fun holiday gathering and rather than “work the room” like I used to, we spent the first half of the evening talking one-on-one.
“Years ago you would have met everyone in the room by now,” she says.
And she’s right. But that life was exhausting and now, I’d rather walk away from an experience having one really thoughtful conversation with a person than a million meaningless ones with a faceless room.
After finishing our pasta, we got up for more wine and ended up getting into a lovely conversation about the French way of life, old school music and the importance of travel with an artist couple. (who’ve been married for 30 years, by the way. talk about #couplegoals.)
We exchanged contact info as we were leaving and I’ll probably end up writing a piece about them, not because they asked, but simply because I found them inspiring.
Being in the media, I now find myself on the other side of the fence at events — being the person people want to meet because they want to be written about. If that’s your goal and our conversation consists of an exchange of names, job titles, a business card and a story pitch, I will quickly forget the forced interaction.
The next time you’re networking, just enjoy yourself. Don’t view the people you’re meeting as “business opportunities” but as human beings.
If you go with the flow and be yourself, you can’t go wrong. The right doors will open.
Another thing to consider from all this: Outside of your job, who are you? Some of us know the answer and some of us are still figuring it out, and that’s okay.