When I was growing up, my father was a business owner (the term “entrepreneur” wasn’t popularized back then) and I learned a lot about relationships through him. His philosophy was that you need to be kind to everyone, invest in your employees and show them appreciation. As a result, his employees stayed longer with him and he eventually sold his business just as I was attending high school. While the idea of “being nice to everyone” is the best long term strategy for creating karma and attracting the right relationships into your life, it wasn’t that effective in high school. In high school, social cliques created an atmosphere where your peers wanted you to decide what group to be part of and they weren’t accepting of people like me, who wanted to be part of all of them collectively. Since I was friendly to everyone, it actually isolated me from all cliques because I didn’t conform. While my strategy wasn’t effective in high school, I reaped the benefits of this mantra later in life.
In college, my view of professional relationships was distorted by the competition to get internships and jobs. I would walk into networking events and feel pressured to walk over to alumni whose sole purpose was to eventually hire some graduates. Without any guidance, I would walk over to an alumni, and instead of getting to know them, I wanted to just give them a resume and move on. I figured that if enough of these contacts had my resume, I was bound to get a job. Of course, none of these networking opportunities yielded a job and I learned quickly that relationships take time and that one night stands don’t turn into job offers.
It wasn’t until I started my blog as a recent college graduate that I started to learn how to best build relationships. While many people viewed blogs as “online diaries”, I immediately saw them as communities that used content to enable conversations that would create opportunities. The more you wrote, the more opportunities you would have to connect with people who either enjoyed or disputed your ideas. The blog allowed me to spotlight people I wanted to network with and attract others interested in helping my generation succeed, which eventually became my mission statement. The reason why a blog is one of the most powerful networking devices is that you are displaying effort to produce and create relationships with others in your field.
I think about the word “effort” a lot, especially living in New York City, a place where there are unlimited activities, restaurants, events, shows and people. It’s a bubble where you learn that effort is everything because it depicts your every decision, from what you eat to who you go out with. I’ll give you a few examples. First, if you live downtown and you’re dating a girl uptown, you will learn fast if you want to be in a relationship with her because it’s going to require effort to build something when you are a half hour apart. Second, if you have a birthday party and invite a dozen people and a few make up last minute excuses why they couldn’t attend, you know that you probably don’t have a strong friendship with them.
The more effort that is put into a relationship, the stronger it is. The only way to maintain a relationship is by investing time and energy into one and having the other person reciprocate. If they don’t put at least the same amount or more effort into spending time with you, then it will fade out. I’ll often meet a lot of people, put some energy into meeting them in person, and then seeing where things go. If we get along, and find value in each other, then I look to see if they are “flaking” when we try to meet up or not and if they include me in their activities or not. These are both tests to see how serious the person is with the relationship. While relationships can strengthen or weaken over time based on a variety of circumstances, such as one person having children or moving to a new city, the general rule is to display effort in the right contacts and then see which ones blossom into strong lasting relationships. Effort matters and as you get older you find out who your true friends are by their display of effort, despite their lack of time.
Dan, I completely agree with you on how important relationships are to your overall success. Many people network wrong. Others, eager to be friends with everyone burn themselves out when they do not know how to read that the other person is not putting the effort in to maintain the relationship.