One time, while working as a waitress in a restaurant in Manhattan, some person of importance in the theater world, some casting director or agent or some such person, stopped in with a companion for dinner. I, being green and new, had no idea who this person was, but the other actor/waiters on staff were all abuzz, and they immediately began vying to wait on his table as if this was their big chance. I distinctly remember one fellow waiter running to the back to dig out his resume and head shot to present to the important theater person (ITP) who had stepped in for a bite to eat.
Now I had taken a class in college on "Aspects of Business" in theater, and I recalled having been advised about how to get your resume and head shots into the hands of helpful people, and instructed how to follow up with post cards and/or phone calls in a persistent way (not pushy, but persistent). However, I was afraid to even do it the right way. But when I saw this waiter/actor colleague rush over to the table where ITP was by now trying to eat a salad, I became more horrified than ever of this thing called networking. Is that what I was expected to do? Is that how you get your name and resume out? I couldn't imagine that it would benefit me in any way to interrupt a person's dinner out. I imagined myself in ITP's shoes, and thought that I would be absolutely annoyed if someone did this to me. And I didn't think that I would want to give any kind of job to a person who had annoyed me.
This incident was a significant factor in me deciding that I didn't like the things that an actor had to do in order to break into the "business." I loved the art and craft of theater. I did not like the business of theater, or what I was perceiving it to be at that point.
How much I could have used the help of someone like Cindy Sadler, who offers consultations to singers on aspects of the singing business through a web site called The Business of Singing. How wonderful would it have been to have a knowledgeable person to consult and steer me in the right direction. I've never met Cindy, but from reading her blog, and seeing her posts in various places on the Internet, I'm sure if I had brought these concerns to her as a young aspiring performer she would have said, "No, no no! That is not the way to go about it! You most certainly should not approach it that way, and I simply will not let you!" But, alas, I did not have the wherewithal to find such a resource at that time, and drew my own conclusions with basically not talking to anyone about it.
But over the past 18 years, I have had a unique front row seat to observe a master networker do his thing, and that master is my husband. He happens to be an absolute natural at networking. From observing him, I have drawn some new conclusions about what networking is.
I think networking is all about friendship, generosity, and love. It's about wanting everyone to do well and to thrive. It's about being interested in more than just one's own pursuit, and caring about others. I'm not talking about caring in the sense that we care about our deep personal relationships, but a kind of caring that is broader and more connected to the deep truth in the universe that we are all important and we need each other's help. Also, I'm talking about the broad principle that is better to give than to receive.
Many times when someone is "networking," they are thinking of what they can get out of someone. My husband never starts from there. As soon as he meets a new person, he has an instant curiosity to find out what they do and what they are all about. He starts asking them questions. Then, almost as instantaneously, his natural networking brain begins to do almost a google-like search for anything in his sphere of life that might be of help to this person he is learning about. It is a reflex for him to think, "who do I know that might be of help to this person?" His eagerness and desire to connect that person is organic to his person.
Once he thinks of a whole list of ways he might be able to help this person, he gets on it immediately! I mean, that he would even ask me to drive home from the party so he could call the person he wants to connect with the person he just met. It's almost like matchmaking! He's like one of those busybodies matchmakers who starts thinking of potential marriages as soon as he meets an new eligible person.
He tries to help the person in every way possible. If it's a dead end, so be it, but he leaves no possibility unexplored. Yes, sometimes he is even pushy, and, yes, there are even moments when it is annoying. But oten times the person is annoyed because he's pressing against their comfort zone. And I've noticed that the pushiness is soon overlooked as it becomes apparent that his heart is in the right place.
As a result, this man has an enormous amount of friends and business associates from all walks of life. His "network" grows hourly, and there are many many people out there willing and happy to do him any favor. The funny thing is that he barely has to ask anyone for any of those favors. Not only does he barely have to ask, but once in a while when he does ask, he is not afraid to ask. He is not afraid to ask, NOT because people "owe" him anything, or because he is "cashing in" in any way, but because he assumes that all these other people think the way he does and are happy for a chance to help. He has found so much happiness in helping and giving out to others that he assumes the people he networks with feels the same way. And what I have learned about people who like to help in the world of networking, is that most people really are happy to help if they can in some way.
If you think about it, there has to be people who want to give in order for networking to "work." If everyone is just trying to work an angle in a calculated and contrived or manufactured way, then who is there to do the favors? If it is just a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" way of "operating," what will really come of that? There has to be some genuine caring about another human being. There has to be some kind of gratification in knowing one has helped another with their pursuit. That we are helping the sphere of business or culture that we care about grow and thrive in some way.
Susan wrote about this in another blog post of hers: "How Large is Your Spirit?" She talks about how wonderful it can be to acknowledge other artists. She sums up what I have observed of my husband, the natural Master Networker, so perfectly with these words:
Having a spirit of generosity shows the evolution of your artistic soul. If you have the room to be generous, then DO IT. It does not cost us anything to be generous. Generosity is a gift, not a crime! Being generous with time, encouragement, a smile, only adds to the well being of the one being gifted and the giver!