In high school and college, you could have dropped me into nearly any situation with any group of people, and I would have been fine. I would have talked to people, I would have smiled a lot, and I would have found several new friends. I may have been nervous but that never would have stopped me from socializing, making myself seen, and working the room.
After college I had some tough years. And those tough years left me feeling less than, and a little ashamed, and a little more introverted. Now…to be clear…I was never an actual introvert, but I wasn’t as outspoken, or bold, or up for any situation as I used to be. During that time, I started to think that I couldn’t be thrown into any situation anymore. Maybe I wasn’t so social. Maybe I no longer had the ability to properly “work the room.” And maybe, just maybe, I didn’t want to be seen.
As I eased into my 30s, and solidified myself as a fundraiser, I began attending event, after event that were perfect opportunities to network and rub shoulders with funders. I’d spent the past several years avoiding these kinds of things and suddenly I was in a position in which I actually needed to take advantage of them. So I did what any self-respecting extrovert would do…I busied myself with “working” the events. I worked registration, I straightened displays, I ran errands around the venue for those putting it on. I avoided the networking aspect of the events in the most subtle way possible.
While I was great with people one-on-one, completely comfortable facilitating trainings for large groups, and having a MUCH better decade, I still didn’t feel comfortable schmoozing. I kind of decided I just didn’t know how anymore. Or that things had changed so drastically that it just wasn’t my thing anymore. I felt incapable of networking comfortably. It was just another thing that had faded with my youth. Sigh.
In my new role I’ve found it necessary to join some industry associations. My husband is involved with several in his industry and he has happy hours, awards ceremonies, roasts, and events to attend regularly. In the summer he has an event nearly every week. As I was signing up for the associations, I was dreading what it would do to my calendar. The last thing I want to do at the end of a work day is put on a smile and network. Not to mention, how much business am I really going to get out of these things? I mean…really.
Last night I had the first of these events. A belated holiday party. All week I’ve been thinking about just how much it was going to suck. Not certain what to wear to one of these things, I threw on my favorite skinny pants, riding boots, and sweater and declared it was going to have to be good enough. SO THERE.
I drove downtown (bleck), struggled to find parking (bleck), seriously struggled to figure out how in the eff to pay for said parking (bleck), and I headed into the event center by myself hoping I could escape within an hour and still feel like I’d done my job. So…first off…my ticket to this event got me two free drink tickets. Which immediately brightened my mood. So with a glass of Malbec, I ventured into the room, and something crazy happened. Instantly. The girl I become when I facilitate trainings? The girl I become in meetings with executives? The girl I was in high school and college? Well THAT, my friends, is the girl who showed up to the party last night. I started at the front and made my way around the room. I learned about products that could be great additions to what we offer. I met people who know my husband. I introduced myself to people with whom I will never, in a million years, do business. I was easy-going, approachable, extroverted, and smiles and laughs came incredibly easy. I caught up with an old work colleague and we had a fabulous time sampling the goods of the highlighted caterers. And do you know what? I stayed for nearly the entire time, and if I hadn’t had to save my dog from doggie daycare, I would have stayed until the very end. It. Was. Awesome.
But more to the point? I. Was. Awesome. On my way home I realized I’m not bad at networking. I even (gasp!) enjoy networking. I love finding out people’s stories. I love learning how they got where they are. I absolutely love finding ways in which we are connected due to the teensy size of our world.
You know when I don’t love those things? When I’m unhappy. I think there is a direct correlation between my ability to easily jump into any crowd, and my feeling confident, comfortable, and happy with the skin that I’m in. Maybe it’s my new gig, or maybe it’s having lost a little weight over the past six months, or maybe it’s simply that it’s 2013. No matter what it is? I’ll take it.
In unrelated news? I think the age of 37 is going to look damn good on me.
TODAY: What if I am good at some of the things for which I’ve been assuming I no longer had the knack. What if in this new year I start to embrace things that I want to be good at and I want to do?