Networking from the Heart

Two weeks ago I hosted a Literary Salon. My students (present and former) read their work to an audience of family and friends. We also ate, drank, mingled, and—thanks to the brave and authentic work shared—connected in deep and meaningful ways. I mentioned at the salon that although writing is a solitary occupation, writing lives and careers require love, support, connection, and community.
This dovetails nicely with something that’s been on my mind this week. Someone recently told me that I was good at networking, which struck me as odd because I don’t think of myself as someone who “networks.” This feels like a business-y term and carries with it connotations of trying to game the system for one’s own benefit. It feels technical and self-serving, rather than personal, generous, and generative. But that’s my bias.
I like to show up in service, and that works best when I ask, “What can I give?” as opposed to “What can I get?” When I’m in my “What can I get” mindset I know I’m operating out of fear and lack. But when I ask what can I give, I’m coming from a place inside that is abundant and loving.
In order to keep this balance in check, the first person I “network,” or connect, with is myself. I get quiet and check in. How’s my body feeling? Is it tense? How about my mind? Is it racing, abducted by a sense of urgency? Is insecure thought teaming up with my imagination to create a storm of worry? Do I believe that the stakes are higher than they actually are (which is often the case)? That my well-being or success depend upon outcomes? If so, I’m being duped by my over-active mind, and it’s time to recalibrate. 
Getting Back on Track
I start by taking a deep breath and remembering the following fundamental truths:

  • Beneath the mental chaos of an agitated mind, my essence is loving and calm. It helps when I turn my attention toward that feeling.
  • I have everything I need. I may want more, but I don’t need it.
  • My intention is to learn, grow, connect—and have a good time doing it. 
  • There’s no magic formula for happiness, but we all have it within, beneath our challenging circumstances, conditions, and disturbed thinking.
  • Showing up authentically, and trusting myself, allows me to be guided by inner wisdom, to which we all have access.

When I keep these things in mind, networking becomes a natural extension of my desire to share and give. There are many ways to go about this, but the key is to pick and choose what you enjoy. One person might love Facebook groups, another might prefer attending or organizing in-person events. One person might enjoy public speaking, another might like podcasts, or lunch dates, or newsletters. 
What You Do Is Less Important Than How You Do It
Is your heart open or closed? Are you frantic and anxious, or calm and enthusiastic? Are you having fun? Are you operating from a place of lightheartedness?
Kindness as a Practice
Networking provides a great opportunity to experiment with kindness as a practice. Ask yourself, How, where, and when can do something for somebody else? I have a lot to learn in this arena. Most of the time I’m too busy, distracted, self-absorbed, or just plain tired to reach out to someone. 
Case in point: On a recent morning walk my husband and I saw a neighbor from down the street walking alone. “I haven’t seen his wife in ages,” my husband said. “I think she may have died.”
“I saw them a few weeks ago at Hugo’s,” I said. “She was in a wheelchair.” This had come as a shock, because I was used to seeing the wife, a former ballerina, biking around the neighborhood. 
I could visit her, I thought. She may be housebound and lonelyBut I don’t know her, and what would I say showing up at their door out of the blue like that? I reflected for a moment on the “curse” of city living, that I don’t know most of the people on our street. Not well at least.
I thought about our former neighbors, Molly and Michael, who moved, and whom we miss. 
Two years ago, when their baby was born, their gift registry listed an unconventional option: two to three home-cooked meals. I thought that was a great idea—it was something I would have loved when my daughter was a baby—and despite the fact that I don’t have great confidence in my cooking skills, I signed up. I cooked lasagna, soups, chili, and salads, and was pleasantly surprised when word got back to me that they enjoyed and appreciated my food. Before long, I’d fulfilled my gift offer, but then Molly surprised us with a meal—and wow it was delicious! For months we cooked and shared back and forth. It was easy to make a pot of soup or chili and instead of stashing leftovers in the freezer, we got the satisfaction of sharing it—and then receiving surprise dinners in return. It felt nurturing, and well, neighborly!
Isn’t this the whole idea behind networking? People taking care of each other?
It’s Rarely the Content of the Problem That Matters, but How We Relate to Our Thinking 

We make up stories (without realizing it) and believe that they’re true. Once people see this, they defuse thought-bombs, and put distance between themselves and their thoughts. They choose how to respond, which sets them free. They’re no longer at the mercy of their thinking.
But don’t take my word for it. Experiment with not taking your disturbed thinking seriously. See if you can put some distance between you and your thoughts. Then refocus your attention. Ask yourself, What, where, and to whom can I give—in business and in life? Ask yourself, Who would I connect with or what would I do if fear were not an issue? If I believed I was safe (you are) and okay the way I am (you are), what might I risk or try?
A network is a connection that starts with yourself. Plug into your own source, and from that place share freely with others.

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