New York’s a big town. Opportunities to connect seem limitless. Often times our personal and work lives overlap. When we least expect it, we can turn a corner and bump into our next partner or job. New York is a city that is full of the “social” and the “work” – and not just for us social workers. But ya gotta know how to make it work for you.
Hall and Oates weren’t kidding when they sang “She’s a Maneater”. Yup, that song is about the big apple – and when she’s hungry, she can eat you right up. It’s also been said that despite the dense population, non-stop pace and endless options, one’s experience can be very lonely. So how do those of us who thrive here stay connected without getting swallowed up in the crowd? After 20 plus years, here are my top three fundamental strategies:
1. Lean toward saying YES – this idea is a pillar of improv which I’ve referenced in a previous blog (totally recommend improv classes!) When we are invited to a social gathering but would rather sit on the couch watching a movie; when someone asks us out but we assume we would never be into him or her; when we are contacted about a job opportunity but think our current job is just hunky-dory – These are the times when something unexpected can leap into our lives and move us forward. Saying yes simply gives you more choices.
Back in the 90's, when I sported the shoulder-padded blazer daily, I was six months into a traditional social work job. A technology company contacted me about a help desk/call center recruiting position. A social worker in technology?? Well, if I didn't say yes to that interview and yes to that job, I likely wouldn't have been the ideal candidate for managing a behavioral health hotline and contact center in NYC years later.
2. Don’t think of networking as work. Networking can be fun. And it doesn’t require an agenda. It is actually more effective (and enjoyable) when you are simply curious and open to meeting new people. Networking also doesn’t happen in a fishbowl event. It happens everywhere – the subway, the coffee shop, the dog park, the elevator. Sometimes all it takes is a smile and a hello to spark a conversation in which two people might walk away with something more, even if it’s just a hot restaurant recommendation – something we all appreciate in NYC!
I have a good friend who is a master at this. She is always ready to make a new connection. I've witnessed her introducing herself with such ease in every imaginable situation. Just recently I met her for a drink downtown. She got there early and was at the bar talking and laughing with a couple sitting next to her when I arrived. Rather than stare at her phone, she struck up a conversation and discovered they were in the same industry. My friend introduced us and soon had plans to meet up with them another time.
3. Think about what you can give, not just what you can get. This simple concept really can’t be overestimated. We are programmed to seek and measure what we can gain in most situations. And we certainly need to be savvy in keeping our goals in focus. However, when we hold back in our generosity we are only spiting ourselves. Doing a favor or offering information that we know is helpful to someone with no expectations will only help others remember us, trust us and seek us out when they are ready to give back. Most things in life are circular, not just NYC’s Circle Line Sightseeing Tours. So be patient and enjoy the ride in the meantime.
Not too long ago I was invited to a small party to which I of course said yes. I overheard someone I never met visiting from the west coast talking about wanting to transition in her career. Her interests and skills sounded extremely similar to what a close friend does. I had the sense that they could help each other so offered to make the connection. They met and the young woman at the party was soon moving from the west coast for a new job in NYC with my friend. It was a win-win for them. What did I get out of it? I felt really good.
We are all social creatures. Let’s make that work for us.