“If you could pack a bag for a woman who was about to embark on a transition, what would you include?” I asked during an interview earlier this week. I love the question. It’s my favorite one to ask during Focus Groups. As women we carry bags, large and small. Brief cases. Totes. Shoulder bags. Handbags. If yours is anything like mine all manner of detritus can fit inside. Her answer to this bag dilemma? A mirror.
“A mirror,” stated this dynamic women who’s transitioned more than once. I was instantly curious and humbled by the depth of her answer. “Um, well, the punch line is….so that she could see herself reflected back to herself,” she said. “And hopefully, each time she looks in the mirror, she could see a more profound and exquisite part of herself.”
Over the course of the interview she referenced ‘a reflection of ourselves’ a few times. Once she really caught me off guard. She was talking about how often we see ourselves reflected back through another’s eyes. “Like in networking,” she added.
I was surprised by her image of networking. From my perch networking is one of the two ways we leverage others in transition. I’ve learned that at its best networking is a live version of research. Research targeted a validating our new and re-imagined identities.
Thinking of pursuing your dream of acting or becoming a physician or cultivating a rich multifaceted garden? What better way to validate your thoughts than to network with someone knowledgeable on that topic.
Never until this interview had I thought of networking as a glimpse of seeing ourselves in that new identity.
I recently agreed to network with a woman who had been introduced through a mutual friend. The one oddity? My friend didn’t provide any context for the discussion. What was this woman interested in? Why me? How could I help?
We had a perfectly nice coffee but now, even after our discussion, I am still not sure what she was after. Maybe she didn’t know quite what she wanted yet – a valid phase in the process of transition. I might add that if so it was too soon for her to be networking. Or maybe she was fearful to say anything out loud about her thoughts, or dreams or new direction….
I’ll never know. Here is what I do know. Most everyone is happy to help us – regardless of what our endeavors. Our only requirement? We need to tell them exactly how they might help. Minimize the vagueness.
What’s your read on this?
Admittedly my bias about vagueness is that it is often driven by our own lack of confidence or a hesitation about our ability to realize our dreams. Long time readers may recognize an earlier Focus Group participant who shared, “it feels too grandiose for me.”
Not so, this grandiose business. If it is entirely yours and you can dream it…you can realize it. The timeframe over which you can execute may be longer than you’d like but it doesn’t negate your ability to realize it…..
Somehow we need to get to a place that dignifies our dreams – in as big a dimension as we can imagine them. The ‘I couldn’t‘ or ‘I can’t’ or ‘that’s not for me‘ has to be checked at the door.
As you prepare to embark on any networking please consider the following:
- What do you want to learn? Can you articulate a phrase or sentence that summarizes why you’d like to meet? If so, say it clearly within the 1st 1-3 minutes of your meeting. For example, I’ve been trying to get up to speed on the book publishing arena. When introduced to folks with whom I wanted to network I’ve emailed, “I’m trying to understand the publishing arena. Could we meet (or have a conference call) to talk about your perspective?” When we actually connect I repeat out loud this learning objective at the meeting’s outset.
- Why does it matter to you? Are you far enough along in your transition thinking to provide 1 additional thought about why this learning matters to you? Sometimes this question creates a gate for women along the lines of, ‘If I don’t know my where I’m headed how could I possibly meet with XX.’ Don’t fool yourself with this false destination requirement. A simple phrase like “I’m at the early stages of thinking about XXXX…” is all you need.
- Can you make it reciprocal? Are there ways to contribute to the person with whom you’re networking? Do you know enough of their background to answer this question? Simply asking a few questions may lead you in a surprising and productive direction.
- Are there follow-up actions? It’s easy to get excited when a long sought after introduction is offered. Like, “I’d be happy to introduce you to the president of Random House Publishers.” Before your meeting ends make sure you reiterate those commitments. A really easy respectful way to do that is to offer, “is there any information you need from me in order to make the introduction to XX?” This approach allows you to remind your colleague of her commitment but also to help reduce the burden of their action steps.
- Remember to say thanks! How do you say thanks? An email? Snail mail note? An invitation to connect via LinkedIn? Take a moment to adopt an approach and stick to it. If you need a laugh take a moment to review the thank you note vignette of the Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon. Hilarious.
When I asked my interviewee to characterize her transition she offered, “chaotic and scary and lonely.” But she also included, “surprising, adventurous and exciting.” As we navigate these often conflicting zones the learning we do about ourselves is sometimes delivered through the experience and patience of others. Our network.
Do yourself and them a favor, prepare.
That simple step will yield immediate benefits. Who knows maybe the conversation will even lead to a glimpse of your newly defined – although evolving – identity. Transition’s additional gift? We may realize – once we glance in a mirror – that elements of this newly defined self had been there all along.
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