Apparently to succeed in this world, you have to “network.” While it seems my hope and dream that electronic communication will take over face-to-face awkwardness may one day come true, it’s not happening fast enough – and I suspect I will have given up on this whole “career” thing by the time it does.
I think networking is a talent – you either have it or you don’t – and like other talents such as singing and dancing, it just makes everyone uncomfortable if you attempt it without the required skillset. And while booze does initially help, there’s a fine line between loosening up and embarrassing yourself even more. This is why I avoid networking events. Instead, my preferred type of “professional development” is education-focused. Because I miss school.
So yesterday I attended one of these “educational” events and strategically scheduled my day so as to avoid talking to strangers – arriving late, after coffee (code for sleepy, awkward conversations) and planning to escape before happy hour (see previous paragraph for reminder on why booze plus business cards spell trouble for the socially challenged).
Unfortunately, it didn’t take more than 10 minutes for my plan to begin unraveling. Upon entering the conference room, I was assaulted by a frightening sight: tables. Instead of civilized rows of chairs where people could sit and stare straight ahead, pretending their neighbors didn't exist, chairs formed circles around tables occupied by people chatting with eachother. Luckily my initial panic was alleviated when I spotted a couple rows for overflow loners at the back. But my calm was short-lived; my ears pricked when I heard “get to know eachother” come out of the keynote speaker's mouth. Oh god. The dreaded icebreaker.
Sure enough, at the end of his presentation, the speaker told us to go to a different table and shake a random hand. We were instructed to share our biggest professional challenge and something personal noone knows about us. Ummm - awkward, creepy, no. In an attempt to not look like a total weirdo, I turned to the fellow loner next to me and informed her that I didn't feel like walking over to a table. That's what I said. This is why I try to keep my mouth closed in front of strangers. Then we exchanged names, job titles, possibly swine flu. And then we never spoke to eachother again.
It's when I begin to feel the pseudo-walls of my cubicle closing in on me that I enroll in events like these, thinking I'd like to get out ... but I need to remember that even if it's not the focus, networking sneaks its way into every event. Better to stay at the office, behind a laptop, where I can type my words carefully, instead of standing by powerless as they tumble out of my mouth, snowballing into a giant mound of nonsense I can never take back. Yes, better to stay inside the cube, where it's safe.