Scared to network? Forget about "just right" and go with "just me."
I've never been particularly exceptional at "fitting in."
Take, for instance, that one college frat party. It was March, and it had been pouring nonstop for two days straight.
This was a big party. This was a party at THAT fraternity. You know, the one with the exceptionally witty, smart and attractive guys. The one people were surely going to be talking about for weeks to follow.
But there was one small problem. It was pouring. And I'd just spent more than an hour on my hair. And my transportation for the night was my feet. And I most certainly didn't want to be strapped to an umbrella for the entire night.
Given all of these crazy variables, it somehow made perfect sense to me to navigate the commute with a giant trash bag on my head. Hair preservation, people. Hair preservation.
My decision was met with significant resistance from my BFFs.
They simply couldn't fathom why a reasonably sane human would ever consider bringing such attention to herself. To them, it was unimaginable that I'd even consider walking into the hottest fraternity in town with a Hefty bag on my head.
But I wouldn't budge. I simply was not willing to spend an hour on my appearance, only to have it destroyed in a cross-town walk in the pouring rain. I was not willing to arrive at the hottest party in town looking like a drowned rat, period.
I was going with the Hefty bag, and the chips could fall where they may.
My friends assumed this would be the final nail in the coffin of uncool for me. They warned me that I'd be the laughing stock of the most important party of the semester. They attempted to pull it off of me as we tromped our way across campus. They even came up with asinine songs about me and my bag head.
(No, I'm not sharing the lyrics. I'm laughing as I think about them, however.)
And predictably, as we entered the foyer, my BFFs beelined away instantly, for fear that someone may assign them "nerd by association" status.
Guess what happened next?
That giant, protective Hefty bag not only served to keep me dry; it faciliated conversation. It captivated a few of the party attendees, in fact. In just a short space of time, I became this strange sort of cult frat party hero :
The sorority girl who threw cool to the wind and instead went for practical, genuine and real. Step right up, people. Take a peek.
At the end of that night, something was quite clear ... to both my BFFs and to me.
I'd just had way more fun than them. I made a couple of new friends. I laughed a lot more than they did. I had several fun conversations. It was, indeed, a party that I'd remember ... in a really good way.
As for my overly-concerned-about-appearances pals, they'd rolled into that party looking like they'd washed up from the sea (no umbrella and no Hefty bag hat will do that to a gal when walking in the pouring rain).
They were uncomfortable all night, and felt extremely vulnerable in their soggy dresses and streaked mascara.
Hilariously, their painstaking effort to look cool had had the exact opposite effect.
They made their way to the sidelines of that party and toughed it out, for sure. After all, this was THE party to attend. But they griped all the way home about how terrible the event had been.
Now let's talk about you.
I bust this story out every now and again, especially when chatting with job seekers who are terrified of networking. They don't want to look uncool. They don't want to say the wrong things. They don't want to set themselves apart in a bad way.
And so they either don't go to the networking events at all, or they show up dressed in some awkward thing that someone said was "the right networking outfit" and mechanically spout out opening lines that someone else told them were "the right things to say at a networking event."
And they go home miserable. And frustrated. And still scared.
Are you out there networking right now? Or, if you're not, should you be?
Are you scared to walk in wearing the wrong thing, or petrified that you'll say the wrong thing, or not be ENOUGH for the event or conversation?
Please don't be.
Please know that this type of interaction is scary for all of us. Every one of us. And so most everyone you meet is going to appreciate your genuine effort to put yourself out there.
Many networking events present wonderful opportunity to genuinely engage with other people. Sure, you may not score a direct job lead or an invitation to come interview somewhere, but you may well walk away with new ideas, new contacts or a even a new friend.
So please show up. But do so as you, the real you. People will appreciate that version so much more than the one who tries to hard to be "just right" for the occasion.
And for the love of God. If it's raining that day?
Wear the damned Hefty bag. Hair preservation, people.
Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by someone you met, or something that happened a networking event? Please share your story in the comments below!
And speaking of networking events...
If you're in Portland, OR, please join me at the PDXMindshare networking event on Wednesday, 9/18 at Trader Vic's in downtown Portland. I'll be presenting "Stop Sucking at Your Job Search, in 30 Days or Less"... and then we'll all hang out and have some drinks. 4:30 - 7:30 PM. You'll find all the details right HERE. This one will be completely unscary, I promise. And without a doubt, wear whatever makes you happy.