Think of the people in your life you value most. What is it about them that makes you hold them in such high regard? Is it their integrity and the fact you can trust them innately? Or maybe it’s that they’re very wise and thoughtful? Or perhaps it’s that they’re a ton of fun or never have a bad word to say about anyone. Or they’re super smart and generous with their time. Or maybe a combination of all the above.
Of course not every person you meet will become one of your all time favorite people. But every person you meet could be someone that makes your life better and your future brighter. You never know. Which brings me to the heart of what this article is about:
What’s keeping you from building a richer, more rewarding network of relationships?
Perhaps your answer is time. You just don’t have enough of it, right? Ah, spare me. The reality is that you don’t need to find an hour a day or even an hour a week to forge a new or deeper relationship that could open up new doors of understanding and opportunity. Nor do you need to become a professional networker or socialite.
Nope. There’s only one thing you truly need to establish more of the valuable, quality relationships you really want—in your business, career and life—and that is courage.
Why courage? Because the number one force that pulls against the innate desire we all have as human beings to forge the meaningful and authentic connections we most want (and need) is fear.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of being let down or betrayed.
Fear of feeling inferior.
Fear of being exposed.
Fear of an awkward conversation.
Fear of wasting our time.
Fear of being judged and found wanting.
Fear of feeling profoundly uncomfortable.
All of these fears can drive you to avert your gaze and head for the door, rather than to walk up to someone and extend your hand.
Over the last 20 years I’ve lived in six cities in four countries. Each time I’ve had to start over from zero in building new relationships—socially and professionally (and they often intermix). That’s a lot of coffees. It’s also a lot of times I’ve walked into a room, every face in it a stranger, feeling quite vulnerable and being acutely aware that I could walk up to someone who is either a little nutty, selling some service I don’t want or considers him or herself far too important for the likes of a no-name newcomer like me. I’ve had my share of them all.
But I’ve also had an even fuller share of meeting absolutely fabulous and utterly fascinating people. Some of them have become close friends. Others have connected me to other people, who’ve connected me to other people, who’ve opened the door to some extraordinary opportunities and experiences I couldn’t have orchestrated had I tried. Like spending a week with Richard Branson on Necker Island (all from introducing myself to a woman I admired). Like interviewing Bill Marriott at Marriott International headquarters (from showing up at a networking breakfast). Like running leadership programs at NASA (from attending the farewell party of my new landlord a few days after moving to D.C.).
All of these opportunities came about because I decided to take a deep breath and embrace discomfort. I reached out, or turned up, or just walked up to someone I’d never met before—someone who very well may have put on a fake smile and walked right past me to someone more important (and, as I said above, a few have—and more will).
So whether you prefer to spend your evenings at home curled up on the couch with a good book, or you’re a serial socialite with a hard-core case of FOMO and loves nothing more than being the center of the party, take a moment to consider this:
How might risking your vulnerability and embracing discomfort open the door for you to forge more meaningful relationships with a more diverse network of people? And how might daring to show up, to stand tall in your worth despite your discomfort, enable you to be that person who makes someone else’s day, week or favorite list?
Every interpersonal interaction involves an exchange of energy—for better or worse. It also provides an opportunity for each of you to lift up someone else and walk away more informed, connected and courageous than you were before. And while it would be lovely to always know ahead of time who will be an energy giver, door opener, deal maker or future BFF, it’s only when you lay your vulnerability on the line, lower your mask and connect authentically—from the heart, not just the head—that you will expand your network and become more highly valued in the networks of others.
Not sure where to start? How about with the next person you encounter? They may not be the most connected person on the planet, or able to solve your most pressing problems, but they may be just the person to help you rethink how you’re viewing your problems to begin with.
So be brave. Take the chance, invest the time, make the effort, risk the discomfort. The worst you have to lose is a few minutes. The most you can gain is the invite of your dreams. Our lives expand in proportion to the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships expand with our willingness to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
And the best part of all? The more you act in the presence of your discomfort, the more comfortable you become.
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