At a school networking event, a professor described networking as making friends before you need them. But how can I make friends when I have no time for my family and existing friends, I wondered? I managed to do so by making these minor changes:
1. Move networking to the day.
When you work long hours and have a family, the evening is sacrosanct—which is a good thing, because your mind needs a break. (I also find that good ideas come to me while I’m doing chores — the subconscious is a mini co-counsel that finally gets to work.) Happy hours are not an option. That’s fine by me, because it’s harder to make friends by engaging in shallow small talk in a loud environment. Lunches are great because the more intimate setting allows for a deeper conversation. There is also a very obvious time-limit for the interaction, so there’s not much of a possibility of wearing out one another. Lunches have lots of rewards but little risk.
2. Broaden your definition of “networking.”
In honor of the recent Winter Olympics, borrow this Korean idea: everyone who is older than you, or has more experience than you, is wiser than you in some way and is worthy of your respect and time. (Also, “Pyeongchang” is two syllables. Better late than never.). Anyone who graduated before you probably has a greater understanding of the job market and a greater professional network. Anyone who arrived in Baltimore before you probably knows about the best schools and restaurants. Almost anyone you meet —lawyer or non-lawyer — has some useful information about something you’re interested in chatting about. If you can have five or six conversations about something non-law related, you’ve made a friend before you need him or her.
3. Send thank-you cards. (But if you feel weird about them, send a thank you via email.)
I feel mixed about paper cards; as a Gen-Xer, I find their tangibility appealing, but their uncertain delivery unnerving. My professors unequivocally support paper thank you cards, so I usually cede to their judgement and opt for those. If I’m worried about the timeliness of arrival, or even if it will arrive at all (for example, if I know the card will be processed through a gigantic mailroom in the basement of a gargantuan agency), I opt for email. Also, sending an email right away is so much better than thinking grateful thoughts and then forgetting to manifest them.
4. Prioritize sleep.
James Gandolfini once said that when he had trouble getting to the requisite level of anger for playing Tony Soprano, he slept less. Anyone can play angry when he or she is sleep-deprived. Of course we work well while sleep-deprived, because we prioritize and take pride in our work. However, it’s extremely hard to network, be cheerful and exhibit genuine interest in someone else’s life when you’re exhausted. If your children are infants, don’t worry about it; you have many years ahead of you in which you can be cheerful.
All I’m saying is to make it an absolute priority to get consecutive hours of sleep, as many as you can. If the floor is littered with toys, it doesn’t matter; go to bed. If your kids will jut not sleep before 11 p.m., make up a new rule: They can stay up but they must read books in bed, so that you can get ready for bed. If the choice is ordering pizza or a long slog of grocery-shopping-cooking-washing- pots-and-pans, then order the pizza and go to bed. If the choice is going to the gym or going to bed, go to bed. You get the idea.
In conclusion, even the most exhausted, busy people are able to make friends before they need them.