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Networking

Change your environment

I hate work-life balance.

In my ideal world, my work informs my life and vice versa.

In fact, I desperately seek work that fulfills me each day and I love the feeling that comes with getting lost in something you care about.

The thing is, I don't get the chance to talk about these things with most of my friends. The conversations are usually limited to food, sports, music, and other group interests.

Don't get me wrong - I love sharing experiences with others and, at my age, many of these experiences happen in bars and other hangouts.

Yesterday, I met up with one of my best friends over lunch and our conversation drifted into this territory.

My friend has known me since seventh grade, which means he has seen all of the ups and downs that I've encountered while stumbling down my unconventional path. He knows how much pressure I put on myself and he is usually able to keep me in check when my ambition gets the best of me.

I mentioned how I wish our friends could share more of their work lives with each other and, as always, he dropped a little nugget of truth:

"If you want those types of conversations, maybe you should consider creating those types of environments."

I'm stubborn, but I couldn't deny how right he was.

The conversation I want doesn't usually happen at bars or while playing beer pong - it happens in a more intimate setting like coffee shops or at home.

Our environments really do impact our lives and the time we spent with others.

If you're looking for a change, try changing your environment first.


When worlds collide

There is no better feeling than when old friends meet new friends.

I love it when these worlds collide, the feeling you experience when the world shrinks just a little bit.

In fact, I wish it happened more often.

Unfortunately, work and other responsibilities get in the way.

Despite this inconvenience, I want to make more of an effort to facilitate these types of experiences, both for myself and others.

I wonder what type of format would work best. Dinner? Drinks? Some sort of shared activity or interest? These all work, but there are already plenty of options like these out there.

Personally, I would like to connect people using shared ideas and/or creative projects. This would give others the chance to flex their creative muscles a little more while meeting others at the same time.

As someone who values shared experiences, I always look for ways to include others as much as possible, even if I don't know a group of people.

After all, strangers are just friends you haven't made yet.


Values

I think about values a lot.

In fact, one could say it's part of my job.

When I started my career in freelance design, I choose to focus on branding.

As many "creatives" can tell you, everyone's process is different. As a professional, it's part of what makes you who you are.

For as long as I can remember, I've always started my branding process by identifying the values of the client, whether they are a company or an individual.

In my mind, a brand isn't successful unless the individual pieces reflect its values and beliefs. 

Naturally, this fascination with values has made its way into my personal life.

Even though people tend to connect over shared interests, joining fantasy sports leagues or book clubs, I've noticed deeper connections when I share values with someone else.

This doesn't mean we completely align - I would argue that this is unrealistic.

Usually, this connection follows one of the following trends:

  1. We share one or two of our most important values
  2. We share many values that aren't as crucial

If I had to guess, first-time conversations don't usually reach this level of depth. Some people may even find it off-putting in the beginning.

If you ask me, life is too short to spend it with people who don't share your values.


Start a coffee meeting fund

I used to hate coffee.

In fact, in order to drink it during my first internship, I had to cut it with a pack of hot cocoa (I know, adulting on a whole other level).

As I've gotten older, coffee plays a much larger part in my life.

It's not that I'm a coffee snob (my "refined" palate stops at cold brew), I just love using it to meet new people.

If you ask me, grabbing coffee is a perfect, low pressure way to meet up and connect with others. From dating to networking, it takes the pressure off and makes things a little more approachable.

Plus, if things go south, it doesn't take long to finish a cappuccino.

If you haven't already, consider setting up a coffee meeting fund for your or you college grad. 

I guarantee you won't regret the money you spend while learning from others.


Real life is underrated

If you're like me, you spend hours on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat (and LinkedIn if you're looking for a job).

When used correctly, social media is amazing. It allows us to easily connect with others who share our ideas and interests.

Personally, I try and use it in order to build communities around my work in a way that provides real value for others. This is a great goal to have, but honestly, I still rely on it a little too much, and I'm assuming I'm not the only one.

We've all forgotten that we're humans. We're social creatures that crave face-to-face connection with others and we need it in order to thrive.

Whether you're looking for new opportunities or a new friend, in-person meetups can help spark a conversation that makes a difference and can shake up the monotony that creeps into everyday life.

I always leave these conversations with a fire under my ass which is why I want to try and meet someone in-person at least once a week.

If you're not used to this, start small by setting up a coffee meeting once a month. It's a great, low-pressure way to meet someone new.

Also, who doesn't like coffee?


Ask better questions

I've always prided myself on my ability to ask good questions.

Whether I'm out for drinks or talking with a client, I love conversation that goes above and beyond mundane small talk.

What makes a question "good" in the first place?

If you ask me, the best questions are thought-provoking in a way that's uncomfortable. These types of questions aren't tough for the sake of being tough, they're difficult because their answers are unrehearsed.

They require more effort than simply asking, "How're you?" or "What's your favorite restaurant?" Instead, they get at something much deeper, an untapped thought or feeling that isn't used to having the spotlight.

Like most, this skill takes time and plenty of practice to crack. A great place to start is to keep things simple by asking, "Why?" more often. Not only is it short and sweet, it shifts attention to the other person.

Unfortunately, once this happens, most people use passive listening while they wait for their turn to talk. They miss so much great insight that can lead to better questions and deeper connections.

Instead, try to listen with the intent to understand. Not only will you become more "interesting" to others, you'll also benefit from their personal experience. It's a win-win for everyone.


Don't be a loner

As a freelancer, things can get really lonely.

Back when I was working from home, there would be times where I wouldn't leave my apartment for a few days, closed off from the rest of society.

When your commute consists of a flight of stairs and you can hop on a conference call without pants, lines can start to blur.

That's why reaching out to others is so important.

Just because you're a one-man/woman army doesn't mean you need to be alone.

Whether you want to collaborate with other freelancers or just grab a drink with new friends, don't forget to take some time to meet others.

Believe me, you'll thank yourself later.