It’s true what they say: It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. The people you know in life are your biggest asset to learning, growing, and succeeding in this life.
This comes from someone who was the awkward one in school, the one who hated cliques because she didn’t know how to be part of one. I was the one who had one or two close friends, and I never said much to anyone else. I wasn’t shy so much as I just didn’t know how to relate to pop culture phenomenons like Michael Jackson, MTV, the SNL Church Lady, or the fashion of the day.
Then high school happened in a completely different state where people didn’t know I was the awkward one. It was a low-income neighborhood in Albuquerque, NM, but it was there that I got a taste of popularity. I found a “tribe” I could be part of. They were the achieving crowd, the ones who wanted to succeed in life and knew that a good education was the way to get there. They enjoyed MTV and fashion but they weren’t that important to these people. They were interested in building parabolas, self-propelled catapult contraptions, and 8-inch bridges made of balsa wood that our teacher could stand on. I was part of a clique and I started to learn how this making friends thing worked.
However, I didn’t learn the lesson I needed to learn. The following year we moved back to the town of Vancouver, WA where I was still known as the awkward one. Using all the confidence I found in New Mexico for fitting in, I found a new clique—the wrong clique. Life was nothing but trouble for awhile, even if I didn’t see it at the time. It took me a long time to pull myself out of a cycle of bad decisions. Eventually, I moved to Seattle where I earned my degree and moved on to kick off my career.
For 6 years I worked hard, and my work paid off. I consistently exceeded typical pay scale raises to match the efforts I was putting into my work. But one day, under a new manager, a manager who got the job I applied for, said to me, “Go out and talk to people.”
How does talking to people help me with my work? In fact, talking to people will just slow me down! What did he know?
But I took his advice and I started talking to people (thanks Michael!).
I made appointments with people in other verticals of the company where there were professionals who did what I did. I started talking to people who did work different than mine. I talked to leaders and mentors and peers all across the company and even outside the company.
After 6 weeks of talking to people and building relationships, I realized that I learned more about our company, our products, our customers, and our industry than I had learned in the previous 6 years. I was hooked, and I finally understood.
The lesson that I failed to learn in Albuquerque is that the people you know are your strongest asset to personal growth and success in life. Of course, you still have to stand on principles that guide who you are. If you don’t, you risk getting sucked into a self-sabotaging cycle of bad decisions from which you may never fully recover.
I learned that it wasn’t about pop culture (it is a little bit) or the clothes you wear (it plays a role), but simply learning to value the people we meet and the experiences they share adds to our own experiences and gives us a new perspective we couldn’t have seen from our own world view. They help us see ourselves in new and interesting ways and they have a perspective that can see our blind spots. Most of all, they add a sprinkle of spice to the journey that each of us travel.
These people skills came just in time to prepare me for a really big layoff. I was never officially unemployed. My next job started the day after my last day on the payroll of the previous job. That was in 2009.
Before long, the people I knew started calling me to help them on their next project. In 2011 I started freelancing, and by 2012 I incorporated Incremental Success. To this day I have never had to seek out work. I merely take the time, even if it’s only a handful of times per year, to seek out people just to have a cup of coffee—that and always working hard at what I do.
If you want to grow professionally and find your purpose in the work that you do, take time to talk to people and build relationships. Reflect on your experience after a few weeks to see what you learned. I’d love to hear about your experience.