I’m a funny one to give advice on this topic. I love eating alone. I love going to the movies alone. In fact, I love spending time alone more than almost anything else.
I’m a classic introvert and draw my energy from quiet time and reflection. But that doesn’t mean I don’t also thrive on connection and relationship. And it is ultimately connection and relationship that drive our career satisfaction and success. One could call it ‘networking’ but I’m hesitant to use that word. “Networking” seems cold and official to me. Something you do in environments that are formal and stiff. But that’s really not at all what it is. When I finally realized that “networking” was in fact just another way to say “relationship building” I finally got more comfortable with it.
Some of my most favorite relationships began on a serendipitous note. Chance encounters that happened while I was traveling, or sightseeing in my own backyard. Staying open to these kinds of encounters can add a whole other dimension to our lives and careers, which is why it’s a good idea to meet new people when you can.
How many times have you been traveling on a business trip and found yourself with your nose buried in your newspaper while eating breakfast in the hotel restaurant? It’s understandable to want some quiet time at the start of your day, but little did you know that the CEO of a Fortune 500 company was at the table next to you. This CEO just happened to be eating oatmeal and wondering how he was going to hire that key person for his team. (You had no idea that you could have been the perfect candidate….)
Or perhaps you were presenting at a conference then went out for dinner and chose to eat solo at the sushi counter, your nose buried this time in your Smartphone (Candy Crush addiction anyone?). Two seats away from you was someone looking to add an important functionality to their manufacturing team – a functionality in fact, that you had just presented on at the conference you both just attended. What might’ve happened if the two of you had struck up a conversation?
I’m a firm believer that some of the most powerful and helpful conversations take place between human beings when their guards are down and each person can be more their genuine self. Sharing a meal or “breaking bread” together is one way to take down those barriers and build real connection. We all need to eat, so why not do it together, away from the harsh lights of conferences, and in places where we feel comfortable? We are more at ease when we are comfortable, and eating together is one way to create a warm environment.
Chance encounters don’t have to be this meaningful. It’s not like a CEO is lurking around every corner! But they can be powerful in different ways.
Chance meetings can be powerful catalysts for future experiences – things that may surprise you down the road. Maybe it’s dinner with an old friend who just happens to remember your talent for freelance writing three months down the line when her magazine changes trajectory and suddenly you’re a perfect fit for a regular column. Or it’s a casual coffee at a local café where you exchange business cards with someone who’s title doesn’t mean much to you until you change career fields six months later. Planting seeds of connection may not always bear fruit, but if you make enough genuine connections, sooner or later you will be surprised at what may blossom.