Networking! Awkward, but Necessary.

Ahh, networking. The social construct created by extroverts, for extroverts, and now expected of everybody in order to achieve a modicum of success, regardless of social comfort levels. It’s awkward enough for an introvert like me to introduce myself to new people in hopes of making friends. Throwing the concept of “selling myself” into the mix opens up awkward possibilities the likes of which few introverts have ever dreamed!

(Disclaimer! Not all introverts are the same. “Introvert” really just refers to people who feel drained after various degrees of social interaction rather than energized – it doesn’t necessarily mean awkward, anxious, or antisocial. I have days in which I feel great and act with confidence and much cheer! However, I can also be quite awkward when caught off guard, I have generalized anxiety disorder, and I tend to need a lot of alone time to recharge my social batteries.)

Today I had a surprise networking opportunity…and I flubbed it super duper hard. This blog post is to first and foremost emphasize to myself that this encounter was a great learning opportunity, and second to hopefully help out some other folks who are nervous about networking. With practice, I can do it! With practice, you can do it! It can be really intimidating and anxiety-inducing, but it’s the best way to get your name and your work out there.

This week, my husband Aiden and I have been volunteering at a board game convention in Vancouver, BC. While waiting in line for a panel, we met a pretty neat person and we chatted for a while. We were talking about YA fiction, and about how I like writing stories for YA that encourage, empower, and validate the experiences of young people. He then asked if I was published, and…my dear friends, I am not. And I said as much.

I knew instantly I had failed some sort of test. I was floundering badly, so I mentioned something about being super busy! I’m going back to school for a second bachelor’s in video game art and design, I do some freelance work on the side, and I also work full-time. He asked if I work in the games industry. I said no, I work at a university. He asked how I like it there, and I gave my honest answer – I do, but it has a lot of issues right now that I’m not terribly happy with. I mentioned something about the university treating students like commodities instead of people, and he laughed a bit and said something along the lines of, “Sounds like you may not want to work in a corporation, then!” I had failed a second test! Another one that I hadn’t known was there!

Worst of all, when the panel was over, we chatted for a bit longer, and then Aiden and I had to get to our stations for our volunteer shifts. Friends. I HAD BUSINESS CARDS. I DID NOT GIVE ONE TO HIM BEFORE WE PARTED WAYS. I felt self-conscious about my lack of professionalism, embarrassed about not having anything published, and a little ashamed of how bare-bones my website is. Test number three, failed.

But! I am resolved to think of this as a teaching moment for myself, and to not continue to dwell on it as a failure. In my experience, all that will do is exhaust me and make me feel sad. So, without further ado:

Lesson One: Know How to Pitch Yourself!

It’s true that I’m not published – yet! I actually have a book of illustrations and an illustrated short story zine in the works for a self-published print run. I should have lead with that instead, and I should have continued on to talk about the plans I have for an autobio comic. This would at least have shown that I am working on things and that I’m dedicated to my work.

Lesson Two: Be Positive!

Instead of going on a small tangent about the things that make me cranky about my job, I should have talked about what I really love about it! That way, it showcases the passions I do have and showcases things that I’m really good at outside of creative works. Plus, you can’t put forth a positive image of yourself if you’re complaining about the job you already have. For me, I felt like I was whiny, like I didn’t get my point across properly, and like I didn’t represent my job well. AND now I have a tiny undercurrent of fear that I’m going to get fired (who knows how, but that’s how my mind works).

Lesson Three: BUSINESS CARDS AND CONTACT INFORMATION

What good is networking if the person you’re talking to has no idea how to get in touch with you or to check out your portfolio of work? I should have been more confident in myself and given him a business card. I could have even framed it as a way to keep in touch and discuss more books, if that would have made me less nervous. My card still has all the information on how to find me across various social media, so if he wanted to see examples of my work, he could.

Lesson Four: Remember That You’re New to This and It’s Okay to Mess Up!

There will be plenty of other opportunities in the future for me to meet people and to network. It’s okay that I fudged this interaction up. This convention is a safe space, and probably one of the best places to have had this experience. The person I spoke with was very nice and easy to talk to, and I didn’t feel like he judged me at all! I think that’s what made it easier for me to see this as a learning experience and not as a failure.

I always imagined networking experiences to be shameless schmoozing and bragging about accomplishments in order to get ahead. I hadn’t considered that networking could be a way to just get to know other people in my field and to make friends. That makes it less scary, somehow!

I’ve set some personal goals for myself for when I return home. I want to ensure that when an opportunity like this comes my way again, I will be better prepared. I’m going to beef up my website, I’m going to continue my book projects, and I’m going to start writing for short story anthologies so that I can pursue publication and become a better writer at the same time! I’m going to figure out how to balance my time better, so that I can juggle my full-time job, my schoolwork, my professional pursuits, and making time just for me so that I don’t go crazy! I will learn from these lessons and strive to do better – and remember to give myself some grace along the way.

Love and peace,

Katie