Networking gives me hives.

I hate it. Seriously. I have been known to run screaming from the room after only 15 minutes at a wine and cheese networking party at a big fundraising conference in Dallas. (Okay, so maybe it wasn’t an audible scream, but it sure FELT like a scream.) Surrounded by so many pleasant, business-card-in-hand professionals, I felt like a complete loser.

It’s that forced, artificial, cheesy-smiled “must give ten people my business card at this conference or I’m a failure” kind of networking that I’m talking about. Ugh. I HATE small talk and lame conversation-starters (don’t even get me started about how much I dislike the “what do you do for a living?” question) and I almost always forget my business cards at home. Fail.

I am especially aware of my failings because I work for a boss who is a master at it and we have been at way too many public events together. There’s always a major glint in his eyes when he walks into a conference lobby – you can almost smell his brain working as he checks out the crowd and makes a mental checklist of all the people he needs to rub shoulders with. After the conference, he takes great delight in reporting all of the important people he met and is forever reminding us (his management team) that the most valuable thing about a conference is the coffee breaks and networking opportunities.

Ugh. Fail. (For me, that is, not for him – in truth, I have great admiration for his abilities and don’t mean to diss him.)

You can imagine that building a business brings with it some measure of fear and trepidation when I think about having to network with the right people to sell myself. Makes me want to hide away in my tiny basement studio, or maybe just get a job counting widgets.

But… as I’m reminded again and again, sometimes you just have to change your definition of success.

A recent conversation with my wise friend Desiree Adaway, helped me shift my paradigm on this. She’s launching a consulting career too, and she has a much better perspective on networking than I do. She reminded me of how easy it can be to connect with like-minded, authentic people, and how it’s really THOSE people (and not the cheesy-smiled business suits at a wine and cheese party) who should be part of my network tribe.

It’s true. When you put yourself out there in an authentic, passionate way that is true to who you are, you will attract like-minded people wherever you go. THOSE are the people who matter.

Case in point – Desiree and I bonded in 140 characters or less on Twitter when we both discovered we were leaving nonprofit jobs to launch consulting businesses. I’m not exactly sure what drew us to each other, but we were like moths to a flame. In a relatively short time, we’ve developed a really lovely friendship and mutual support system.

Desiree is not the only one. I’ve found a myriad of beautiful, like-minded people on social networking sites. Several of them have become phone/Skype friends, and some I have met in person.

In fact, when I look back at the last six months in particular, I can’t help but marvel at how many incredible people I’ve met and bonded with. One really good example of a successful tribe-building experience was my time at ALIA in Halifax in June. I met several really incredible people from all over the world and many of them have since become Facebook/Twitter/blog friends. Some of them are coming together in ongoing support circles, and at least one of them is becoming a client! (Let me tell you, it is just SO easy to bond with people at an event that has drawn people who think like you and was organized by people who understand how important a good “container” is, as opposed to a forced networking event.)

So you won’t see me at too many wine and cheese events, and I’m going to throw away that fake smile I never got very good at using. But if you bump into me (in person or online) and want to engage in a meaningful, authentic (or even meaningless and light-hearted, but PLEASE not fake and cheesy!) conversation, I’m all ears!

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