Meet. Follow-Up. Repeat.
Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither are our networks. In the same way that weight-loss goals aren’t met from one day of healthy eating or one strenuous workout doesn’t mean you’re in good shape. A valuable introduction is a great start, but it’s only a beginning. If you’re serious about extending your networks, I have one word for you—repetition. By increasing exposure over time, you work to build a relationship beyond the introduction.
In the book I wrote with VIPorbit Software co-founder Max J. Pucher, Who’s In Your Orbit?, we outline the four components of meaningful relationships: time, intensity, trust, and reciprocity.” For those who resolved to work on building more relationships, both business and personal, I recently wrote a post about “Networking in the New Year.” To build on that, I want to share from my experience from the past year.
I’ve branched out and begun attending a professional group. I was looking for an opportunity to sharpen my professional edge with a monthly learning opportunity while building new connections with new like-minded folks. This particular group highlights two professional or personal development books each month and then gives a thought-provoking synopsis meant to serve as a quick overview and a teaser to delve more deeply into relevant topics.
The first time I attended I was immediately intrigued. The format provided an excellent mixture of information and opportunities for socializing. I made several great new connections. Some led to follow-up opportunities. Others led to key introductions to other members, guests, and even authors. If I had intended to attend only once, I might have still achieved my objective of learning something and meeting a few people, but I would have left so much on the proverbial table.
Often the decision to try something new requires a bit of gumption. Who among us hasn’t walked into a meeting feeling a little bit like the new kid in school, holding a lunch tray in the cafeteria looking for an empty seat and a smiling face? When your purpose outweighs your trepidation, great things can happen. After all, most great things happen outside of your comfort zone.
Stepping into a new networking group can be intimidating, but it can also be self-affirming. Introducing yourself, your organization, and your purpose can all help you solidify what resonates with others and what leaves them scratching their head. Showing the initiative to try something new is something the other attendees or members can relate with as well. Everyone is new sometime.
If that first meeting you attend sets a foundation, repetition is what builds the house. Attending again and again says something about your purpose. It shows that you aren’t looking for a quick payoff but belonging to a group. Anyone can say that they are sincere. Only behavior over time can demonstrate it.
For a recent speech, I wore my signature lime green sport coat. During the meet-and-greet time and even the meal preceding my keynote, I had several people compliment my coat. I’m sure there are others who wondered about my color choice. Beyond the fact that I just really like it, it usually serves to illustrate one point: We are all constantly evaluating each other. What you wear one time may not make an impression, but how you interact, how you follow up, even how open you are to others definitely shows. And people are paying attention!
Not only does repetition develop trust over time, it also offers opportunities for reciprocity. I wholeheartedly assume the burden for building new or developing existing connections. If something is important, you make it happen. If not, you make an excuse. Rather than wait for a connection to reach out to me, I take the lead and reach out to others.
I’m not waiting around for something when it’s in my power to do it. That said, repetition reveals my dedication to the group overall. It’s often rewarded by opportunities for others to reciprocate my efforts. I might not be top-of-mind throughout the month, but my dedication to attend time after time puts me in their path. It’s like an in-person reminder to follow-up with me. Consider it built-in access to what they may otherwise forget or simply fail to do.
You may attend a yearly conference or a once-in-a-lifetime event that yields amazing results, but those are the exception and not the rule. However, consistent efforts produce long-lasting results. In fact, your future success is hiding in your daily routine. Networking events or development group meetings may not be everyday routine. However, over time, you’ll find success when you step outside of your comfort zone to show initiative, keep going to demonstrate your sincerity, and over time reveal your true dedication!
The Real Key to Happiness
At the age of five, John Lennon’s mom told him that the key to life was happiness. Thanks to a 75-year long Harvard study, we now know just how right his mom really was. Even though he achieved fame and fortune, it’s evident that Lennon’s primary pursuit in life was happiness.
I recently watched a TEDx Talk given by Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study on Human Development, the longest of its kind. The study focuses on what makes us happy and healthy—and it’s neither fame nor fortune. In his talk, Waldinger broke down the study’s framework, as well as the evidence it’s gathered, and provides an interesting analysis on the true key to achieving happiness.
The study began in 1938 with 724 men and followed them throughout their entire lives; it’s still running today with the remaining 60 men. Four generations of Harvard scientists intensely chronicled the lives of each participant. One group began with sophomores at Harvard, and the second group consisted of men from the Boston tenements. Their early-age aspirations were to attain wealth, become famous, and work hard, which these men believed would produce happiness.
However, the study reveals a very different result. The only things that produced lasting happiness in the lives of the participants were their sustained close relationships. Interestingly, these relationships not only resulted in happiness, but overall better physical health, as well.
Overall there were three key lessons that have been and continue to be learned about the value of closer relationships. First, social connections are good for us, and conversely, loneliness, which can be experienced by those in unsatisfying relationships, is toxic. Second, it is not about the quantity of connections but rather the quality. Third, the benefit not only extends to our sense of happiness but our bodies and brains are more protected as a result. Happy people live longer.
No real relationships, whether they be personal or business, are automatically easy, nor do they become mutually satisfying without determined effort to stay genuinely connected. From the moment we are born to our dying day, we are social creatures. Failing to recognize and meet our social needs handicaps our personal potential for happiness.
What the study doesn’t show is that there is anything wrong in seeking fame or acquiring wealth. What it important, though, is a clearer understanding that achieving those goals alone will not provide lasting happiness without also having close relationships. Those relationships require consistent effort, but how do we achieve them?
In the book I co-authored with Max J. Pucher, Who’s In Your Orbit?: Beyond Facebook—Creating Relationships That Matter, we outline the four components of strong relationships: time, intensity, trust, and reciprocity. While it costs nothing, once spent, it is gone forever. Spending time with someone demonstrates his or her importance to us. When your connection with another is emotionally intense, it is by virtue a stronger relationship. Authentic relationships can’t exist without trust. It is earned in many ways, but most often by the time and intensity elements that precede it. This requires two-way effort, and where this exists, greater strength and value builds over time.
Regardless of our personal goals, we can all learn from the Harvard study. Wealth and fame may bring satisfaction, but in the absence of relationships, they will not bring happiness. John Lennon’s mom was right about the importance of being happy, and this study makes it clear: The key to happiness is the quality of our personal relationships.