How many experiences do you think you share with the hundreds of people you walk past on the street?
Last weekend I went to an annual road show networking event held by my high school’s alumni organization. The school is Emma Willard School
, which tags itself as a “Private Independent School for Girls”. I have to say that I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity (and financial aide) to attend such a fine institution at such a confusing time in my life. I strongly believe that attending Emma completely transformed me into who I am today as opposed to whom I might have become otherwise. Because I live in the Bay Area and the school is located in Upstate NY, this was strictly a regional event where members of any class year could attend the event.
There were about 20+ alumnae attending the event, a couple of guests, some members of the alumni relations department and the guest speaker, Trudy Hamner, who holds the role of Assistant Head of School. The food was very good, the view (despite the stormy weather) was wonderful and the presentation was, quite simply, fascinating. But the part I enjoyed the most was meeting new people who had the same shared experiences that i had, despite the large range in age. Regardless of the fact that I only knew a few folks in the room prior to the event, the sense of shared experience that filled the room was downright comforting.
What really brought the room together were the individual introductions. We were asked to introduce ourselves with our name, the year we graduated and the part that we played in the annual senior class play. The school is steeped in traditions including the same Christmas play, based on a medieval feast, which is presented every year by the senior class. There is a sacred code of secrecy regarding which senior student plays which part until opening night. Here were 20+ alumnae ranging from the class 1964 to the class of 2005 with this one shared experience: we each held a part in the same play, cloaked in the same veil of secrecy and senior class pride.
On my drive home, I started to contemplate the power of shared experience and how it comes into play as we go through life. Shared experiences provide us a unique starting point, even with strangers. It is a way that we can begin to consider larger possibilities and add new people to our networks which might not have occurred to us before. Shared experiences could be a class, a school or a job. It could also be an interest, an event or a geography. Since networking is a fundamental key of successful careering, we should each consider our experience, as well as those with whom we might share that experience, in order to grow our network. This is why you see so many networking groups based, either tightly or loosely, around shared experiences (women, small business owners, MBAs, job seekers, industry etc).
Have you fully explored your life experiences to find new ways to connect with others? Have you found a way to track down the members of your high school basketball team, or even the coach of that team? Have you considered reaching out to that other parent on the side of the game field? You know, the one that someone told you owns her own company or works at an advertising agency or who battled breast cancer last year?
I'll close with a funny story. I take a ferry to work each day. By day I am a recruiter in the accounting and finance field. Every morning I sit in the same seat across from the same guy. For months we did this everyday uttering the obligatory quick "Hi" or "have a nice weekend". One day, I was telling a colleague of mine about the guy and how it feels like he is my "ferry husband" since we sit across the table and he reads his newspaper and I do various kinds of work and listen to my iPod. My colleague asked me what the guy did. I told her I didn't even know his name, let alone what he did, he just seemed like a nice guy. She immediately shamed me into introducing myself the very next day. Well, I did. It turns out that he is the Director of Accounting for a very large non-profit organization in San Francisco. A PERFECT networking contact for me.
Shared experience can be a powerful asset; be sure to use it as an effective tool building your network.
This content was previously published on www.careercourageously.com