I tried. Really, I did. When I first started practicing, I went to speed networking events. I attended every bar association luncheon and cocktail hour I could. I was miserable. It all seemed so forced. But, like a good little associate, I dutifully kept going. I passed out my business cards, made small talk, and tried to hone that ever-elusive elevator speech to build my network and climb that ladder. But, deep down, I knew this wasn’t how I was going to shine.
I began to realize that I excel when doing things I really enjoy. For me, that is writing, editing, publishing, and volunteering to serve organizations dedicated to helping children in need. I serve on local and national editorial boards for various legal publications. I rallied my local bar association to organize a 5k race to benefit a local child advocacy center for abused and neglected children. I serve on a nonprofit board. None of this felt like “networking.” None of it felt forced. It was natural. I met people. I developed organic relationships with other lawyers, as well as potential (and eventual) clients. I even developed friendships—gasp! I built my reputation among colleagues and the community. Doors to opportunities I never knew existed began to open.
What I realized is actually very simple: Be yourself and follow your interests. The most difficult part of networking is deciphering who you are as a professional and as a person. Spend some time thinking about what drives you, what excites you, and what you want to do with those few extra hours you have each day. Once you overcome that initial hurdle (and it’s a big hurdle), networking becomes less like work and much more rewarding.