Networking during a career pivot - ultra-hard or easy?
February 16, 2022, Dina-Marie Weineck
Having played Simba for four years – ages 6 through 10, Pumbaa and Timon left a serious impression on me. Particularly, a version of “leave your past behind, Hakuna Matata”. The pre-2010 version of YOLO or Eff It.
Well, neither Simba nor I have much followed that advice in later years. However well-intended Hakuna Matata might be as a motto, there are lessons in our past that will keep hitting us over the head until we turn around and not only deal with them, but integrate the value past connections have to offer into our presence and future.
Put differently, at one point or another, especially the people of your past will become the secret key to unlocking the next level of success in life. And by people I mean business partners, clients, speaking opportunities, new job engagements, and referrals, that’s mentors, web designers, etc.
Let’s talk about networking when you’re switching careers/industries.
I’ve found there are two ways to approach the start of a new career chapter: the easy and the hard way. A new chapter can be a new position or company, a new industry, a switch from employment to entrepreneurship, or vice versa.
By "easy," I refer to the integration of your already existing network into your new chapter with grace. By "hard," on the other hand, I mean the excruciatingly draining act of building an entirely new network from the ground up.
Oh, and then there is "ultra-hard." A recovering over-achiever, I personally opted for that. Over two years ago, this is what felt safest. It looked like this:
Upon starting my business, I found myself cold-calling and cold-messaging total strangers for months instead of tapping into my already wealthy and diverse network. But I didn’t stop here. I actually blocked people from my former network, canceled meetings with former colleagues, and used all members of my previous career as scapegoats for not putting my marketing skills to work. Told you: ultra-hard!
I didn’t just ignore nor block my inner circle, however. I actively hid from them. Building a digital business, that was pretty much impossible. I had to bend over backward to keep what I was up to hidden from some of my closest mentors. Of course, I alienated many. Later, I had to work extra hard to re-establish proper relationships and was BLOWN away by the support, praise, and connections I suddenly received, once I was able to receive them.
Miraculously, I did build up my business to a prosperous stage without ever tapping into this inner circle. However, that was ultra-hard: I had to start from zero. Instead of furthering connections with people I’d fostered relationships with for a decade, I chose to start all over. That was a lot of heavy lifting…ultra-hard.
Side note: While I certainly do not recommend this strategy, I’ll be the first to be empathetic towards you in case you do choose “ultra-hard”. I often see my clients choose a similar course of action and I will gently nudge them to instead serve their inner circle from within their new role. Also, I have absolutely no regrets. Some of those total strangers I once cold-messaged, I’ve now worked with for nearly two years and I deeply cherish the relationship we’ve co-created.
Ultimately though, "ultra-hard" meant being inauthentic.
And that was the polar opposite of what anyone that makes a career pivot sets out to do: I denied a huge part of myself. At some point, I felt as though I was holding back BIG TIME! Hiding had become exhausting and actually impeded my ability to cold-message nonchalantly. Everything felt weird. I felt as though I was hiding out inside a business I’d built literally to live life ALL OUT. I knew a change was in order. Of course, if ultra-hard felt safe, easy must feel a little scary. And so I had to trust that fear is but a signpost outside your comfort zone where there lies growth. "Easy" became my new way to go:
"Easy" is to pick up the phone and call a former colleague or mentor and re-introduce yourself in your new role, find synergies, and offer to help that person in whichever way you can. "Easy" is to invite a former boss to a seminar or workshop you run in your new position if you think they might benefit from it. "Easy" is to actively ask for a referral when appropriate.
"Easy" is to ask yourself: "How can I, given what I do now, be of service to someone in my network?" and then act upon whatever comes to mind. In spite of fear, sometimes even with fear claiming a seat at the table, right next to you.
See, the reason I’ve found many people opt for ultra-hard over easy, is the fear of being rejected, ridiculed, or judged by others: “Are you sure?”, “Is this even a career?”, or my personal worst: “What happened? That seemed like a good job for you?!”. The way to either prevent this from happening or to no longer give a damn about it, however, isn't to go the "ultra-hard" path. Instead, you want to beat them with your genuine love and passion for what you do...you beat them with authenticity.
"Easy" means you’re being unapologetically service-oriented. "Ultra-hard" means you’re denying a huge part of yourself, are trying to please others, and ultimately, you're driven by ego, not service.
"Easy" means you’re deepening the connections to your old network. "Ultra-hard" means you’re abandoning your old network.
"Easy" means calling up a former colleague and sharing updates with them, asking them how things are going and what they might need help with in the future. "Ultra-hard" might look like calling up a former colleague and stumbling around, claiming you don’t really know what you’re doing and leaving a confusing impression behind.
"Ultra-hard," in the long term, means stagnation and resentment settle in. "Easy," in the long term, means those around you will want to be a part of whatever it is you’re building next.
"Easy" means you’ll become magnetic. What’s it going to be for you?
Loving and hugs,