What I learned from networking out of my comfort zone

Last month I set myself a challenge: to push myself to explore new ways of working, writing and learning with other people. There’s nothing like declaring your intention publicly to commit to it, so I included the challenge in my opening post at Joyful Jubilant Learning.

Of course the decision to start writing and learning at JJL was in itself part of this new determination to stop trying to do it all on my own. I’ve been changing other things too – like opening up this site to some powerful voices who are going to be guest authoring here in September (more on this to follow…)

But I knew the thing that was going to be hard for me, the bit that would take me right out of my comfort zone, was learning how to network more effectively. I’m a writer, I’m a sole trader, I work from home, I have a tendency to shyness. All of these things can make me a bit of a recluse at times. All of these things were potential stumbling blocks to my networking efforts. All of these things were – of course – the reason why it was a good idea to try!

So, for the last three weeks I’ve been exploring the labyrinthine world of the social networking sites… I’ve learned a lot – about how they function but more importantly about how I think and work, and the barriers that I need to hurdle over in order to get out of that comfort zone…

Barrier #1: I fear that networking sites will be like a party. Like some other great people I know, I don’t like parties. I’m immediately tongue-tied in a crowd. I like love blogging because it’s like a conversation – the kind you might have in the kitchen or the hallway at a party, or over a late-evening drink long after the other guests have gone home. I need to find a way to focus on the individuals who I’ll find at these parties sites – as people I can potentially have a conversation with – rather than fretting about how to make small-talk

Barrier #2: I’m network poor so I don’t have friends I can ‘poke’. I’ve spent the last twenty odd years working in the public sector in the UK. I know a lot of great civil servants, but they don’t tend to hang out in social networking sites, nor can they help me with internet marketing, blogging, learning for personal development, spiritual growth or the zillion of other things I’m into just now. Okay, so this one’s a real no brainer. Being network poor is a pretty good reason to start networking, not hang back! There’s no reason to fret about not having ready made Facebook friends – this is a chance to get to know some new people

Barrier #3: I won’t know anyone. See how this is starting to sound like my party fears? Actually it turned out that I do ‘know’ people each place I sign up, because I keep on finding networks of bloggers that I’ve already ‘met’. And they’re a pretty good bunch of people to hang out with :-)

Barrier #4: I’d have to be superficial. This one goes deep. I find it hard to small talk. I have a very strong drive to be, to sound, to write like my authentic self. I found it hard to see how I could do this in a site like Facebook, where at first glance everyone seems to be determinedly having fun. But the people there are people the same as they are everywhere. Once you get to know them a richer, more intriguing story starts to emerge. And it’s good for me not to take things too seriously. Some of the stuff you can do there (if admittedly distracting and time consuming) like re-arranging each other’s fridge-magnet-poetry… well it is good fun…

Barrier #5: I don’t know how they work. Well no, and some of the sites are harder to use than others. I do find Facebook on the footery side (=fiddly, irritating, an exasperating task), but like most things it gets easier the more you practice. And there are lots of people out there who are willing to teach me (for free) how to get the most out of them

Barrier #6: It’ll take far too much time. Jury’s still out on this one. There are lots of potential distractions and time-wasters in this stuff, and I can’t quite fathom how to remember to check so many different places for messages and updates. As if e-mail wasn’t enough… But I’m figuring it’s worth the investment just now if for no other reason than to see what happens and to get me out of the comfort zone

Barrier #7: There’s no space to write, it’s just noise. I’m still trying to fathom the whole tweeting thing, but maybe there are some spin off benefits in terms of writing with brevity if we learn how to compose a perfect Twitter message in 140 characters (thanks Rick)

Barrier #8: I can never think of cool movies, books and music to talk about. This is back to my party phobia. My mind always goes blank when people ask me for my ‘favourites’. At first I resisted filling in this part of my Facebook profile. Why should I need to tell people this? Why would people want to know? But then I realized that it was just another way of people finding each other - connecting with others who have a similar set of interests. And if someone bumps into me because they love Fargo too – well that would be brilliant. And so what if the only TV I watch is Coronation Street – I don’t have time for TV any more, I’m too busy blogging!

Barrier#9: It’s real networks I need not virtual ones. Well, the virtual sort can lead to the real ones too. I got an e-mail at the beginning of the week from a reader in Edinburgh, inviting me to a weekly catch-up session with like minded designers, IT specialists, educationalists, bloggers to talk about the potential of all things technological. How cool is that?!

Barrier#10: I don’t really want to draw attention to myself. This is a big potential barrier (yes, you can see it too, to a whole lot of things…) and one that I really needed to get over. The lightbulb moment came when a great blogging friend (and calm and thoughtful private coach) pointed out that not everybody liked hanging out in the blogosphere. Some people liked hanging out on Facebook. Maybe they’d be interested in my work, in sharing writing tips, in finding out more about learning to write with confidence.

Kerpow! That was all I needed. Once I realized I could learn how to make this stuff work not to promote myself but in order to connect with people who might be interested in what I do – well then the learning was easy, I started updating my profiles, working out how to make the footery technology work, wrote new words to describe what I do, and set up a brand new group.

It’s called Confident Writing: readers, writers, learners, friends*. It’s for anyone (who’s on Facebook) who’s interested in the work I do here, who wants to learn about writing with confidence, or to share how they go about it. It’s an open invitation and I’d love for you to come along and join the party…

So there we have it. 10 simple steps from being a network poor recluse to a girl who’s throwing the doors open for a party…

The key to getting from there to here? A certain amount of determination. A willingness to notice the barriers that I was throwing up for myself, and find ways round them. (Although of course once you name them they start to look a bit silly and lose their power.) An invitation to step out of my comfort zone, and notice, learn, and write about what happened when I made the commitment to change.

This article is a contribution to Robert Hruzek’s What I Learned From This… challenge for September - on the easy subject of what I learned from change. You’ve got until the 9th to send your piece in - so go on… What are you going to change?

I’m also going to count this as a contribution to my writing with authenticity theme, as it takes a certain amount of courage to share with you how terrible I am have been at networking!

*Sorry - I think you need to be signed on to Facebook to open this link

Joanna Paterson

Journal and writing coach, teaching ways to notice and capture the wonder of the everyday, through writing, poetry, and photography.

Website - Twitter - Facebook - More Posts

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20 Responses to “What I learned from networking out of my comfort zone”

  1. On September 6, 2007 at 8:46 am Emma Bird responded with... #

    Congrats Joannna - both on mastering the art of networking and Facebook (you seem to be doing amazingly from what I can tell) - and on writing this clear guide to networking. I agree, an authentic piece of writing if ever there was on.

    And you know what, I love it when you share these glimpses of yourself. It makes your blog all the more real and enjoyable.

    Oh, and you’re a great blogging friend, too :-)


  2. On September 6, 2007 at 1:22 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Thanks for the feedback Emma, and encouragement to be more of my own authentic self… Oh and thanks for the fridge magnet poem this morning too!


  3. On September 6, 2007 at 1:56 pm Brad Shorr responded with... #

    Another Fargo fan! Glad to hear it. One of the all time best. Thanks for giving me all the great Facebook ideas - the more time I spend there, the more interesting it gets.

  4. On September 6, 2007 at 3:24 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Brad - there we go, another connection! Maybe Fargo’s the key…

    It’s been good learning about Facebook together. I think you’re right, it does get better the more you experiment - which is another valuable learning point.


  5. On September 6, 2007 at 5:13 pm Emma Bird responded with... #

    And what do you know? I love Fargo, too. I just keep on forgetting what it’s called. It’s looking more likely that Fargo is the key…

    I think the key to Facebook is making it work for you. You’ve got total freedom over the applications you add which is what I love about it. You can be as serious or as frivolous as you want. In short, you can be you.

  6. On September 6, 2007 at 5:44 pm Chris Brogan... responded with... #

    Okay, so I could talk about Fargo (go, bears!), or I could tell you that this post was full of incredible things and that you’re building quite a wealth of valuable information here. Or maybe I can say hi. Hi.

    The trick of all these social media tools is in the implementation. If we don’t start with some end in mind, they’re quagmires of time. SURE, we can just go there and decompress, orrrrrr, we can go there and learn how this can all tie color and texture into our conversations.

    As for Twitter, my latest theory on how it could be useful to you is Twitter is a director’s commentary (at my blog) on your primary work. What do you think of that?

    Great, thoughtful post. I can see why you’re an SOB. : )

  7. On September 6, 2007 at 8:10 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Emma, thank you. I’m definitely coming round to that way of thinking - it’s just a question of persistence and as in most other things, focusing on your purpose and letting that drive what you do. And it helps to have someone who can keep you right on how to make it work too! Free tips much appreciated :-)


  8. On September 6, 2007 at 8:17 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Chris, thanks for saying hi. It would be a shame if we missed this bit out wouldn’t it?:-)

    I agree with you about the end in mind, working with these tools for a purpose. It’s the same conclusion I reached when I was trying to make sense of blogging (and commenting, linking, reading feeds) - it can all start to feel empty if you don’t focus on the purpose. But when the purpose drives the activity it’s easy, fun, and the obstacles fall away.

    I’ve been following your ideas on how to make the most of social media avidly as part of my learning strategy and was struck by the post before you one you mention about making the Twitter comments something of value. Lots of different ways we can do that I guess.

    Your director’s commentary idea is a really powerful one, and I think it’ll help a lot of people make sense of or recast what they’re doing. At the moment I’m not sure I think of myself as a director though - but perhaps that in itself is a useful learning point to go away and work on!

    Best wishes


  9. On September 7, 2007 at 5:20 pm Terinea Weblog responded with... #

    You can integrate your blog feed into your facebook profile by heading over to the notes section and supplying your RSS address.


  10. On September 7, 2007 at 8:00 pm Ria Kennedy responded with... #

    Hi Joanna; you pretty much summed up all my fears. The real one for me is the lack of time I have — I am afraid ultra-networking will subsume my writing and family time. I already seem to not have enough time… It seems some people can juggle 20 plates: raise kids, run a business, do housework, be active in the community, answer 250 emails, comment on 50 blogs, guest post and post multiple times a day — it can make one feel a little slow. Thanks for listing these points, so I can see I am not alone. Maybe I will find a way to overcome the time thing, maybe not, but at least someone understands where I’m coming from.

    I love your sites and check daily just in case I find you slipped something new onto your blogs. It’s like Christmas, only nearly every day! Thanks for such inspired and motivational writing.

  11. On September 7, 2007 at 8:13 pm Ria Kennedy responded with... #

    Hi Joanna, there seems to have been a glitch — my comment got posted under Terinea’s.

  12. On September 7, 2007 at 8:14 pm Ria Kennedy responded with... #

    Oh, never mind, I just saw the links go under not over the comment! My bad!

  13. On September 7, 2007 at 10:21 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Ria, you are so definitely not alone. The time thing is a big challenge - I’m not pretending to have any answers and I’ve been putting in the time in the last few weeks because it was a learning experiment - I’m not sure I could do it all the time.

    I guess, like anything, it comes back to your purpose - what you want to be doing all those things for and how they fit with your wider purpose - does a focus on that help you to identify the things you want to do vs those that you ‘have’ to do because you ‘should’ or other people do? Hope that helps some.

    Thank you for your lovely comment about my work. That’s worth 100 readers any day :-)


    PS Sorry if it was a bit tricky commenting - it seemed to fix itself in the end though?

  14. On September 7, 2007 at 10:33 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Jamie, thanks for the tip. I’ve got it set up through flogblog at the moment - is there much odds between the two approaches do you think?


  15. On September 8, 2007 at 3:57 pm Ria Kennedy responded with... #

    Joanna — LOL, I’d like to say I’ve been stressed lately (which is the truth) and that’s why I got confused about the comments, but sometimes I have space cadet moments, so I take full responsibility. Your commenting section is fine!

    Yes, I think you nailed it on the head about defining your actions by defining your purpose. It does take me a lot of energy to socialize (I’m extremely introverted) so I’m not sure the wear and tear on my psyche would be worth it, even if it would be a lot of fun. I love giving the odd comment to something that really moved me, but that’s being sincere, not social, which I am far more comfortable with and find less draining.

    As far as my compliment, you’re most welcome; thank you for sharing. :-)

  16. On September 8, 2007 at 6:32 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Ria, I do know just what you mean about the drains on the energy - and the importance of sincerity. I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy networking in the blogging world so much - there’s lots of chance for rich conversations, new friendships, and sincere exchanges - as well as fun. I’d encourage you to stick with it if you can - maybe focus on the places/sites that leave you feeling revitalised and recharged after you’ve been there, and drop those that make you feel drained?

    Hope to hear from you again some time - anytime you’ve time!

    Best wishes


  17. On September 8, 2007 at 8:18 pm Ria Kennedy responded with... #

    Thank you, I will!

    Be Well — Ria

  18. On September 8, 2007 at 11:01 pm Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Cheers Ria - come back soon :-)

  19. On September 9, 2007 at 6:41 am Ronna Porter responded with... #

    There are people like you on Facebook to! Congrats on 101 subscribers, soon to become 102.

  20. On September 9, 2007 at 11:29 am Joanna Young
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Hi Ronna - this I am learning :-)

    Thanks for signing up - it’s good to know who your readers are, more so than how many - which is, of course, one of the definite pluses of Facebook.


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