About six weeks ago I flew out to the West Coast for a conference. I was blessed with the kind of flexibility in my schedule that usually disintegrates with adulthood, allowing me to feed this unceasing curiosity for new places, often dressed in the guise of restlessness. I had planned to spend just a couple weeks traveling around Southern California to get a feel for the various city personalities, while expanding my professional network and writing. But, one thing led to another, and five weeks effortlessly passed before I finally compelled myself to book a flight back east. (I partially blame those spectacular sunsets.) Now that I’m home and I’ve had a few days to refresh, I’d like to share a few tips I utilized while on the open road. Because, sometimes, seemingly impractical trips are our most practical teachers.
1. Don’t be Afraid to Reach Out to People
You know the age-old adage, “You never know unless you ask”? Well, it turns out that advice has stood the test of time because it’s true. Sometimes our nerves can get the best of us, but this world is packed with really fascinating people – most of whom are willing to chat with you if you only ask.
To make the most of my travels, I used LinkedIN to seek out professionals who interested me and/or had something to teach me, and then I messaged each person to invite him or her to coffee. No agenda, just connection for the sake of connection. And guess what? Most people said yes. I met some amazing contacts (and friends) that I can further cultivate relationships with. As much as we may pretend to have it all figured out, we don’t. We are continuously learning. And we should be. Allowing ourselves to benefit from the experience and guidance of others can propel us even further. But being open to this guidance only gets us halfway there. The real trick is that we must actively seek it.
The world tends to be on our side when we put ourselves out there. And, like the saying goes, you never know until you ask. So be a little bolder than what is comfortable and see what transpires from it.
2. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” (Maya Angelou)
Ms. Angelou hit the nail on the head with this one. As busy human beings, we can’t possibly remember the details of our endless conversations with people, but we will remember how they made us feel, and vice versa. Think of the people who you hold closest to you, both on a personal and professional level, or even people in passing who made a lasting impression. I would bet their high ranking in your memory bank stems from the fact that they made you feel pretty darn good—whether it be empowered, inspired, capable, or just plain safe. The folks that I felt most connected to while traveling were those who made me feel great, whether they meant to or not. And not because of things they necessarily said, but because of what they exuded in their presence.
This quote describes a universal function of the human condition and, as such, is incredibly relevant for business and networking. When we meet new professional contacts—before we even get to the “here’s what I can do for you, what can you do for me” thinking—we should remember that they are humans, first and foremost. Be genuine. Listen to them. Adapt to their body language. Pick up on their demeanor and sense of humor. Get to know them. They will feel your candidness. And you will be remembered.
3. Be Adaptable.
Being adaptable is so essential these days. The most successful leaders I’ve met have been those who adapt to their environments. They flow like water; they see the cracks that need filling, and they fill them. I’ve always considered travel – particularly international travel – one of my best teachers; the first lesson is always “how to be adaptable,” and you have no choice but to learn, and learn quickly.
Although I didn’t expect it to be, this trip was also a lesson in adaptability, to a lesser degree. Although a Floridian at heart, the longest and most recent portion of my professional career was spent in Washington DC in the government sector. I’ve also spent a fair amount of my adult life living in and traveling to New York. Both cities can be quite fond of suits—or, at the very least, a modest dress or slacks, particularly if you’re meeting a professional contact for the first time. The first week of my trip, I was easily the most overdressed person, until I realized that jeans and a nice shirt were perfectly appropriate for the types of conferences and coffee meet-ups I was engaging it. I share this story not to perpetuate geographical or industry stereotypes, but rather to highlight that wherever we go, there we are—and adapting will make our lives a heck of a lot easier and that much more fun by allowing us to immerse ourselves in whatever environment we are momentarily part of. A senior manager once said, “leadership means being able to adapt to the work culture you’re in,” and these words apply to life, too. Adaptability is key.
4. Learn to Shrug Off Life’s Inconveniences.
Similar to being adaptable in various work cultures, we must adapt to the inconveniences that life throws our way. Hiccups are inevitable. For me, the consistent hiccup was a broken computer. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a hiccup (what’s bigger than a hiccup?). I had taken this trip completely at the mercy of my computer and, more often than not, my previously reliable MacBook Pro was inoperable or away for repairs. Within a month, I fixed a faulty hard-drive, track pad, and logic board, all on separate occasions and in cities I was unfamiliar with. So what did I do? I allowed myself to feel discouraged. Then, I took a few deep breaths, spent more time outside than I normally would (couldn’t miss those sunsets), and wrote with pen and paper 1950’s style. Sometimes the only power we have is the power to decide our attitude: we can remain frustrated or we can shrug it off. But here’s a hint…life is way more manageable when we keep perspective.
So there you go. Reach out to people. Remember that we are feeling beings and act appropriately. Be adaptable. And brush off life’s dust when it falls on you, which it inevitably will.