A few weeks ago I met up with my kids as they were walking home from school. As we turned onto our street they caught sight of a neighbor, whom I had only met once, near the other end of the block. Actually, it was the neighbor’s dog that drew their attention and caused them to race ahead of me. Even my two-year-old joined in the pursuit, shouting the dog’s name as they ran pass several houses. Of course, I was somewhat embarrassed by this scene, and the dog’s owner, bundled up in the cold, was oblivious to their excitement. Once they met up, though, it was clear that the neighbor was more than glad for her little pooch to bring so much joy to my kids. And once again, my kids helped my family make some new friends.
I recalled this experience the next day as I was reading Angela Myles Beeching’s Beyond Talent on the train to the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. I was reading the book in preparation for a class next semester, but the section I happened upon was particularly applicable to that day’s conference performances, sessions, and schmoozing that inevitably comes along with it. In a section on networking, Beeching encourages us to view these occasions as more than self-centered promotion. She writes, “Networking is about being neighborly, interested in others, and open to making new friends. It’s about connecting with others: sharing ideas, resources, and experience” (p. 22). I couldn’t help but think about how much my neighbor appreciated her dog’s little admirers. What might have seemed like a one-way transmission of enjoyment to my kids (or simply an annoyance), was actually a mutually satisfying experience that built a relationship around a shared interest — her dog.
So, the next time I feel like introversion is the more humble option in a crowd of professional counterparts, I will remember the importance of being neighborly. Sharing of ourselves — whether across the street or across the convention center — is what develops communities.