Lessons From A Child’s Toy 2: Learn Harder

I’ve already done “electric boogaloo”, so yes, it had to be that title.

Almost three years ago now, as we were coming up on our first Pink Slip Party, I wrote “Lessons From a Child’s Toy” about some lessons I learned one bleary-eyed morning during a hazardous encounter between my feet and some colorful wooden blocks.

At the time, the job market was deplorable.  The whole reason for that first Pink Slip Party was because people were dying for face time with recruiters, and so we figured we’d try to help.  With the market as bad as it was, people were trying anything to get a job, including cramming themselves into positions that were a terrible fit for both them and the company.

Well now, three years later…another children’s toy…and another set of lessons…

If you haven’t already read the earlier one from three years ago, I suggest that you do.  It’s out at http://www.ITinTheD.com/30/lessons-from-a-childs-toy/, and it’s still very valid, on point, and solid advice for both those looking for a job and those looking to hire.

This time around though…the lessons came from different directions.  Which makes sense, given that instead of just one young daughter, now I have a daughter who’s four with a forty year old’s attitude, and a two year old son.  So, different age range, different toys, different lessons to be learned.

So let’s take a look at networking in the context of a children’s toy.  Doesn’t matter if you’re doing it to find a job, to hire someone, or just to get out and meet new people…the basics still apply to your situation.

My kids wanted a playscape.  Well, actually, my wife wanted our kids to have a playscape, and mentioned it to them, which…of course…meant that our kids wanted a playscape.  So that’s our analogy’s starting point.

Just like you, sitting back and deciding that it’s time to network.

Step 1: You have to decide you’re doing it.

Nobody can force you to network.  You, and you alone, have to make the decision to get out of your recliner and get out there.

Just like I had to make the decision that tackling this playscape was something that I was actually willing to do.  Did I have the time for it?  Was it going to be a worthwhile endeavor?  Did we have the money to buy the thing in the first place?

And so I researched.  I looked around. I went through dozens of websites and stores comparing features, prices, and reading reviews.  I wanted to know what I was getting myself into, because there’s nothing worse than not being prepared for it.  Just like you should be doing your research into networking groups before you walk in the door for the first time.

After weeks of hemming and hawing and researching and looking and comparing…

…yes.  This is something that needs to be done.

You’re going to network.  I’m going to build a playscape.

Step one completed.  I’m in.  Let’s do this.

Step 2: Your attitude will dictate your experience

It’s a fairly simple, straight-forward word.  “Networking”.  It’s a pretty basic concept – “meet people, have conversations”.

Sort of like what showed up on the truck at my house and waiting for me when I got home one random Friday night after work – it’s just two boxes, right?

But wow.  They were heavy boxes.  You know you’re in for it when they have that whole “requires two people to move this” disclaimer on them.

That wasn’t going to discourage me though – I knew this was something that I wanted to do…and so I dove in.

And discovered that inside the boxes…were…boxes.  Really?

Ooooooooookay.  Still forging ahead.

Now, in a perfect world…this is not how I’d prefer to spend a nice, sunny weekday morning.  I could easily think of a hundred other things that I’d rather be doing at that point in time (starting with “go back to bed”, naturally…), but I had decided this was something I was going to do.

It would have been easy enough to stall.  I could have been incredibly lazy.  I could’ve kept thinking of other things to do…

…but that wasn’t going to help me meet my goals here, now was it?

Nope.  So, if it’s something that you’ve decided you’re going to do…you might as well have fun with it.  Enjoy yourself.  Because being bitter and cranky only makes whatever you’re doing that much more intolerable to you…and if your attitude sucks to start with, it’s going to sabotage the entire process.

Step 3: Have a plan

As I opened up those two boxes…not going to lie…I freaked out a bit.

I was staring into the abyss of the unknown.

Well, okay…that might be a little melodramatic.  But I was staring at two boxes that had been assembled by some master wizard of spatial thinking.  Not a wasted millimeter of space to be seen.  Boards…bags of hooks…metal pieces…three other boxes inside these boxes that were already inside boxes (…and am I building a playscape or a matryoshka doll, for crying out loud?!) …whiskey…tango…foxtrot.

Time to assess the situation.

I saw a flash of white in one of the boxes…probably the instructions.  I’ll open those up.

(and yes, I realize that networking doesn’t come with instructions…oh wait, it does.  we give them to you constantly)

Really?  We’re starting right out of the gate with an overwhelming display of parts listings, square footage diagrams, and all sorts of other nonsense that just friggin’…


Okay.  If they can’t be logical…that doesn’t mean I don’t have to be.  I’ll start in a way that makes sense to me, and then we’ll take a run at this.


That’s better.

I have taken a look at the entire body of what I have to deal with, and I have taken stock of it.

I’ve organized everything in a manner that makes sense…to me, if not to anyone else.  But I’m not looking for anyone else to understand the method to my madness…this is for me, not for them.

Just like you and networking.  You sit back, you take a look at everything that’s out there…and you inventory it.  You see what groups are out there.  You see what function they perform or at least appear to perform, and then you figure out where it makes sense to start.

Step 4: Realize you can’t do it alone.

By nature, networking involves more than one person.

Whether you’re looking for a sounding board to bounce ideas off of, or someone to hire you, or someone to hire…you need someone else to help you.  You can make the decision to do it on your own, you can even get yourself to the event on your own…but once you’re there, now you’re at the point where other people start factoring into the equation.

Just like there came a point where I realized I couldn’t do everything by myself on that playscape, either.

I can’t make it all come together by myself…I’m going to need some help.

And I got some…but not from the direction I expected, or in the manner in which I expected it.

Jeff came over Sunday afternoon with the family, and we moved things around a bit, got the center structure brought out to the back yard…but then, as you might expect, beer got involved and that was pretty much the end of that.  Sure, we spent a good couple of hours catching up, downing a few beers, and generally chatting about the whole process…but not much got done.

Or so I thought.

Yes, those couple of hours might seem like wasted time…but after they packed up and left, something remarkable happened.  My head completely cleared of the blockage that was keeping me from tackling the next steps, and it was like I was Neo seeing the Matrix clearly for the very first time.  I understood how those pieces were supposed to fit together, and I made a ton of progress that evening into the night.

So that’s your first lesson – even when it seems like you’re wasting time, you’re not.  Even just a break from the norm can help you immensely.  Even what appears to be wasted time…like a trip to a networking event that turned out to have nothing of value to you…well, at least you’ve learned something, even if it’s “don’t go back there again”.

Lesson number two comes courtesy of my neighbor, Vince.

Vince is a concrete and cement guy.  Does good work.  You can check him out at www.mycementguy.com. (yes, that’s a plug. he completely saved my ass here, so that seems like the least I can do…)

Anyway, as I was standing in the backyard getting ready to start figuring out where things were going to go, I thought I was all set.

But then along came Vince, with his outside opinions…and he pointed out exactly how screwed I was.

I thought I had checked the grade and how level things were properly…turns out…not so much.

Vince showed me that I didn’t have a two inch drop over the area like I thought…no, it was closer to about eight to ten.

And that’s a problem.  Playscapes built on eight to ten inch declines tend to tip over when kids are swinging on them.

So Vince brought over his equipment one afternoon – thankfully he has his own company…and equipment.   Diagrams were examined.  Measurements were taken.  Forms were built, just as if we were building a rectangular patio.  The frontloader took a major amount of dirt from the front of the area and moved it to the back to level things out.  It was compacted down to form a nice, solid base.

Seriously…no idea what I would have done without his help.  Either I wouldn’t have noticed it until it was all put together and then had to rip it all apart again, or I wouldn’t have noticed it at all and my kids could’ve gotten hurt, or I would’ve noticed it…and spent weeks of nights after work and weekends doing what took us less than an hour.

That’s that second lesson.  Listen to outside opinions, and let them help you take stock of where you actually are, instead of where you think you are.

And for the love of all that’s good and decent in the world…let them help you when they offer to do so.

Now, that’s not to say that you blindly follow anyone’s opinion.  For instance, even Vince had some suggestions that I ignored along the way, because they weren’t geared towards what I was actually looking to accomplish in the area.  Not that they were bad ideas…they just didn’t line up with my goals, and so they were discarded.

But I still listened.

Step 5: Take stock of incremental progress, and be happy about it

This still looks like cluster, I know.

But it’s not.

It’s “progress”.

The center structure was built…and I congratulated myself on getting that far.

The monkey bars were assembled and ready to go…and I took a step back and smiled.

The swing arm and supports were done and set…and I felt pretty good about it all so far.

You have to take things in incremental measurements.

Your mission with networking will not be accomplished in one night…and I can’t even begin to remember the number of times we’ve said that.

If you walk in to your first event expecting that all of your problems will be solved…you might as well walk right back out the door.  It’s never going to meet your expectations, and you’re going to think it’s a failure and not your thing.

But if you’re realistic, and take those incremental steps – “I showed up”, “I met the event host and introduced myself”, “I met at least one person who fits the demographic of what I came here to find” – then you’re golden.

Step 6: Enjoy it for what it is

Right now…at this very moment…I am the greatest dad in the history of time.

My children have told me that they love me more in the past 48 hours than they have in their entire lives.

I have heard more laughter, more joy, more declarations of my awesomeness than I ever have.

But I’m realistic.

It won’t last.

No, soon enough, there will be something that kills off this outpouring of love and devotion, and I’ll just be “dad” again, not “Super Dad”.

Just like networking is a never-ending cycle.

You don’t start the day you need something, and you don’t stop the moment you’ve fulfilled that immediate need.

You keep going, and keep building your network, so that the next time you need it, it’s there for you.

You take your lessons learned and you help others learn from them.

Just like I keep learning from my kids’ toys.

Biggest lesson this time around?

Never underestimate the importance of staying level.

It would have been really easy to lose my mind at several points in time during this process…just like it’s really easy to feel overwhelmed when you’re just getting started with networking.

But relax.  Just like I had friends and neighbors who were willing to help me…you do as well.  Even if you don’t think you do…they’re there.

And if not?  Well, come on out to one of our events and make some new friends who suck less.

Because the results are pretty damned cool, and we’ve got a lot of fun people to play with.

That’s all for this time, folks.  Click around and find something else to read, and look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming events.