Text By Francesca “Franki” Taylor
In 1929, Hungarian author, playwright, poet, and journalist Frigyes Karinthy became the first proponent of the “six degrees of separation” concept. His short story, “Chains,” engaged the subject, which American playwright John Guare further explored in his 1990 play, “Six Degrees of Separation.” The theory, in short, states that one person can be connected to any other person through 2 – 6 intermediate acquaintances. Since then, the “Six Degrees Of…” has become a popular name-game using celebrities and/or other notable characters.
I find that the concept goes further. As my job search continues, I am relying on Six Degrees of Support: essential relationships that help me keep a positive emotional balance and, more importantly, maintain sanity.
When I was a little girl in grammar school, one of my music teachers taught me a song called “No Man Is an Island.” I went home to my beloved mother (my rock) and sang the last stanza “Each man is my brother, each man as my friend.” I could never finish the song before I would begin to cry, and on cue, Mama would hug me close and say, “You don’t have to cry, baby girl, Mama will always be YOUR friend.” Many years have gone since my best friend closed her eyes in this life and opened them again in Eternal Life, but I have wondered during my most difficult moments if those lyrics are true.
Good Old-Fashioned Charisma
I am, unabashedly and unapologetically, an introvert. I have neither instinct nor inclination toward being the life of the party or the center of attention. However, I don’t want to imply that I am antisocial or have a negative view of others. In all truth, I have always been extremely shy and reserved. As the youngest of 5 kids, I wasn’t the typical “spoiled” baby of the family. I watched closely in fascination when my older siblings and my mother would meet and greet friends and associates, and I remember thinking, “How do they DO that?”
I was bullied and ostracized by fellow classmates as early as kindergarten. As I matured and grew older, the bullying intensified exponentially, and I lost the desire to meet people. Sitting alone became my routine year after year. I had my studies, my poetry, and my family. And I was satisfied…for a while.
When I attended TCU, we didn’t have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or even MySpace. If you wanted to make friends and associates, you had to go to “the quad” at the center of campus. We would scan the posters and fliers for various activities and interest groups, trying to find like-minded people. In lieu of business cards, we would exchange slips of paper with phone numbers or make sure we were listed in the student phone directory. It sounds funny, but I look back at those types of meeting people as networking in its infancy.
Since I’ve been unemployed, as I attend one after another job-search seminar and skills training course, I’m learning more about support systems and accountability groups. The most earnest advice I’ve gotten is the importance of having strong connections and building a foundation through networking. A Network isn’t necessarily synonymous with friendship, but I understand the value of having a long-lasting support system.
Putting the “Work” in “Network”
In one online professional networking group, I have over 500 connections. This doesn’t mean I have 500 friends, or that each connection is a rock-solid support companion, but within that group, I’ve been able to identify a few people who want to be supportive, too. Some will offer further ways to utilize professional services, and others will reach out to their pool of connections and be a go-between to meet people in similar interests. In short, it works if you’re willing to put in some work to make it work. No one will do the work for you, so put your game face on and take it seriously.
In another group, we (job-seekers) attend once a week and learn interviewing techniques and resume skills. As participants are leaving the meeting place, we receive a contact card with the name, email and phone number for another participant. The object is to make contact with the person on the card before the next meeting and talk a bit. The short conversation needn't to be an in-depth history of our lives. We cover our job field, job seeking avenues we’re using, and practice our “2-Minute Drill;” an ice-breaker for potential interviewing situations. (The drill answers the common interviewing question “Tell me a little about yourself…”)
Since we’re in the same boat, this is a way to build a new network or an accountability group while we navigate the job loss/job revival process together. Many attendees make an opportunity to meet for coffee or a meal. There, they find out they have other similarities (church, gym, hobbies, etc.) and decide to meet at a different setting outside of the regular class.
People Can Be Pillars
It’s important to have emotional and psychological support, especially when you’re going through something as traumatic as job loss. Some people can't fall back on a spouse, relatives or resources when their financial situation changes. In my first post, “The Day I Lost My Job,” I shared what it was like to suddenly need to find help with food; to find my refrigerator and cupboards bare for the first time in a long time. That was the first time that I requested food from 6 Stones, and I appreciated their support very much.
Knowing other employees there granted me this opportunity to continue writing and building my portfolio. I still volunteer here, and I see other people who have known each other for many years. They’ve learned about each others’ families and motivations for volunteering. Over time, they’ve become more like friends than just fellow volunteers. I know that there are good people, caring people, supportive people, and — most importantly in my life — praying people.
I’ve been fortunate to meet these types of people, even if only rarely. I don’t believe everyone is looking out for #1. Plenty of folks in this world know what it means to carry the burden for someone else when a storm is raging in their life. I don’t demand that anyone stop the world and drop what they’re doing because I need something. But I can tell you that it makes a difference when you pause to care for someone else.
The Original Network
Networking, when done correctly, thoughtfully, and above all honestly, can create some of the most solid relationships in a person’s life. I believe everyone has value, and that means more than a monetary commodity. Your time, talents, ideas, feelings, and character are all part of the package, like the parts of a well-tuned engine. They are your foundation. You wouldn’t build your home on jagged rubble, porous sand, or gelatinous goo, would you? So by rote: get the sturdy matter, refine it, work to build it better, and add more of the best to increase the value of what you have. Invest in the relationships that will continue to build you (and others) up.
The more than I endeavor to learn the craft of networking, the more I see the worth in reaching to others; whether you’re looking for a job or not. Sharing together in the Church, what some call “communion,” can be just as important as finding business associates or building professional settings. The first Church made it a point to reach out to others in their villages in order to cover needs from food to comfort to special occasions like weddings. They did real social networking: keeping in touch with each other and sharing the constant communion of faith. Some people still make those cornerstones the building blocks of meeting each other. There’s wisdom and truth here for all who seek it.
I believe the closest, most intimate relationship I need to continue nourishing and advancing is with my Heavenly Father. There are some things that only He can do for me, in me, and through me. For all else, I am a work in progress, striving to master the art of networking and what one of my brothers calls “the gift of gab.” I am grateful for the people who have shown me grace as I grow in this regard. I hope that I can do as much for you as you have done for me.
“No man is an island, way out in the blue. We all look to the One above, for our strength to renew.”
Keep in touch, everyone.