It’s one of those things that I’m not comfortable with, makes me feel awkward, but I acknowledge is absolutely necessary, like taking your shirt off at the beach.
Even though I’ve struggled with it, I have had some success over the last few years. What’s below is a short how-to article I wrote for my grad program’s alumni association newsletter.
In 2009, my wife and I moved to Chicago so I could start work at my current job. After a few months of settling in, I decided I wanted to put myself out there and become some small part of the city’s larger preservation community. At that time, my professional circle was limited to my immediate coworkers. I knew I needed to “put myself out there” but wasn’t sure where or how to start.
Then I remembered some advice my mom gave me. Advice which I ignored for years but that I now (grudgingly) admit was spot-on.
- Step One – Read all you can get your hands on regarding the local scene. Newspaper and magazine articles, blog posts, tweets, you name it. Become an information sponge.
- Step Two – Leave your house; get away from your desk. There are probably lectures, exhibits, roundtables, meet-ups. Go to them. For now it’s ok if you don’t talk to anyone. Steps one and two are all about learning the issues, learning the names, and becoming conversant.
- Step Three – By now you’ll probably have learned the names of some individuals, organizations, or projects that interest you. Google the heck out of them and get the all-important contact info.
- Step Four – (This for me was the hardest part) Write an email. Make a phone call. Trust me; people are way more friendly and giving of their time than you assume they’ll be. My email went something like “I’m Mike Plummer, I’m not from around these parts, heard you speak at/read your blog post about/walked by your project and thought it was really interesting. I want to get more involved. Any suggestions?” Of course, the actual conversations were much wordier and/or flattering, but you get the idea. Mom also suggests offering to buy someone coffee and ask them about their work, which is a.)a good idea and b.)terrifying.
In any case, I (who totally self-identifies as socially awkward) was able to stumble my way through those four easy steps. Within a year of moving to the area, my professional circle was exponentially larger, I was invited to join my local preservation commission, was asked to join the board of a foundation that runs a historic house museum, was asked to present at the statewide preservation conference, and (far and away most importantly) met some great people and got my name out there.
In no way, shape, or form am I now “Mr. Connected”. But I now know several Mr. and Mrs. Connecteds and am more than comfortable shooting them an email if I need to be put in touch with someone. In my mind, that’s just as good.
It worked for me, it can work for you too.