The importance of friendship and community

Starting a new business, beginning a new career or dealing with life changes requires not only a great deal of personal reflection and self-examination, it also is best done with the help and support of friends, colleagues and community.

I discovered the hard way that “one is the loneliest number” when I went through a divorce three years ago. As I took inventory of my life, I realized that I had lost touch with many of the friends and institutions that could have been a source of comfort, support and renewal in my life. Over the years, I had convinced myself that I was in control of my life; I didn’t need anyone else. I simply didn’t have time for anyone else because I was “too busy” with my career and my own pursuits.

Oh what a rude awakening I had. If you have ever been divorced, suffered the death of a loved one, lost your job or otherwise experienced a significant setback in your life, you know what I am talking about.

There are many ways to get back on your feet, and each of us must find his own way to heal the hurt and restore joy and purpose to his life. For me, it was finally time to turn to God and church. I realize that is not the way for everyone. Regardless, I cannot overemphasize the importance of connecting with a group of people that will support you and finding organizations that you can become active in that give you a sense of purpose.

NetworkingSo often what I am describing gets translated into “networking.” Networking is important; in fact, it is absolutely essential to a successful career and start-up. But let’s not confuse networking with genuine connection and friendship—rare commodities that are hard to find in the business world, yet are a requisite for becoming a whole person.

A popular activity these days is “speed networking,” where people go around a circle and talk one-on-one for about five minutes before moving on to the next person. While at the end of the evening you may have talked to over a dozen people, how well do you really know them?

Facebook has now become the largest and most popular social network on the planet, but, again, how deep are the “friends” you make on Facebook? One of the saddest things I’ve encountered is people who have hundreds of Facebook friends but no real friends.

Yes, it’s important to network; but along the way, you should take the time to get to know the people you are networking with. Close connections and friendships will pay much greater dividends than Facebook acquaintances and LinkedIn contacts. When it’s time for someone to award a contract, hire a consultant or make a recommendation, who do you think will come to mind?

In his best-selling book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi distinguishes genuine relationship building from the “crude, desperate glad-handing” usually associated with networking. As he notes, it’s not about keeping score: “It’s never simply about getting what you want. It’s about getting what you want and making sure that the people who are important to you get what they want, too.”

Those who are best at networking, creating friendships and building coalitions understand this principle well. Generosity and mutual respect are the necessary ingredients for creating a lasting relationship and establishing a sense of community. And belonging to a community is a necessary component of being a happy, well-adjusted human being.

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