A Brief Argument for Growing Your Professional and Social Networks

“If you are already awesome to everyone in your world, then your world needs to get bigger.” I couldn’t agree more with this comment by Breather CEO Julien Smith. In the blog post from which it originates, he essentially explains the why and how of growing your world (i.e., your spheres of knowledge and influence). However, he doesn’t fully explain his thoughts about why it’s wrong to allow your current world—your professional and social networks—to stay stagnant. Personally, I believe that issues arise when you surround yourself only with people who know you well and think you’re great. In my experience, if everyone you know thinks you are awesome, you’re not making a big enough impact wherever you are—in social, academic or professional circles—to make a difference.

“If everybody likes what you are doing, you’re doing it wrong.” – Jen Bekman

Certainly, when you stay concealed within your close-knit sphere of friends, you do so at your own peril. Staying in a social safe zone means that you’re not working on perhaps the most important life skill: the ability to build and cultivate relationships from scratch. When you spend time with your best friends or people you’re overly comfortable with, you operate, as I like to say, at your lowest common denominator —at your lowest level of sophistication; a place where you’re not trying to impress anyone; where your situational awareness plummets; where you have less curiosity of thought and no accountability.

Think about how that contrasts to meeting people for the first time. Case in point: as a (22-year-old) director, my very first meeting of the board of the Caring and Sharing Exchange charity. I had to work for both attention and respect. This meant communicating more effectively. It meant being more attentive to the comments and concerns of others around the table. I had to earn the support of others in order to achieve my objectives, and it was necessary to consider everybody’s point of view so that I could better calculate mine. I was maybe in over my head—just maybe—but this was a good thing.

It was in those moments that I began to really appreciate this passage from Austin Kleon’s book Steal like an Artist: “If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.” I don’t think he meant that he was ever the most talented person in a room, or that it’s what you should necessarily strive for. I think he was saying that you should try to put yourself into situations where you’re clearly going to learn from the people around you. We often become too relaxed in our situation and go untested inside our traditional social and professional spaces. As a result, we must venture into unknown territory, where we will be subjected to people and situations sure to challenge us in ways that will yield positive outcomes.