Yesterday I was invited to give a talk at the 2009 CIA (Culinary Institute of America) alumni reunion. There are 39,000 alums of this school. Other colleges, associations and businesses have even more thousands of graduates, members or past employees.
At our meeting, there was a chef who had graduated from the second class of students soon after the CIA was founded in 1946. There were young and younger chefs who had gone on to become hospitality industry leaders, culinary entrepreneurs, managers, humanitarians, even one who has recently organized a soup kitchen near his home.
No one, (or no one I met), was hustling or trying to sell anything. Instead, everyone was interested in getting to know others in the field; in reminiscing and sharing the interests and experiences they all have in common. They were all inspired by President Tim Ryan‘s visionary (and audaciously exciting) plans for the future of the institute.
I was thinking about the commitment of time that it takes to attend this and similar meetings. And the commitment of money too. There was a very small fee that surely couldn’t possibly have covered the cost of the many marvelous meals and wines and the cost of travel and lodging.
I was also reflecting on the value of this undertaking which turns out to mean different things for different people. For some it is undoubtedly a passive experience in which friendly words are exchanged that may have little impact or long-term value.
For others, there are friendships to be renewed, and new opportunities to be explored. It is the friendships that are the most important part and the piece of the pie that must be savored slowly.
Networks are not about taking but giving. Not so much about talking, but more about listening. For this reason, it would be good to consider changing the word itself from “networking” to “connecting.”
It is the connections that lead to results. We all prefer personal references: a referral to a dentist, a doctor, a car repair shop or a plumber. A personal recommendation of a book, a movie, a restaurant or party planner carries far more weight than a review from a stranger.
Indeed when it comes to measuring our personal self worth, we could ask ourselves whether it can be counted in terms of possessions or measured in the ever-widening circle of our friends.
Margaret Wheatley said, “Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals who can go it alone.”