network /ˈnetˌwərk/, n., v.

Whenever I hear the word “network,” my mind immediately goes to the Cal grad I spoke with for a work project. He graduated in May 2017, but he spoke highly of the value of networking. The quote that sticks out to me now is this bit: “I know this theme of ‘networking’ is exuding from me at a high rate…” (It was actually, though. He wasn’t at all exaggerating.)

As a college student, I likely would have rolled my eyes at this or made an excuse about how I was bad at talking to other people. As a college grad, I’m not going to turn into every college advisor/mentor ever by writing a promotional post for the power of networking, but I will acknowledge — there is a lot of value in networking.

I’ve tried, since graduating, to do as much networking and connecting as I can, and not just on the job front. It’s hard to meet people and form actual relationships in general, once you leave college. I recently spoke with a 2002 Cal grad about this, and he agreed, “Your early 20’s are some of the loneliest years of your life.” (I felt comforted knowing that he is at least someone I can turn to in my times of loneliness.)

Photo by roya ann miller on Unsplash

This past week, I went to a networking event and tried a little harder than usual to introduce myself to the other women in the room. This was how I met Rachel, a junior transfer student completing her first semester at Cal. She seemed shy, but excited to be talking to someone, so I put more effort into asking her more questions about herself, what she did, and what her interests were.

We got a decent conversation going, albeit one filled predominantly with small talk about our vague career aspirations, when she broke the rhythm to ask, “How do you start a conversation with people in this room?”

She added, “I’m an introvert, so I don’t really know how to insert myself into a conversation with a group of people.”

As an introvert, I was taken aback that Rachel — who I’d known for all of three minutes — seemed to think I was an extrovert. “Well, um,” I replied, “I’m also an introvert, so hey! We’re in the same boat.” But in the back of my mind, I kept wondering, Did I come off as an extrovert?

Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

Perhaps that night had been a stroke of good fortune.

The panel and networking event I’d attended was intended for Cal alumnae. Just before the networking session, the panelists (two of whom were Asian/Asian American) had shared their job experiences, many of which were shaped by their gender, and spoken about forming an actual “sisterhood” of women who truly supported each other.

For a rare moment, the numbers were on my side.

I was in a room of women — many of whom were women of color, and a smaller subsection of whom were Asian American women — who were all riding the high of empowerment and support from women well-established in their prominent careers.

When I spoke with a couple of my friends and coworkers, we all arrived at the same conclusion: We, as women, wanted to support one another and see women as a collective group succeed. However, we hadn’t been equipped with the proper tools to know what it meant to support each other, without needing to sacrifice our own goals.

Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

This realization saddened me the following morning, when the high of the evening had worn off, but I remain hopeful. If us women have already begun forming stronger connections and identified that we must do better to support each other, then I feel confident that our next steps forward will be us learning how to do just that.

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