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.)

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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?

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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.

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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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