The other day while driving I confessed to a fellow Emerging Arts Leader Symposium (EALS) committee member a deep dark secret….

I hate networking.

I hate everything about it. I hate the words: nets and working, neither particularly scintillating concepts. I hate how they’re combined together into one hideous event where you have to wear uncomfortable clothes and a name tag, shake hands with strangers and try to obtain their number to presumably track them down like a blood hound, call them for an awkward, “Remember me the desperate 24 year old seeking a job?” conversation and cross your fingers that they can help you and not suggest USAJobs.gov (my Dad suggests this to every ingénue who solicits advice from him–myself included–I don’t believe he actually has ever attempted to navigate the site himself).

But what I hate the most is how it’s foisted upon us turning something that naturally occurs into an unnatural, uncomfortable, and often polarizing dance in which there are those with power (with jobs) and those without (no jobs, or bad jobs).

That word “networking” was, embarrassing to admit, one of the reasons I didn’t attend last years sold-out EALS. It was an incredible success with topics and panelists I found interesting and compelling, yet I deliberately decided not to attend (rationalization helped by planning a trip to NYC) based on that those three dirty syllables. Other EALS committee members admitted to feeling uncomfortable or forced when the time for naturally occurring conversation rolls around and you’re told bonding with someone because you both happen to be wearing chucks is a waste of a networking opportunity. Wondering if we were alone we looked over feedback from previous EALS and found that universally we, the emerging leaders, are sick of hearing: “Go forth and network!”

So my fellow committee and I barreled down River Road that evening discussing our dislike of networking we came upon an astounding realization: we are always networking… we just don’t always call it that. It’s the industry, the business world, that turned it into an hideously dirty word. Think about it: how much money is being made off of networking events, networking training, networking prep and networking lectures. We’re told how to do it, where to do it, what to wear while doing it, and we’re sick of it.

At its core networking is human contact. It’s two people connecting, seeing in each other a mutual interest, and sharing with each other ideas. Jobs arise out of networking not necessarily because of your vigorous networking skills and ability to trumpet up to someone “HI! I’m John P. Artsypants I’m great at prospect management, I’m trained in creative writing, I’ve worked at many arts organizations in Seattle, and can I have your business card/please hire me?” BUT because two human beings have connected, shared, and expressed a desire to help each other. Networking happens in line at Starbucks, while waiting for the Metro, before a play, via twitter and facebook, in the elevator, at an art gallery… it happens, naturally, everywhere. People connect to people. Fundraising has been telling us this for years. So when we’re looking for jobs we should apply the same principles as seeking a major gift. People enjoy connecting to people naturally. Forced networking is out.

That’s not to say 2012 EALS won’t be a networking opportunity. It absolutely will be. But we will not be giving you specific times “to network”, we’ll do better, we’ll provide the venue the ideas and conversations to get you started. We encourage you to not think about it as “networking” but as an opportunity to talk to people with your shared interests. See that your ideas and what you have to say are just as important as theirs. We encourage you to throw your networking “goals” out the window, don’t approach every conversation looking for a job: look to connect, the job will follow.

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