Every year, I visit a conference organized by my professional association in Canada. Once, I met a colleague, let’s call her Claudia, who went out of her way to be nice to me and kept suggesting we hang out together and keep in touch afterwards. We did, and during the next year’s conference, Claudia was even nicer to me. The year after that, however, Claudia saw me at the conference again and pretended that I didn’t exist. Gone was her interest in my research and her liking for me. When I approached her, she looked bored and used the first possible pretext to run away.
“What’s happening?” I wondered. “Why is she behaving so strangely?”
And then I realized that Claudia had no interest in me any longer because, instead of a tag saying “Cornell University”, I now wore a tag with a much more modest name of my current state school. On the next day, when she saw me having drinks at the bar with the leaders of our association, however, Claudia’s affection for me skyrocketed yet again.
“Oh, it’s my friend Clarissa!” she announced, approaching us. “Clarissa, please introduce me to these people. I always wanted to meet the leaders of our association!”
And then I finally got it. Claudia never had any genuine interest in me. She was simply networking. My relevance to her depended completely on whether she found me useful.
I was flooded with intolerable vicarious shame. My colleague’s behavior was so blatant, so obviously insincere that I was ashamed on her behalf. At that moment, I decided once and for all that, come what may, I would never network. Here is the result of my musings on networking, my Anti-Networker’s Manifesto:
1. I will never network. I will only meet, talk to and keep in touch with people who genuinely interest me.
2. If my professional success depends on networking, then I don’t need this kind of success and this kind of profession.
3. I will avoid people who treat others on the basis of their usefulness.
4. Seeing people as professional assets is for those who have no other assets to speak of.
5. Networking entails blurring the line between the public and the private, which is always fraught with danger.
6. We spend a lot of time working as it is. Letting work invade my personal life is more than I get paid for.
7. Networking entails calculating people’s value as if they were objects. But if you trade in people as if they were objects, what does that make you?
8. Selling friendship for possible financial benefits is in no way different than selling sex.
I’ve seen people who are obsessed with “making useful connections.” It’s never a pretty picture, which is why I refuse to join their ranks. And the funny thing is that I have never seen anybody who uses others in this way achieve any kind of professional success. They hustle and bustle, making themselves look ridiculous to everybody else by their boundless desire to accumulate potentially usable people. Yet, the results of all this industriousness are usually quite pathetic.
P.S. By networking I don’t mean, of course, things like creating a database of companies that are hiring in your area. I mean very specifically engaging is friendly interactions with people with the sole purpose of using them for professional and financial advancement.