Networking as an Introverted HR Professional: How Stoicism Helped Me Overcome Distance
“You’ve been made by nature for the purpose of working with others.” Marcus Aurelius
I’ve mentioned it many times in the past. I am an introvert. This does not mean, as many erroneously believe, that I dislike people. As a dedicated HR professional, I don’t believe I’d have gotten very far if I didn’t like people!
No, being an introvert is more complicated. It means that my energy is drained as I interact with people. This isn’t a negative. People don’t suck the energy from me – not always anyway! No, it’s how my body naturally reacts to human interaction. I use energy to interact. And it takes a lot of “me” time to recharge. Conversely, extroverts tend to gain energy from interactions with people.
This background is important. As a natural introvert, I spend a lot of time in self-introspection (crazy, I know). I became aware a long time ago that if I were to succeed at HR, I needed to find a way to be comfortable being uncomfortable and interact more often with folks. Success in this industry requires meaningful connections.
How did I do this? Many ways, including this EXCELLENT presentation by Erich Kurschat, who challenged me to think differently about what it means to be a successful introverted professional.
But like most things in life, I turned to philosophy when I got in ruts, and it has proved invaluable.
I’ve written before that philosophy is for everyone, and HR pros can find much wisdom and answers by perusing the art and study of wisdom.
Stoicism in particular is important to me. Its platitudes are timeless. Its creeds applicable for a modern audience and modern problems. I’ve argued this. Others have argued this.
A central element of Stoicism is how the world is interconnected. The great Stoic teachers consistently communicated the idea of “Sympathiea,”meaning “all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other.”
Marcus Aurelius wrote in his private journal, later becoming the famous Meditations, that we ought to “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” He also wrote, “Human beings have been made for the sake of one another. Teach them or endure them.”
Seneca, in his Letters from a Stoic, On Clemency, wrote that Stoicism was unique in philosophies due to its teaching on sympathiea.
“No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings, nor more attention to the common good. The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular.”
The Stoic idea of sympathiea is a reminder that we were made to work with other people. We were made to interact with one another, to teach one another, to learn from one another. HR practitioners, specifically, need to remember this.
So, when I contemplate the implications of sympathiea and networking, it leads me to remember that networking is built on the premise of helping one another – not for others to help me, necessarily, for when networking is done right, the self will benefit. However, the purpose of networking is to help others! It’s to make meaningful connections, gain ideas, and become a better person through helping others.
“One who seeks friendship for favorable occasions, strips it of all its nobility.” – Seneca
So, when I’m looking to network as an HR professional, what do I do?
Connect others with similar interests. I love to make connections. Like Rush the band? I know several HR pros you should get to know! Love Baby Yoda? Do I know some folks! Want to make a career transition into HR? Well, let me introduce you to… “Friendship is given us by nature, not to favor vice, but to aid virtue.” – Cicero
Learn from others. I’ve had a fairly unique career trajectory in HR industry. Honestly, everyone has, but I know what I know and what I don’t know. And I don’t know A LOT! Reaching out to thought leaders and subject matter experts in other areas helps me continuously learn and hone my craft. It’s intentional. It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows. – Epictetus
Try to teach others. Learning is a two-way street. My hope is to pass on knowledge and understanding, or at least expose others to a different perspective they otherwise would not have considered or been exposed to, through my actions. Do what you say, or don’t do it! “Nothing will ever please me, no matter how excellent or beneficial, if I must retain the knowledge of it to myself. And if wisdom were given to me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.” — Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
Notice that I didn’t say I network to find a job. Honestly, networking has helped me find new jobs. However, I didn’t go into those relationships looking to find a job. At the end of the day, what’s good for the hive is good for the bee, as Marcus Aurelius reminded himself. If I live my life in service to others, I should eventually see rewards. It doesn’t mean I will necessarily get a new job, or make new friends, or be thanked. But those things are not the point. They’re nice to have, but it’s better to have the knowledge that I controlled what I could and don’t worry about the rest!
More importantly, networking has afforded me amazing opportunities I otherwise would never have found if I stayed in my comfortable little introvert bubble. Due to networking, I’ve:
Been a guest on several podcasts
Been invited to speak at several conferences
Conducted several online trainings for organizations
Started this blog and shared many stories
Began a side hustle as an HR consultant due to people ASKING me for help
And, most importantly, I’ve made many new friends – real life friends – whom I otherwise would have never known or interacted with
The results don’t lie, at least to me. I think this is why it still shocks me to talk with other HR pros who don’t network, at least not consistently! I sense some hesitancy for whatever reason from many folks. Listen, I felt it, too! Whether it’s anxiety leaving your comfort zone, or healthy skepticism, I challenge those who don’t network to just give it a try. Why not?
The aforementioned actions have worked for me, but I encourage you to find what works for you! My strategies may help. Maybe others will help you. Either way, remember that Aristotle said humans are social creatures. Find the best way to translate that social nature into a good life for you and for others through the power of networks, which is just a fancy business term for sympathiea, a.k.a “meaningful connections.”