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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

The Company We Keep: Live On Purpose

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” – Epictetus


Selfie with Steve Browne at #SHRM18. This photo is symbolic of my transformative experience at the Conference. It’s a journey I’ve been on since! #HROnPurpose #LiveOnPurpose

Having introverted tendencies can be a challenge. You know you need to go out and fulfill certain obligations, but it’s so tiring! Ugh, if only I could stay home with my books and music and Game of Thrones.

But alas, even introverts need human contact! It’s what makes us human. It’s what KEEPS us human! And this is a good thing, of course. Personally and professionally, we all have those people in our lives that help us find our internal strength, courage, and energy. Those people are the ones we should focus our time on. This blog post will blur the lines between professional and personal – because life is blurry.

Plenty has been written about introverts and their goofiness. (Same goes for you extroverts and ambiverts). And plenty has been written about how we need people in our lives to help us through the good times, bad times, and every time in between – especially in an HR context where the battles we face seem never ending.

This post is about those themes, but my focus is more about sharing a quick personal story rather than a profound list that helps introverts (or others) win friends and conquer enemies.

It was June 2018. I was at the SHRM National Conference in Chicago. As my first national conference of any kind, I was quite blow away! The magnitude could have been stifling. Amazingly, 20,000 people attended the conference – all of them in the McCormick Place conference halls. 20,000 people is more than the total population of a lot of cities and villages.

Upon arriving to Chicago, I checked into my hotel and immediately felt determined to make the most of this experience. I connected with some people I “knew” on Twitter and met them at a nearby restaurant. This was so out of my normal comfort zone! I sometimes have a hard time speaking to people I know, and here I was going to meet people I wasn’t even sure existed in real life! I mean, at least half my Twitter followers are bots…. 😊

Upon meeting these amazing people out and about (yes, they were real peeps), I immediately gained confidence and felt a desire I never felt before. I was going to try to meet as many new people as I could, even if it meant, GASP!, walking up to them and introducing myself.

This experience of getting out of my comfort zone culminated with a personal goal I had since I first registered for SHRM 2018. At the time, I had read “HR On Purpose” by Steve Browne of LaRosa’s Pizza fame. The book, if you haven’t read it, please do, really helped me reexamine my own outlook on HR management, and life in general, really. So, I wanted to meet Steve. Thankfully, he was booked to give several presentations at SHRM 2018, and if I attended them, I had a chance to meet someone who was a major influence on my professional development!

So, I went to his first presentation a little early – probably way earlier than I needed because I was one of four people in this giant hall. But I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.

I was waiting patiently when I saw him, well heard him, coming – a giant man with a booming voice and a bright tie dye shirt was yelling as he walked down the hall that he couldn’t wait for us all to get “geeked;” he had an infectious laugh while yelling at us.

It was intimidating! I felt nervous and almost backed out… How could I just go up to this man unannounced? He’s busy! I’m not important enough. He’s got other things to do.

Nonsense, I told myself! Stop that Old Paul. The New Paul cares not for your excuses! I felt that desire and determination again! I wasn’t going to let my emotions control what I wanted to do.

I got up and walked right up to Steve to introduce myself. Steve smiled and said he was happy to have met me in real life – he remembered us interacting on social media! I was humbled that this giant in the industry remembered me! I told him that his book was a game changer for me, and I thanked him for writing it. He thanked me, and I then spontaneously asked if I could take a selfie with him. “Of course!” he said. I took the selfie, and he said come see him after the presentation! I did, along with a ton of other new people I got to meet in line, and he signed my copy of “HR On Purpose.”

This was transformative for me. SHRM 2018 was the beginning of me challenging my internal struggle to make meaningful connections simply because I was afraid to approach people I didn’t know. I let myself be vulnerable enough to make new connections. And I was lucky because the people I met were more than willing to help me, they were active participants in my transformation, whether they knew it or not!

Since then, I have kept in contact with many of these #HRPeeps. Some of us have even formed the affectionately named #StateLineCrew – a group of IL and WI HR pros (and more importantly, friends) who meet once every other month or so on the IL-WI state border. We meet, talk, laugh, and grow. I have confidence enough to say we’ve become pretty good friends, not just colleagues.

What this has taught me is at the end of the day, keep good company. Most of all, remember to keep good company within myself! This will help in more ways than anyone can truly know!

I was originally going to end this by naming all the people I met at #SHRM18, but that would be incredibly difficult the more I thought about it. I would inevitably forget someone. I met so many wonderful people and continue to do so! However, I want to send a special shout out to Claire Petrie (Twitter: @_strclaire) for helping me get started on this journey with a simple Tweet – “We’re meeting at Elephant and Castle on W. Adams if you wanna join!” So incredibly glad I did! Thanks for the invite, Claire! And thanks to everyone who I’ve met along the way!

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