I am, as many of you know, a whole-hearted embracer of social networking, or at least the version of it that happens on specially-designed websites dedicated to some aspect of that purpose. Facebook, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, even Goodreads: I’m on them all. I am remarkably diligent in scouring up persons from various eras of my life, and most of the time, even after the passage of years, I am apparently remembered positively (or at least not negatively) by a whole lot of people.
But there is a downside to this. I spend so much time and, yes, energy detailing an electronic map of past contacts and relationships (and, to be fair, maintaining a good many current ones) that I have had even less practice than usual of late in doing the thing I suck the worst at: meeting people I want to meet. This was a problem all those years I thought girls might be interesting, and now it is a problem when I think established professionals in my chosen field might be both interesting and important to know.
Earlier this week, I had one the most significant networking opportunities of my entire life just happen to me, and I completely blew it. If we are going to go sports analogy at this point in the post (and I think we should), then I was the batter tapping his bat on the corner of the plate and adjusting his, um, uniform while a ninety-three-mile-an-hour fastball blows past him. All he can do is stare stupidly and think, “Why didn’t I have my bat up so I could take a swing at that?”
To make matters worse (and to belabor the image) this was a total softball, too. It was not as if I had to suck up enough gumption to sidle up to a luminary at a crowded cocktail gathering and introduce myself like a desperate pick-up artist at closing time. No, I was sitting in the office of one of my professors, working with him on a project for which he hand-picked me to assist him, when there was a knock on the door and in walked the professional canonist who, beyond all others, I have most wished I could meet someday. She is one of the only authors still writing on a topic that I find of the utmost interest, and to have such a person standing suddenly in front of me was understandably discombobulating.
When introduced, I did manage to say, with proper emphasis, “Yes, I know the name,” but then I left it there. It would have been perfectly acceptable for me to continue, simply and sincerely: “I am very interested in the topic of ____, and have read all your articles on the subject.” How hard would that have been?
I know very well that I am not anything remotely like a natural schmoozer. And I am sure I never will be. But there are limits to what I can tolerate of myself. Mine is not a very large discipline. While I am at school it is not unheard of — clearly — for a rock-star canonist to walk without fanfare into whatever room I happen to be in, at any moment. I want to be ready next time, and this week’s encounter emphasized for me the truth that no amount of noodling about with my LinkedIn profile is going to help me put out a hand and introduce myself to a real live human person. I am going to have to be able to do that myself, and it shames me that I have forgotten that.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. People are usually pretty forgiving when it comes to a botched interaction. Don’t forget to speak from the heart — sometimes, at the beginning of a conversation, it really helps to say, “I’m nervous to meet you!” and see what happens next.
People are mostly good. Take care of yourself.
Thanks for the encouraging words. It actually didn’t go so horribly—I did at least clearly emphasize that I knew who she was, which I would think implied I knew her work—so I really shouldn’t beat myself up about it. But it has definitely been a very bracing reminder to me that I need to be prepared to move beyond my comfort zone in order to interact on occasion.
I have found the same problem regarding too much social networking and have played with the idea that it may prevent me from starting new relationships.…