When I finished high school, I was in an odd stage in life. I was struggling with what “friendship” really meant. And I guess all high school graduates face the same question: What happens to my friends when they go away to college and find new friends? And that question is answered with all the same cliches: Some friends grow apart. Some friends are only meant for a season of life. Friends are friends forever (cue Michael W. Smith song…now).
But those cliches have been hit hard since the explosion of Facebook.
Now, students are connected to all of their friends in a centralized space, albeit more of a metaphysical space. But this has led to larger social circles. The term “friend” has only been muddied up because of Facebook. Did you add that guy who bought drinks for everyone at Unofficial as your friend? What about the smart girl who helped your group get an A in Brit Lit? Your friend list gets so big that you’re beyond just friends. And it only gets worse after college.
After college, in the world of real jobs and rent and electric bills, a friend list isn’t what you call it any more. It’s your “network.” The guy who bought drinks at Unofficial is now viewed as a wellspring of budding investment. The smart girl from Brit Lit is a potential business partner. And if you’re not thinking about them like that, your future employers are.
I was asked to be a part of a “special business venture” a few years back. The guy who asked me if I wanted to help was nice and seemed honest, so I said I would meet him for coffee. I did. He was mysterious about his business, so I met him again…in a seemingly random guy’s huge house. I was continually asked about how many people were in my “network” on Facebook, and I kept thinking, It’s not my network. It’s my friends. They didn’t care. Their Facebook friends were their network. Which made me think, just as they were telling me that they represented an Amway subsidary, If the people they’re connected to on Facebook are their network, then who are their friends?
Before I could think of an answer, something sickening hit me. They didn’t want me in that room. They wanted my friends—my network. And I wanted to retch. And that was just the first of many times I have been physically ill from others trying to use me for my network.
I am a loyal, hard-working, and honest person (if I do say so myself). And those reasons should be the only reasons that someone wishes to work with me. The number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or Skype contacts I have should not be considered when I am talking to someone about business.
I. Am. Not. My. Network.
Because I don’t believe in a network.
This I believe: that friends are people I have a personal relationship with. Friends helped me through my parents’ divorce, break-ups, physical injury, and so on. Friends sit across from me in Panera over a cup of soup on a rainy day talking about film class and crushes and major life decisions. They’ve comforted me and encouraged me, which people in a network might do. But they’ve also been there for me when they could’ve been doing something more important, something that would advance their professional life just the smallest bit.
I dare network people to say that they would be late to work for a person in their network. I dare network people to get off of Facebook (mostly because they only post links that earn them revenue instead of actually sharing a piece of their life).
And this I also believe: that employers should look at a man and judge him by his work ethic and devotion to what is important to his life. Employers should not judge individuals by the number of connections they have. Work ethic and devotion are signs of a solid personality—one that won’t change for years, if ever—while network connections are only as reliable as the shrewdness of those maintaining them and can be severed with the click of an “unfriend,” “unfollow,” or “ignore call” button.