Just exactly as it seems and how it always has been. And, as the players walk through the gates, they know they are passing through history. That is why days like today mean so much to these athletes. They are competing not merely to win, but also to belong, to be counted, to be kissed by the permanence this place can offer. They are travelers in search of the right path, the common cause for us all. But, they can be royalty when they enter Wimbledon.
— Lead in audio track to Ladies’ Semi-Finals, Wimbledon, 2014
As has been stated in the past, when it comes down to it, networking is really just a term for connecting with other people, about establishing community, about deepening one’s sense of belonging.
I don’t know a lot about tennis, but it was hard not to get wrapped up in the majesty of Wimbledon last week. Whether it was the raw emotion of the finals between champions Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic or listening to tennis greats of the past (e.g. Chris Evert, John McEnroe) share their thoughts on the new crop of stars entering the world tennis stage, the lead in track to last week’s ladies’ semi-final round between Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova helped to reinforce the concept of belonging as a key aspect to networking for me. These players, and others like them, have “networked” (via many, many matches!) their way to exclusive club entry – to the proverbial palace of tennis and they delight in belonging. Yes, of course, they had to compete their way in, they had to win in order to earn their place, but, win or lose, once in – they are in forever as they seal themselves in the record books of international athletic history.
To which clubs do you wish to earn entry? On what playground will you demonstrate your athletic abilities? What will you do to connect, to become part of the community, to belong? Like Wimbledon caliber players, I believe you can attain membership if you:
1. Show Up. Half the battle is being there to express your interest in being part of something. Show up enough and the other regulars will wonder where you are on those rare occasions when you don’t show up.
2. Put Yourself Out There. When you do show up, be present. Stake your claim. Be generous, too, by offering your help, assistance and expertise to others.
3. Be a Little Bit Vulnerable. Showing up and being present may feel risky. Will your deficiencies be obvious? Will you have anything to offer others with whom you are interacting? Will you lose the game? Maybe. Over time, however, you’re likely to rack up several wins, too, and learn from every experience.
4. Build Proficiency. Become a master; with practice and by failing forward you will learn and grow. Ultimately, you will develop keen skills and become more proficient thus establishing your expertise and gaining right to be part of the community to which you wish to belong.
5. Repeat. Be it one community or many, your work is not done once you acquire that first ticket. Strive for continuous self-improvement by identifying other groups with which to associate yourself.
So whether your aim is to enter Wimbledon or enter your local chamber of commerce or enter a new career, take ownership of your right to belong by mastering your sport.