How to Succeed in Life by Just Showing Up

I’m a fan of advice columns (current faves are Ask a Manager and Captain Awkward) and a topic that comes up regularly is how to make friends as an adult. This always surprises me because I find it pretty easy to make friends, despite being incredibly awkward and introverted. I can barely say hi to someone new without coming across as a jerk or a lunatic, yet I can still find someone down for a couple of beers or a walk around the neighborhood. Part of it is just having a low threshold for what counts as friendship, since I’m Gen X and incapable of having a non-ironic conversation about my feelings. The rest of it is just showing up places on a regular basis. Honestly, that’s all there is to it—people like familiar faces, so if you come around a place often enough and you’re at the minimum a neutral presence, eventually you’ll just… have friends.

What’s handy about this natural human tendency is that it helps with networking, too. I work for a library consortium that hosts a lot of committees and professional development opportunities. I go to as many of these as I can (even though most of the content is over my head) because it exposes me to a couple hundred people on a regular basis, many of whom make hiring decisions. One of my extracurricular activities is volunteering at a local public library. The actual tasks I do are easy and unremarkable, but I don’t mind at all because a) I have enough intellectually complex work to do elsewhere, and b) the main reason I’m there is to garner references, i.e., make friends. The supervisors at this library now know two things about me that they couldn’t know from an application process: I show up when I’m supposed to and I’m a reasonable person to work with.

And it works! I don’t graduate until May and I’m already getting feelers about my plans and future availability. Feelers aren’t a rock-solid guarantee of a job, of course, but it’s cheering to be told about upcoming retirements and asked for your contact information.

If you don’t have the time and energy to work for free, or if you just plain don’t feel like it, there are other ways to apply this principle. A friend of mine here at the iSchool is going to be a music librarian, and last semester she made sure to take a class from the professor who was doing work in music archiving. This led to the professor offering her paid work in the university’s music archives for the summer, which is the kind of thing we had thought only happened in movies.

While writing this article, I stopped here to play with the cat and get a good night’s sleep. The cat, traumatized by my having done the laundry and swept the floors, refused to come out for squeezes, and I woke up kicking myself for having written an article with so much privilege showing. It’s easy for me to thrive in the library student environment because it was built for me. I just have to put on a cardigan and I’m what the average person imagines when they think “librarian.”

Kitty knows what I’ve done.

Here’s a link to a great article by Rutgers professor Nancy DiTomaso where she lays out the basics of how social networks benefit white people professionally. Too much of success in America is predicated on who you know, and that perpetuates inequities. What can we do to change this system in the library world?

Featured photo is by the author.

Emily is a second-year master’s student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She did not anticipate spending her time at library school spitting into a test tube.

Categories: networking

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