One of my friends has a catchphrase he likes to use whenever he’s discussing an organization we’re both part of: “Trust the power of the network.”
The organization he refers to has played a huge role in my college experience and my life, but the phrase itself encompasses much more than any given organization. As I prepare to leave Tech after five and a half years, the “power of the network” is something I’ve been reflecting on. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to truly internalize the meaning and the importance of the phrase, as well as the fact that it is relevant to more than just who you know.
When I first arrived at Tech as an insecure, geeky freshman all the way back in Fall 2003, I had no real knowledge of what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to major in computer science, but my only real plan was to get a co-op job to gain a little experience, graduate as fast as I could and get a job earning lots and lots of money.
Normally I would say that if you are feeling that description pegs you pretty effectively, there is nothing wrong with that. But in retrospect, I had no understanding of my own self-worth and did not come remotely close to maximizing my potential in the two and a half years that I felt this way. If your sole objective for your time at Tech is to get out, you are not taking full advantage of your opportunities. Some day you will most likely regret that.
My worst mistake was simple: I saw my Tech experience as a stepping stone that I needed to swiftly leap from, without stopping to explore my surroundings. Most dangerously, this is an infectious perspective. Had I not broadened my views, I very likely would have kept the same perspective as I moved out into my career, viewing each job as merely a step on the career ladder.
One of the outcomes of this attitude was that I looked at my actions and activities in a highly analytical light, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Does going to this event, taking this class, applying for this organization fit in with my objectives?
In my misguided years I evaluated opportunities based on the amount of work they involved and their ability to move me toward getting out. I neglected to consider something even more important: what I would learn and whom I would meet as a result of taking a chance. The result was that I had an incredibly risk-averse attitude toward my college experience.
This had the parallel effect of boring (and stressing) both me and the people who had to interact with me. A person fixated on just one thing isn’t a particularly interesting conversationalist.
I shifted away from this attitude over a period of time that coincided with a key realization: I was actually pretty happy with my life at Tech. Around the same time I decided to branch out my involvement on campus, take some classes I did not strictly need and push off my graduation for another semester or three.
This branching out led to some of my best experiences: attending conferences in Wales and Kiev, working in Kazakhstan for six months and countless other opportunities are the things that are going to stand out from my college experience—not the classes I rushed through as a young student.
And just as these opportunities gave me the opportunity to expand my skill set and made me a more interesting person—or so I like to think, at least—they also gave me the opportunity to meet a vast group of people who have offered me places to crash, inspired me and helped me achieve things I didn’t believe myself capable of.
To get the most out of your college experience you must build both types of networks: one of knowledge and one of contacts. More than excelling at your discipline, it is these two networks that set a person up for success in the future. In every case when I underestimated their power I was proven wrong.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to build my networks. I hope you do the same.