I don’t have powerful family members. I didn’t go to a prestigious college. I grew up in Nebraska, and I went to a state school in Iowa. Yet I’ve somehow managed to build a good network, which has brought me opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise.
I got a job in Silicon Valley, with my moving expenses paid. I worked with behavioral scientist Dan Ariely on an app that sold to Google. I’ve interviewed Seth Godin, Jason Fried, Steve Case, and many others on my podcast.
And not one of my career’s breakthroughs has been spurred by anyone I knew before graduating from college.
Along the way, I’ve learned some useful things about networking—how to get noticed by and connect with people who are doing interesting things.
There are many nuances to building a network, and I don’t know all of them. But there’s no getting around the number one thing you need to do to build a network: Become a master at your craft.
I never would have gotten out of that gray cubicle in Nebraska if I hadn’t become the best designer I could possibly be. I doubt Seth Godin would have endorsed my book without it being a good book. The success I enjoyed with Design for Hackers continues to open untold doors, eight years after the fact.
There’s no shortcut or hack to this. Become a master at your craft. This means dig in, and work so hard at it that it hurts. Love the discomfort of repeatedly pushing through plateaus in your abilities.
Ironically, the best networking happens when you aren’t networking. The best networking happens when you’re holed up in the belly of the beast.
Every breakthrough in my career—and in building my network—has happened through long periods of isolating myself in my work: I spent late nights coding as the snow piled up outside of my apartment in Nebraska. I fled Silicon Valley in the midst of a boom, just so I could spend a few brutal winters in Chicago. I moved to Colombia to double down on writing.
The late nights coding in Nebraska got me to Silicon Valley. The winters spent exploring in my Chicago apartment led to my first book deal. The time spent building my writing habit in Colombia helped me do writing that got noticed.
If you’re going to make it as a creator, people are important. But trying to build a network without mastering your craft is like trying to fill a balloon with the breeze. Ditch the networking event, stay in for the night—or the next three-hundred nights—and build a body of work that can’t be ignored.
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