I found myself dreading attending yet another networking event with a friend. Recently, I had said “yes” to everything from mixers to outings with coworkers to multiple happy hours in a day to good, bad, and ugly Tinder dates. I’d carried on conversations with industry leaders about everything from the best Smiths songs to the American obsession with foie gras. I’d explained what Career Contessa was in countless ways to countless people and exchanged business cards and numbers.
But that morning, I was still in bed and contemplating shooting off a lying text. “So sorry, can’t make it tonight. Bummed!”
I’m someone who loves meeting new people–usually. But right then, I could hardly bear the thought of dragging myself into the office that morning, let alone to a party afterward. The last thing I wanted was to talk to anyone.
When Networking Goes Too Far
Most articles you read about millennials cite the fact that we’re “always on.” The Digital Age means that we’re hyper-connected and we are socializing constantly. In a 2014 Nielsen survey, 54% of millennials (that’s people born between 1977 and 1995, technically) said that all the technology helps us feel “closer to our family and friends.”
Consider your average day. If you’re like most of us, you probably start it by checking your Instagram feed in bed, texting your friends about last night while brushing your teeth, and going through work emails as you brew coffee.
But that constant existence of a social network comes at a cost: you feel as though you’re always performing under a sort of digital microscope and eventually, that feeling gets to be too much. And then, something even worse happens: not only do we tire of our social calendar, we burn out entirely.
How Networking Burnout Leads To Just…Burnout
People love talking about why millennial women are burning out faster than men and often before 30. The idea is simple: we don’t know when to stop. We’re used to working long hours, constantly checking work email, and taking on side projects at night. And the perceived competition means that we feel the urge to work harder, no matter how hard we’re already working.
One woman told Forbes, “You can’t see the end of the tunnel because there are so many twists and turns. It’s hard to look just three to four years in the future. They don’t know what they are striving for, which makes it really hard to move forward.”
And networking is at the root of all this career-driven madness. We’re taught that the best way to grow your career is to network. It’s not about you, it’s about who you know. But how do we know which social connections are the ones that will matter?
And so we say yes to every meeting, every informational interview, and every opportunity to collaborate. Too often, we agree to do extra work for free or help others on a project because it will help us make new connections. We attend happy hours because one of those acquaintances might know someone who knows someone. We worry that we don’t comment enough on other people’s Instagrams and use our number of likes to see how well we’re faring socially.
And somewhere down the line, we find ourselves in bed wishing we could phone in sick.
If we’re always socializing, how can we find the time to process what we’ve learned and why it matters? The key to avoiding networking burnout is surprisingly simple: you have to stop. But like most things, a simple solution can prove almost impossible. Here’s what we suggest.
1. Commit To Being More Selective
It’s time to start saying “no.” Not every event will benefit your career, but they all require energy and time. Start by thinking of social activities in three categories:
- Events that benefit your work
- Events that inspire you
- Events that expand knowledge
Events that benefit your work are obvious–things like grabbing lunch with your mentor or attending an official networking event fall here. Events that inspire are typically friends-related and include going to parties where you know there will be thought-provoking conversation and dates with your significant other to a movie you’re desperate to see. Events that expand knowledge? Classes, lectures, that sort of thing.
Each time you consider committing to an event, plan, or date, ask yourself which category it would fit in. Then see if you can explain how it benefits you. If you can’t, or if the reason seems less valid than the amount of time and energy you’d have to put into it, skip it. Selectivity is your best friend.
Driving through two hours of traffic to go to an event where you might meet someone who might be interesting probably isn’t worth it. But, if you’re actively job searching and there’s an event specific to your industry–that drive actually might be worth it. Get it?
2. When You’re There, Really Be There
One of my favorite podcasts, Help Me Be Me, recently covered the topic “How to Be There.” In it, the host talks about how often we spend time with friends while constantly checking our phones or worrying about other things. When you do commit to networking in any form, commit to doing it fully.
The best way to ensure you get the most out of it is to make sure you’re actively conversing and listening. Put away your phone, look up from your food, and make eye contact with everyone you meet. Ask questions. Listen thoughtfully. It does make a difference.
Really, stop thinking about how you should be “networking.” By shifting your perspective from “I need to make a good impression on this person because they can help me” to “I want to learn more about this person because they’re interesting,” you’ll cultivate better relationships anyway.
It can be hard to see progress in this millennial world of ours. Journaling is the single best way to make sure you don’t forget interactions and how they made you feel. After you do anything social, make sure to write down what you liked or didn’t like about it. How did those people make you feel?
4. Schedule Non-Networking Time
It can be easy to overcommit. Suddenly, you wake up one morning and realize you haven’t had a night at home in two weeks. Assign that “me time” the same value you give to other social engagements. Whether that means you decide that every Wednesday night you stay home and read or you promise to dedicate one weekend morning to a solitary hike, you need to start making time for yourself. Those breaks between social periods make all the difference.