This past weekend, I attended my second ever Dinners for 12 Strangers, an annual UCLA tradition organized by the Student Alumni Association. Dinners for 12 Strangers is a potluck event in which alumni, faculty and students from all generations come together to enjoy good food, great conversation and even better company. Since its humble university beginnings more than 40 years ago, it has since become a global phenomenon that is often emulated – and for good reason!
This Dinners experience has really made me realize the importance of networking. Many of us have this preconceived notion that our close-knit networks are just fine, and we can get by in life without branching out. Well, let me break your bubble and tell you that this is not the case! Like the old adage goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” To put it from a sociological standpoint, in our social networks there are strong ties, weak, and absent ties. Our strong ties are our family and close friends, people whom we keep in touch with frequently. These strong ties provide emotional support, but because their circles often overlap with ours, the information we receive from them is often redundant. In contrast, our weak ties are our acquaintances – people we know of, but may not know on a deeper level. These weak ties provide us with novel information, which is especially helpful when seeking job connections or simply new hobbies. Then there are those ties that are absent, and it is only through putting ourselves out there and networking can we create something from nothing.
I know most twenty-something’s are blah about meeting new people, not because they are anti-social, but simply because their current group of friends fulfill their social and emotional needs. However, there’s this quote from the movie We Bought A Zoo, which I love. In it, the dad says, “Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” This is how I feel about stepping out of my comfort zone. Often, there is a fear – and even a stigma – associated with meeting a complete stranger, much less approaching a room full of strangers by yourself in the span of one evening. But doing this allows us to fully step out of our comfort zone, tackle our fears, and ultimately, grow. I really believe that all women (and men too, for that matter) should be able to do things independently – to work a room with charm, both with sobriety and with a few beers under the belt.
More than anything, I truly feel this is one of those life experiences that, if given the opportunity, should be taken advantage of while we are young. One thing I have learned about myself is that I actually find navigating new social circles intimidating yet exhilarating; crazy yet perfectly reasonable; and unusual…yet strangely enjoyable. With the momentum from this dinner, I definitely want to put myself out there more and participate events such as this, and I encourage our lovely readers to do the same. I assure you, you won’t regret it!