Recently, I read the bestseller “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D Vance. To be honest, my reason for loading it onto my Kindle was to understand what the heck “the other side” was thinking.
The book, and lessons learned, turned out quite different than expected, and I highly recommend reading it.
One comment Vance made was that Yale Law School (which he was a very unlikely candidate for) taught him the immense value of networking.
He observed: “Successful people are playing an entirely different game. They don’t flood the job market with résumés, hoping that some employer will grace them with an interview. They network.”
This reminded me not only of the corporate world, but also of local social circles. Some lament that “it’s always the same people” on charity boards and committees.
However, when you speak to those whose names frequently reappear on the same boards and committees, you’ll find they are often exhausted and in want of new blood.
How does this situation occur? Because people already involved ask people they already know to help. It is human nature. If you know someone, you generally know their work ethic and will prefer them over someone you have never met.
However, taken to the extreme, organizations can become resistant to new faces and new ideas through this practice.
Volunteering as a board or committee member can get you known and make you more connected to our community. Meeting others (networking) while performing a service helps you achieve more down the road.
It can also teach you many useful lessons. How are budgets set? What are government rules on grant funding? What are the legal requirements and HR demands?
These are excellent things to learn and, while unglamorous, they can help you appreciate the challenges facing nonprofits, businesses and government organizations alike.
Contrary to some opinions, you can’t just waltz in and change things. Especially when you are part of a group of board members, you need to be able to understand concrete limitations, find out potential opportunities, and, most importantly, win over fellow board members. These days that nuance is often forgotten, especially in politics.
There is also a need for innovative thinking. The most loathsome words I have ever heard are “we have always done it this way.” We are rewarded by new ideas. To sit back and say, “Wow, I never thought of that” is immensely satisfying. George Bernard Shaw said “You see things and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say ‘Why not?’” I encourage you to be that person who asks “why not?” Welcome the person who asks “why not?”
Of course, there’s the way in which you ask, “Why not?” These days protests and social media rants get kudos. Dialog is, at best, boring, or at worst blasted as “compromise.”
Participation and input on specific issues is certainly better than apathy. Some forget, however, that there are big differences in effectiveness between talking and screaming, discussing and dissing. Dale Carnegie wrote the still-relevant 1936 book “How To Win Friends and Influence People.”
In it he provided this quote from Woodrow Wilson: “If you come at me with your fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, ‘Let us sit down and take counsel together, and – if we differ from each other – understand why it is that we differ, just what the points at issue are,’ we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together.”
In short, if you want to be involved, thank you! Participate. Get known. Network. Learn the issues. Ask why. Consider, as entrepreneur and CEO Nina Nashif suggests, “The
Third Way – creating new choices rather than tradeoffs to achieve the ideal outcome.”
Put down the flamethrowers and instead of desiring victory, desire to make something better. In this, we all will accomplish more than we ever can individually.
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, elected water official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.