Coffee, Tea, or Beer?

In the month that I’ve joined CoCo, the Collaborative and Co-Networking space in downtown Minneapolis, I’ve come to realize that I know next to nothing about networking and selling myself for the kinds of opportunities that I’m interested in.  When I started my career, I would send out resumes for full-time opportunities with a cover letter detailing why I thought I was a match for the company, hoping that I said the correct things to get noticed.  Later, after I became a contractor, I’d rely on recruiters for both contracts and later full-time roles.  After 17 years, I’ve found myself disillusioned at the effort I feel I need to make to “fit-in” and be accepted.  My pool of effective recruiters continues to implode on itself as I discover less that provide me with any kind of relevant feedback.  And as my intent has changed from finding a job to finding something I enjoy doing, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I can network properly, I’m more likely to find success in that.

Kelly is a freelance developer for the Agriculture industry that Matt, a fellow confidant working at CoCo, has connected me to.  Kelly’s about my age and has been working in IT for a little longer than I have.  He has found himself in roles, mainly as a Software Developer and at times as Project Manager.  Kelly has been successfully freelancing for over a year now.  After stopping by his solo desk near the back, we both grab our cup of tea and head off to the lounge area to chat.  I’m looking forward to picking Kelly’s brain about how I can better market myself as a freelancer, or contractor for that matter.

We spend the next hour talking about everything ranging from our own personal work histories to networking oneself and finally finishing on a more philosophical note of where Technology is going and where we may find ourselves functioning in that technology space in the next 10 years.

Kelly confirms some of the information that I’ve been given by other individuals.  I need to be more assertive about what I want, and start working with my network more effectively.  To my surprise, he’s found LinkedIn to be much more helpful than I have, although I don’t find myself networking as much as he has on there.  He reaffirms for me that creating a set of business cards that market my skills as an individual will probably be beneficial.  I’m also under the perspective that scrambling to create a portfolio website at this time will not help me much.  Kelly also talked to me about why recruiters post consistently with links to articles on LinkedIn all the time.  While not extremely relevant all the time, the effect it creates is to keep that person “at the top” of the list.  He didn’t suggest that I employ the same mechanism, but that posting on my linked in on a semi-regular basis could help me stay relevant and generate more interest in my skills and needs.

What I found even more helpful is when we talked about when Kelly was just starting to go freelance.  At one point, he says, he rented out a small, shared office space in downtown Minneapolis hoping to be among a more entrepreneurial crowd that he could network with.  Instead, he found himself among divorce lawyers and insurance salesman.  The only positive thing from that experience, he states, is that he could call the aide at the front desk and have copies of documents made.  It’s lonely striking out on your own, and we both agreed that you need people to interact with.  We also agreed that some of the best networking that we’ve encountered came out of the beer networking events hosted by CoCo every week.  I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy the socialization and networking that comes from either having a coffee, tea, or beer with someone.

Of course, the best part of our networking came when Kelly validated everything that I’ve gone through thus far.  Having experienced all the same uneasiness in marketing himself and having so many questions surrounding how to do it correctly, he reassured me that everyone striking out on their own experiences the same fear.  I’ve come to realize the most important thing derived from networking – not feeling alone and stupid.  In the end, Kelly recommended two books for me.

Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port

It’s a good thing that I’m a sponge for books, because I WILL read these books and hopefully be the better for it as far as networking goes.  I’ve also come to realize that networking for me is becoming so much more than finding my next opportunity, but for getting ideas.  With each person I talk to, I get more ideas to play with, or books to read, or a better perspective about things I’ve originally thought were useless or didn’t apply to me.  And while it seems, for the moment, that all I’m following is a trail of breadcrumbs, I am moving in some direction.  I feel positive about that.

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Homework

Dreams Banner

Weeks before my friend Lynn left to travel for 6 1/2 weeks, she posed the following question for me as “homework”: “What would you do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  When she first said those words to me, I immediately thought of that Tragedy and Hope video of Alan Watts where he questions “What makes you tick?…”  Five weeks later, having brushed this assignment aside, I believe it’s time to finish this assignment.  Partly because I love dreaming and scheming, but mainly because my posts as of late have been somewhat dark and serious.  And I need to focus on more positive things.

I think for many people, questions like this may be interpreted as having infinite amounts of money.  But, money being no object isn’t about having all the money in the world, it’s about having your basic necessities taken care of.  And after you make that realization, you understand what the question is really about.  It’s really about overcoming fear.  Since many of our hangups are about having insufficient funds to support ourselves, we tend to eliminate dreams before we examine them fully for feasibility.  But once we eliminate that particular fear, we can fully concentrate on dreaming big.  We can fully consider the dreams that cause us the most fear.  And as I’ve always said – “It’s the opportunities that scare you the most that you should pursue.”

So, “what would I do if you had no fear and money was no object?”  Here’s an incomplete list of things that currently come to mind.

  • I would do another prolonged trip.  In fact, I already have ideas swirling in my head.  I’m certain that I’m going to go travel again and for a longer amount of time.  I spent only 4 months traveling on this last trip, mainly, to test the waters.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to adapt to being away from home for so long, but I’ve come to realize that long-term travel is really enjoyable and fits me quite nicely.
  • I would have many more adventures which include, but are not limited to, the following:  I would go skydiving, learn to fly a plane, go into the depths of Africa on an safari, spend 4 months diving with Wicked Diving out in Southeast Asia, do some Wwoofing on farms throughout the world while practicing my language skills, dive the Great Barrier Reef, take sailing lessons and sail around the Caribbean, learn to play the violin, spend time in the rainforest, take cooking lessons from great chefs around the world, learn Arabic, and do humanitarian work in Africa or Haiti.
  • I would be an entrepreneur, focusing on my gifts and ability to create my own art to serve the world somehow.  To create something without focusing on the income is the most pure form of creation that I can imagine.
  • To have a small vineyard and create wine.  I’m a bit of a romantic.
  • To organize a charity running event.  I’m not interested in races or winners.  I’m only interested in gathering people that enjoy running and would like to donate their time and money towards a good cause while networking with other active runners.
  • It’s been a dream of mine for sometime to run a Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast.  I don’t see this as something that I’ll want to pursue until my wanderlust has waned a bit.  I see this as more of an early-retirement venture.
  • I would be an influence in a child’s life.  This may take the form of being an active participant in a Big Brothers, Big Sister program, possibly an educational opportunity, or potentially even adopting a child.
  • To be a mentor and/or coach other people towards following their dreams, or in the very least to construct a life based on fulfillment, rather than monetary wealth.

So there you have it – my bucket list, not in it’s entirety, of course, but some of the things I dream about on a regular basis.  What would you do if you had no fear and money was not an object?

What now?

question-markTo say that things have been challenging as of late is an understatement.  I’ve spent the last couple of months slowly easing back into my previous life while at the same time having trepidation of what that life is going to hold for me.  I’ve used IT Recruiters in the past to help me find work, but using them recently has left me feeling incredibly underwhelmed.  I’m already tired of them telling me what I need to say and asking me to “tweak” my resume because they don’t think it will produce an interview.  This is despite the fact that I’ve never had issues with my resume generating interest in the past.

Going to interviews only produces a sinking feeling in my stomach as I walk into the building and feel like an animal being corralled into its future pen.  Even with work environments that are located in trendy downtown buildings, I can still tell within 5 minutes of being there whether I will have anything in common with the people that I work with.  I feel like such an outsider most of the time, knowing that my interests and stories from abroad only produce blank stares and questioning looks.  “You mean, you don’t go home to work on a project or watch TV?”.  How could I possibly convey to these people that I enjoy living my life creatively and trying to experience as many things that this life has to offer and *that* in no way affects my ability to be engaged and successful at work.  Nor does it cloud my ability to produce quality work.  And then when the rejection comes, it tears through me, reminding me that I don’t fit in.  Some days, I wake up with renewed energy and defiance resolving to use that energy to move forward and forge my own path.  And other days, well, I just wake up tired.

So I’ve been a bit melancholy lately while struggling to get moving.  In.  Any.  Direction.  I’ve started to look at volunteer opportunities. A friend from Swing Dancing put me in contact with the Latino Economic Development Center.  It would give me a chance help people in the Spanish community learn English or computers while allowing me work on my already poor Spanish.

Coco door smallAnd then, out of the blue the other day, another thought struck me.  Maybe I should check out CoCo.  CoCo is a Co-working and collaborative space for independent workers.  You must be a member to use the space.  At first glance, it may remind someone of going to a trendy coffee shop sans the cute barista working behind the counter.  But CoCo provides many networking opportunities for individuals seeking to connect with people in other industries.  The first day I arrived for my tour, I met a young woman striking out on her own.  We provided each other encouragement, understanding exactly where the other person was at in their career.  Returning the next week, I talked in length with the Community Manager about whether it would be worth my time to become a member.  I was almost holding back tears as she validated almost everything I was feeling at the time.  It’s moments like that when you feel like you might be onto something special.  Maybe you’ve found your tribe.  The feeling that you’re not alone and struggle is a common trait among us all.  My first Networking Happy Hour went well, where I was introduced to Matt, a member that has created hist own start-up, and Paul, an independent recruiter.  Matt was a fellow traveler like myself.  Talking with both men at length, I had the feeling that both gentlemen understood my frustrations and challenges.  It’s too soon to tell if CoCo will be part of my growth or not.  But I have hope.

My days are up and down a lot as of late.  Some nights I can’t sleep.  There have been a couple mornings I’ll wake up around 4am, unable to get back to sleep.  I’ll go for a 5 mile run, just to calm myself down.  But then there’s also that feeling of never going back.  That in all my adventures and risks, a seed has been planted.  And while that seed has barely grown into a one-inch stalk with two leaves, there is indeed growth, however small it may be at this point.

I know that I need to keep trying things and putting myself out there.  The rejection is difficult sometimes, but I know I’ll find something….. or hopefully create something of my own.