Working with PTSD: Networking

I would much rather sit in my work cave, at my desk, being left alone while I turn out work for my clients and get them what they need. That, however, is not going to get me where I want to be, and I need to get back into the practice of networking, which is, frankly, not my jam.

When I experience triggers, they can happen several ways – fast reaction and dissipate just as fast, fast reaction and takes about 20 minutes to dissipate, no reaction immediately and hits me later (even days later), fast reaction and takes 3-4 days to dissipate – I just never know which it will be, or when. Right now I’m 2 days into a 3-4 day episode, and I’ve still had to work, meet deadlines and attend a board meeting, plus network and develop relationships with the goal of improving fundraising efforts for a non-profit, plus improving my own recognition locally as a person who contributes and who is great at the work I do. There has been no down time, no time to rest and recover. That does not make me even close to want to be in a room with strangers.

I’ve avoided “networking” in my career so far, because I tend to eyeroll at it. I don’t go to happy hours or networking events, and I attend very few conferences. I really haven’t cared, and that’s not how I get clients. I get clients by referrals, and I get referrals by doing a really good job solving really hard problems. Before I was working for myself I didn’t network either, but I did volunteer a lot and had a few awesome circles of friends and acquaintances, and spread a lot of goodwill for my employer. I was happy to be out in public and happy to be meeting people, and when asked would usually show up.

Car wreck happened, my brain changed, and my interest in networking has been zero, if not less than zero. It’s a potential nightmare situation for me, and putting on my public face for so little value in return is a non-starter. I leave the house for work, I speak in public for work, I put on public face for work, and the rest of the time I live fairly quietly, managing my symptoms and working to heal in relative peace. Network? Not a chance.

But not building a network means not having a network, which is becoming a problem as I start to peek my head out of the safety of my cave and want to stretch a bit. I need people and information and resources, and – no surprise – I don’t have them. I have a few, and I have done so many more favors than I have asked for for years (I almost never ask for favors) that I have a lot of equity built up, but I don’t really know people, and that is going to have to change if I am going to get where I want to be, both personally and professionally.

The question is how,  when I have PTSD and my particular version of it is pretty adverse to people in general, crowds, noise, chaos, shallow interactions and emotional drain?

I heard some pretty good advice yesterday, which I put into practice today as I took some early steps toward building up my network. The goal is not to just know people, and to have a lot of names with no substance to the relationship. The goal is to have meaningful conversations with 2-3 people (I’m thinking 1 person for me) at an event, then ask to meet individually for coffee, beer, etc. and then use that opportunity to get to know that person a little better to see if they are a good fit personally or professionally. Rather than being overwhelmed by an entire room, you can make a small goal to meet and speak to a very few people, and move on from there to build genuine relationships. Over time this builds a large network with real connection rather than just knowing the names of a bunch of people without meaning.

This I can work on and this I can do, I think. I’ve set a goal of 5 hours per week spent on professional networking (phone calls, meetings, stopping in to visit clients, online networks through social media and other platforms, etc.), and will have no problem hitting that goal this week. Like a lot of other things, I’ll just have to practice being consistent until it becomes more natural, and I feel more comfortable with it. I hate anticipating that this will likely be the source of some triggers and other symptoms, but that’s the reality of what I live – and work – with.

group of people sitting in front of table in room
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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