“It is our responsibility as leaders to pull talent up with us. We need to always be sending the elevator back down. However, valuing my own time doesn’t make me a ‘bitch.’ It makes me an effective leader and a good example for other women.” – Kate Downing Khaled 

I’ve been filling up every moment of my life in the past six months. From parenting to board responsibilities and a myriad of client projects, I’ve found myself with less and less time. Dating, has even become almost non-existent- who has time for that which doesn’t make money or bring immediate joy? Blogging? When I’m on deadline for articles every 4-5 days and a book every 2.5 weeks… well, it’s become non-existent. \

The truth is: I’m wonderfully-exhausted- both emotionally and physically. There are days, I crawl in with my children during the nightly tuck-in routine and I struggle to get up. Reviewing resumes for free, or doing late-night coffees have fallen off my calendars and honestly, I couldn’t be more thankful. I put my extra time where it needed to be- on non-profit boards and nose-deep in books with my precious children.

Gone are the days where I met individuals for coffee or, “networking,” simply to help. I’ve spoken in more than a few national venues saying, “I don’t do coffee. An hour sit-down meeting to me, is a waste of time. I can be far-more effective on the phone.” This has allowed me to save in-person meetings for friends and family that I’m not able to see nearly enough. Most importantly, it’s allowed my creative brain to keep going- and stay focused- instead of starting and stopping with unnecessary meetings.

Occasionally, I’ll sit down with an individual or organization that I believe in to simply listen, assess and offer advice. I do this so rarely because it means that I’m gifting billable hours. It’s often the difference of a daycare payment for my son, or a dinner out with  my family. But, most importantly, I have firm boundaries when and where these meetings happen. I won’t drive to, “meet someone” at an inconvenient place. I don’t give up other work to attend the meeting, either. My boundaries keep me billable and productive. But often, they can make me seem like I’m not, “leaning in,” to help other women succeed.

When I was younger, I had one mentor who helped me focus and reach quarterly and yearly goals. John’s been a stable part of my life for almost a decade. I didn’t ask other women to coffee, nor did I ask how they earned their place at the table. In hindsight, it may have helped lessen my time spent in discovery, but I didn’t learn about other’s footsteps as much as create my own. Often when someone asks me, “how did you get to where you are now?” I remind them that no one’s path is the same and mimicking someone else’s journey is a great way to miss the best distractions and learning experiences in life. Professional associations were created just for this reason- to network, encourage and educate. They are also filled with wonderful people who more than willing to sit down or collaborate. Start there, I often remark.

I’m continuously struck by someone’s ask for my time- not because they are asking, but how they are asking. It’s almost been a demand. “I just graduated from college. I NEED to sit down with you and find out what it’s like to own a business!” Or, “I just lost my job. I want to write too. Can you help me?” I used to be torn in between wanting to be as helpful as possible and struggling to get everything I needed to get done- completed in a way that made me proud. I realized that by giving so much away, it left me feeling used and inefficient. My mind is worth an entry-fee and a simple coffee is insufficient funds for an hour sit-down.

I struggle sometimes in saying, “no.” More so, I feel deep regret when I’m not able to solve a problem, even when I remind myself that real problems- the kind that actually need to be solved are hardly ever fixed by a coffee. When I say yes to something as small as a coffee, rarely is it just a coffee. It’s a new relationship that needs tending, gas on the way there and many times, a baby sitter for my children. Just as my Facebook circle has grown smaller in recent years, I network very purposefully, placing my much-earned free time back with my children or in causes I believe in.

I recently chatted these thoughts through with my dear friend, Kate Downing Khaled. “Real relationships form when we value each other as much as we value ourselves,” Kate brilliantly mentioned as we chatted on Facebook’s messaging platform. “When individuals ask for my time, they are asking me to share my resources. And those resources are my time, my talent and my ties. Those resources are valuable, and I take them seriously. I treat them with care,” Kate continued. We were both torn between not wanting to ignore the culture of “Leaning In,” but not wanting to fall over.

“Leaning in, offers one potential that is harmful: falling over.  How about, “bracing yourself” to recognize the truth of how smart, talented and WORTH it, you truly are, that’s more important. I’d much rather have a nation of HAPPIER, HEALTHIER and more motivated individuals than more women in board or executive positions. Wouldn’t we all?”  - @girlmeetsgeek

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Before you ask someone to coffee, consider the following ideas put together by Kate Khaled and myself: 

1.) What are YOU bringing to the table that’s of equal value? Simply buying someone coffee to, “pick their brain” isn’t what true professionals do. Instead, wait until you have something to offer, instead of just taking. If you’re in dire need, consider asking for a 15-minute phone call, or making it easy for the other individual to help in a reasonable timeframe.

2.) Respect the boundaries of the individual you are networking with. Recently, I had a phone call where I expressed I only had 15 minutes and made sure to communicate my hard stop time respectfully. A minute before, the other individual asked for “five more minutes.” While I explained I couldn’t meet their request, I did offer a discounted rate for consulting, which they declined. Have respect for the individual who’s time your taking. If you need more than 15-minutes or a 1/2 hour, consider asking for a discounted fee to sit and discuss.

3.) Be prepared for the meeting. Showing up late, or not bringing materials that you want an opinion on is what I consider to be extremely disrespectful. Plan your thoughts beforehand, (even if it’s in the car,) so you come off as polished and ready to truly network. When I see that people are ready to take feedback as well as want to get to the next level, I often open up my network and write introductions on the spot. Five to ten minutes of prep could mean an immediate introduction. Respect yourself enough to plan and prepare- it’s worth it!

 

Download the Rule of Three for Successful Networking  to remind yourself to bring your authentic self, a new lead and a brilliant idea to your next meeting. Never show up empty-handed!