What I’m Showing Up For Right Now

I’m not sure if they all will, but there is a good chance that my whole family will march on Saturday. Not together. But will show up in Portland and in Seattle and in Spirit. And it makes me so proud.

I know my Mom would have been so activated about this march, this election, these current events.

As I’ve watched Barack and Michelle Obama, and listened to their considerations for their daughters especially, I am reminded of my Mom’s (along with my Dad’s) modeling over the course of my life, about caring deeply, and especially about things that matter. That modeling triggers me to care deeply right now.

  • To tear up as I watch videos and read reports of people doing the right thing, courageously speaking the truth and showing up.
  • To feel moved by everything that is going on and not be complicit any longer.
  • To wonder what it means, what will happen, what the context is, what to believe, what to ignore.

That is my Mom’s legacy. That is all parents’ and adults’ true legacy.

The indelible imprint left on the next generation by their elders’ actions more than their words.

This Women’s March (with 200,000+ expected in D.C. including a few of my friends, 30,000+ expected in Portland including countless friends, folks I know marching in St. Louis, New Orleans, Sacramento, plus 100s of other marches in cities around the world) is literally millions of women showing up in solidarity. Millions of people showing up.

Yes, that does give me hope.

But is it enough?

Enough for what? To change public opinion? To change leadership? To change belief systems toward the Beloved Community, where no one is at risk and needs protection?

Well, probably not.

But, it is a tipping point.

And, to answer my Dad’s question from earlier today: that is the point of the March, I think.

To show solidarity, tipping us over to the other side — where enough is enough and real change can start.

I suppose President Trump’s election has been what I like to call the “disruptive catalyst” — something that shakes us to the core, turns our world upside down and jumpstarts us anew — to get us to this tipping point.

And from my extensive personal experience with disruptive catalysts this is the most painful, but most enlightening, part of the transformation process.

The pain has gotten too great to ignore any longer. A new way must be found.

There is no going back. Nor would one want to now that one’s eyes are opened so widely to the true reality of now. Not the now that one wanted to be, but that is.

Is because of circumstances and choices that we participated in.

In the shock of this new now, there is no remorse, no guilt, no shame, no judgement, no fear, no grief, no anger, but there is space.

A wide open space.

A space that will be filled. But remains an opportunity for now. A space that is magnetic—for inspiration. For inspiring the new, as yet unimagined, way.

It first attracts all the positive energy, the force—of creation, of new, of growth, of possibility.

A space for pure inspiration.

Mind you, not drive, not ambition, not opportunistic. Those are the acts of making something happen that one thinks should be (or could be). Inspiration is the act of an idea being born of its own accord—emerging from what must be.

And some people call this inspiration love.

I do in the sense that I love inspiration: I love feeling inspired. I love feeling lifted up, lighter, elevated. I love feeling its freedom, its vastness, its calling. It is a divine feeling. And so is love.

So, when we follow the jolt of a disruptive catalyst with an openness to inspiration, perhaps what we create is love. Or more love. Or closer to love than we were before.

Sure, some people would go another way. The space would collapse into itself, into a black hole of negative energy, from fear to hate. So deep their hurting.

Those people exist. And I feel for them.

But I am not one of those people. That is not how I respond to a disruptive catalyst.

That is not how my family responds. That is not how our family friends respond. That is not how my mentors respond. That is not how my peers respond. That is not how my friends respond. That is not how my people respond.

We are not better, but I dare say, we are better off.

I cannot even imagine how profoundly hard living in an existence of hate must be. The paranoia, the anxiety, the distrust, the fear, the defensiveness, the anger, the judgement, the shame. How exhausting and life draining! And, it’s never satisfied. Literally like a black hole.

So, I guess that is what everybody is talking about. And what it means when people at my church say they are “standing on the side of love.”

Well, then, yes, I too am standing (up and beside and within and) for love, for creation, for positivity, for creativity, for inspiration.

I am inspired to stand up and to walk.

I am inspired to do better and seek better.

I am inspired to be true and real.

I am inspired to respond and help.

I am inspired to understand and listen.

I am inspired to follow and lead.

I am inspired to show up.

The Big Chair Conundrum of 2016

So, I bought a chair. A gorgeous, leather, previously owned Pottery Barn armchair.

But, not with my own money. And not with a credit card.

I racked my brain and I searched my heart and I found a lucky loophole.

While I was curious to find out from my Facebook post what others would do about this conundrum, I knew I had to make the decision about whether or not to buy the chair by myself.

As it is with all of life’s big decisions.

Not furniture per se, but whether or not to stick to your values, principles, commitments. Or not.

And, how to learn from the decision-making process, no matter the choice or the outcome.

I could feel how strongly I wanted this chair, especially after looking for something similar for years. But, it’s only half-way through my self-imposed experiment to Buy Nothing for a year. High stakes decorating!

First, I needed more input before I could make up my mind.

I called my family (even in Amsterdam) and a couple resourceful and thrifty friends for consults with questions or angles I hadn’t considered.

You know, the kind of friends who find everything on sale or in a give-away pile but know when to splurge and so always end up telling you just what you want to hear. These second votes have been what I needed on many of my wisest purchases.

The appropriate questions came up:
Do you really want it? Yes.
Is it a good deal? Yes.
Can you afford it? Well, only if I put it on a credit card or use my savings meant for student loan payments. So, no.

I thought about barter and haggling, but knowing the tiny local resale shop’s bottom line (they’ve argued with me over the $1 books before) I knew they wanted cash for this thing—from me or somebody else likely to come by during the neighborhood-wide yard sale that very weekend so time was of the essence!

Cash is the fastest resource to exchange, thus making it the most heavily used. The other resources most of us have available—time, energy, effort, faith, stuff—are simply not as efficient in our big world market as they are in village life.

It did occur to me that someone else in my network might have the funds that I could borrow. That was a funny thought I hadn’t had before. If I couldn’t provide for myself, I usually went without.

And then I remembered: I have the funds!

After my grandpa passed away last year (and my Nana a few years prior) all of the grandkids and great grandkids were given a small sum in remembrance. Mine has been sitting in my reserve savings, just in case bills piled up and cashflow dried up, but meant for a special something that would remind me of my grandparents.

Like a painting! Or a camera! Or a chair!

Realizing how hard I was trying to figure out how to get this chair, I knew this was it! A lucky Buy Nothing loophole.

While I had the gifted funds available, I was still about to purchase my first non-consumable thing this year and break my Buy Nothing fast. Of course, I haven’t bought nothing this year.

I buy groceries. I buy toilet paper. I buy gas. I buy allergy medication. I buy tea at Crema. I buy hair cuts. Sometimes I get a RedBox movie. Occasionally, I buy a beer or take out. Mostly, the bare minimum.

The difference? Basic “consumable” goods or services, i.e.: here today, gone tomorrow.

But, wait, most of these take natural resources and may or may not use fair labor practices. So perhaps short-lived unlike a thing, but potentially creating a longer negative impact than a well-made chair that will last me for 40+ years, right?

Given that the chair is used and finding a long-term home where it will be loved, enjoyed, heavily used and meaningful to boot, it seems like an ideal purchase and exception to my Buy Nothing year.

Is the chair an investment? Yes.
Is it intentional? Yes.
Is it maintaining sufficiency in my life? Yes.
Does it open possibilities as opposed to create burdens? Yes.

Then, Buy Nothing mission accomplished:

  • This chair is making me examine my relationship with money, my relationship with consumption and my relationship with accumulation.
  • And I’m still leveraging savings from buying “nothing” this month toward my student loan payments. I’m up to nearly $5,500 paid toward my loans so far this year (that’s almost 300% more than last year)!

Ironically, this chair—the one thing I buy all year—may come to symbolize this year’s Buy Nothing experiment.

A constant reminder of seeking sufficiency and living the examined life.

And, of the legacy of loving grandparents from an era that knew these lessons all too well.

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Buy Nothing year shopping list

What if I Buy Nothing for a Year?

I’m planning to buy nothing this year. Well, not nothing.

I will still buy things that are perishable or consumable, such as food and some household items (like toilet paper and light bulbs) and gas for my car and medication. As a city apartment dweller I’m not in the position to live off the land or go off the grid.

So mainly I will not be buying stuff. Stuff I love, like books, and stuff I feel like I need, like make-up, or stuff to replace stuff that I lose, break or wear out.

I want to see what it feels like to not consume. Or rather consume less as I don’t have the income to be a big spender.

And yet, I went over budget every month last year, including spending nearly $3,000 on shopping (clothing, gifts, electronics etc.) when my budget was $300 for the year. By comparison, the U.S. national average last year on shopping (categorizing similar transactions as mine) was nearly $5,000, according to Mint.com.

Was my budget unrealistically low? Yes. But $25/month was all that was left after all the mandatory expenses like rent, student loans and food.

So, this experiment is motivated partially by budget and seeing if I can break even, none the less attempt to save. I also want to reestablish, or rather establish, a healthy relationship with stuff by living within a state of sufficiency.

I’ve always loved stuff both for myself and especially for others. It’s teetered on compulsive over the years. While traveling this fall, I caught myself questioning: does my friend really need/want this ceramic food cart-shaped bowl for dip that makes me think of her or does it just feel good to buy it on clearance?

Buying just to buy. Having just to have. Collecting just to collect. Why does it feel so good?

This a personal experiment and will not apply to doing business. I am planning to still buy office supplies and electronics etc. but I suspect I will evolve in my spending habits here too (pretty sure whiteboard markers will remain essential, but we’ll see!).

I’m not going to make this complicated with rules or clauses, simply: buy nothing. Buy no things.

I think it will be hard and uncomfortable sometimes. There will be stuff I need, not just want. I look forward to being resourceful. Can I make it? Can I borrow it? Can I find it? Can I trade for it?

I’m excited to see what shows up, what I have to sacrifice, what doesn’t show up, what I gain.

The longest commitment I’ve made before that I can think of was training for eight months for my first half-marathon, so doing this for a whole year will be a stretch for me.

After making this commitment, I did a bit of Internet research and apparently there are many people who’ve successfully completed this year-long experiment. And not only in the last few years since our last Great Recession, but as far back as the 1990s when AdBusters started the Buy Nothing Day.

The lessons I learn may be extremely insightful, faith strengthening and earth-replenishing as others have uncovered from truly living within, but apart from, capitalism. For example, I’ve read about the twenty-something woman who got out of $25,000 in debt, the Bellevue family who doubled their charity contributions or the Indiana family who made almost everything, respectively. Or maybe it’s just a fun challenge!

Just like these other folks, this isn’t about making a statement and shunning capitalism.

It’s about hitting the reset button to find a respect for and equilibrium with consumption and money. After reading The Soul of Money last year, I realized I take for granted the abundance I already have and the scarcity I actually live in.

I wrote this to organize my thoughts and communicate my plans to friends and family, and whoever else is intrigued. So forewarning offered and encouragement welcomed!

I would love to hear your comments with tips or tricks for meeting one’s needs without money (such as clothing swaps or sharing communities like the Buy Nothing Project).

I’ll probably have some insights or discoveries that I can’t resist sharing this year and I’ll try to post about those here, so stay tuned.

How Kids Connect Us to the Source

This is well-known to some, unfamiliar to others: I love kids. Always have.

Being with kids is one of the ways that I feel connected to the Source (like when I am in nature, near the ocean or around the light of a fire). Their smiles, their laughter, their tears, their waddles, their nonsense—all uninhibited, all natural.

Kids seem directly linked to the Source. How come? Because they intuitively connect with the world as it is – pure and simple in all its wonder.

While there is a little bit of doing in this state, it’s mostly about being. Complete absorbed in the moment, living it exactly the way it feels, moving from need to need (no thoughts, no wants, no pauses), dancing with the Source.

No need for the question why and yet completely immersed in its answer: our greatest purpose—to live in harmony with the world around us.

Kids Are My Crew

Kids feel like “my people.” When I’m with them I feel totally understood and the world through their eyes makes complete sense. It is simple. It is pure. It is intuitive. It is wonder-full.

I especially love babies and toddlers, but really all kids all the way to 18 years old. That is not to say I love having kids present everywhere.

There are times and places where kids are a distraction. Partially because they’re so cute and I’m so drawn to them, but also because they are so uninhibited that their noise and activity can detract from desired focus such as working, or ironically, worshipping.

I imagine the world would be a way simpler place if it were run by three-year-olds.

Our days would be organized by prioritization of: eating, naps, play, potty, exploring, imagination, and laughter.

Like many others say, I am not convinced that I am an adult as opposed to a highly independent, efficient, capable and well-trained kid who is “playing house” and “playing business” each day.

No different than Lizzie Sanders and I did as five-year-olds in the finished basement of the Flanders Street house with fake money, expired credit cards and tri-sheet carbonless copy paper order forms, dressed in my mom’s best, retro left-overs from the 1970s that were several sizes too big.

Perhaps why I connect so strongly with kids is because I still act like one:

  • I still build forts.
  • I still yell at the sea.
  • I still watch insects crawl around rocks.
  • I still laugh out loud at unusual sights while walking down the street.
  • I still skip and hop and talk to myself.
  • I still make up songs in the shower (in poorly imitated British accents).

I’ve considered teaching Sunday School to be around my people more, but every Sunday feels like an unrealistic commitment given my current lifestyle. I considered, but chose not to pursue a career as a K-12 teacher, knowing one of the trade-offs was missing the opportunity to be with kids every day. My nephews and nieces live far away, so I don’t play with them nearly enough.

That is all to say, I would love more kid time in my life. So for now, I get my hit of the Source through my friends’ kids. Like the precious, little, tenacious, two-year-old Norwegian-American in this video.

And, through being with myself.

What to Wear When (and When in Doubt, Always #suitup)

2014 APR recipients Chris Benware, Brad Hilliard, Colby Reade, Tracey Lam, Janet Paulson, me and Russell Yost display an array of styles and personal preferences for “suiting up” on a special occasion.

In my community college small business class recently, one of my classmates who owns a yard maintenance company asked me:

“How do you do it?”

“How do I do what?” I asked with a tilted head and tilted tone.

“Always look so put together and professional. I don’t think I could pull it off like you do.”

How do I do it? I make sure my appearance is clean, cared for (no holes!), fits well, cohesive and appropriate whenever I leave the house.

Lumbersexuals are a perfect example. Notice their clean, pressed jeans, well-shined shoes, flannels with undershirts. Not to mention their coiffure–so meticulous it requires a .50 cent word.

Why should we aspire to “look put together” or “buttoned up” nowadays?

Because Perception is Everything

The Association of Psychological Science published research in 2006 reporting that “all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face.” I heard recently about other research, which found that appearance is 60 percent of someone’s first impression, followed by tone and then what one actually says or does.

Well, you can’t change your facial structure (nor should you have to), but you can change how you present yourself and your attire.

There is no system for what to wear when. Pairing clothes isn’t like pairing the right wine with food. It’s all about personal preference.

Here are some common questions and concerns.

How Casual is Too Casual

Where I live, the clerks at the grocery store don’t wear uniforms anymore. They wear whatever they want: sometimes it works, sometimes it does not!

Why not? The usual suspects are:

  • Be sensitive to body parts – Exposed toes, feet, armpits, and bare backs are usually not welcome, especially in a professional work environment. Unless you’re a masseuse. But, I’ve noticed they take better care of their body parts than I do my cocktail dresses!
  • Leave Saturday sweats for Saturday – House: yes, yard: fine, grocery shopping: okay, Opera: NO. Sweat suits were made for sweating and most still communicate that impression. They do not imply clean. As long as you’re comfortable, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Styling by Season

Once upon a time we had four seasons. I stopped keeping separate seasonal storage containers a couple years ago, mainly because it was silly to have that much stuff, but also because most items can actually be styled appropriately and useful for any time of year.

My closet is now fully co-mingled just like curbside recycling–wool sweaters hanging next to cotton capris!

How to decide what and when?

  • Prioritize personal comfort – I run hot, so I wear tank tops all year round and I always bring a sweater, especially for air conditioning. Layering is the perfect solution for managing changing temperatures throughout the day. The key is to layer up, but keep outfits simple.
  • Be judicious – People do get colds from wet hair and going out without coats. Be practical about the weather, the building(s), the crowd and the culture, then style it your way.

Suit Up or Not 

The looming question: to suit up or not to suit up. Literally wear a suit? YES.

“But, you don’t wear suits?” anyone who knows me would ask. True story. They stifle my self-expression. So, nice dresses are fairly equivalent in my book (hence, the term dressing up?).  The goal is to be polished.

Thanks to Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother, “suit up” is more than a style, it is a call to action (and popular hashtag).

It says: I have self-respect. I care. I made an effort. This is important.

Some considerations:

  • Fair warning, stereotypes persist – a three-piece suit says hipster, two-piece suit says lawyer, investor or traditional executive, ties speak for themselves. Like always, know your audience.
  • For better or for worse, you are often taken more seriously when you’re dressed up, including looking older, established or trustworthy. In many situations that is extremely useful.
  • Buy used and still look sharp – dressing up doesn’t require big brands or a big budget. Nowadays, it’s easy to feel good about shopping sustainably at second hand stores and still look clean, cared for, fit well, cohesive and appropriate.

At the end of the day, appearance is only the way we look. We can control what we wear when and how we wear it, but not how others see us.

A pleasant, intentional appearance can indeed be a powerful tool and “an act of becoming visible or noticeable.” Use it wisely.

Originally published as Networking Column for PRSA Portland Metro Chapter

“Adventures” in Traveling Abroad

After departing to travel in Europe for a month, for the most part alone, I received numerous encouraging comments, emails and texts. The common theme: “can’t wait to hear about all your adventures.” And, since returning home, I have received even more comments, emails and texts with this same excited request.

As much as I have appreciated the encouragement and interest, it has been little intimidating. I’m not really sure what adventures people imagine I’d have as a tourist in Amsterdam, Sintra and Lisbon (see the sites I visited on my photo blog), and as a creative hermit for a couple weeks in Almocageme, a Portugese village I can barely pronounce.

When I hear the word adventure, I imagine being chased by a herd of wild camels, shooting my own food, discovering hidden treasure and other “exciting and potentially hazardous” activities.

You know, like Robyn Davidson’s solo 1,700-mile trek across the Australian Outback in the 1970’s brought to life in last year’s film, “Tracks” by John Curran (which I highly recommend).

As much as I love that movie and the similar journey in one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, I was not going on an epic trek through an unforgiving desert during my three weeks in Portugal.

In fact, the beach was only a mile of paved road away in Almocageme, and if that was too far to go, I could walk a few steps from my cottage to the pool.

Life there was pretty uneventful. For the most part, all the same stuff as home, yet everything was different.

So, perhaps that’s the adventure? Life.

While I felt as at home in myself as ever while traveling in Holland and Portugal, I was truly a foreigner in my own life. Everything was new, different, strange, unfamiliar, i.e.: foreign. No assumptions, no expectations, no habits, no routines. Just wonder. Buddhist call that a “beginner’s mind” (See #8 on this how-to list.)

There were some eventful days on the trip: surfing with a group of 8-year-old boys, finding an oasis in a canyon while hiking along the Sintra coast, standing where monks prayed a thousand years ago, riding secret funiculars and elevators with my sister in Lisbon, chasing bubbles with my niece and nephew in Vondelpark, reaching my breaking point with solitude.

I’m happy to describe those adventures too, if anyone is interested. But, these top 10 simple life experiences were what fascinated me and made the trip feel adventurous (plus, all the stuff I posted on Instagram).

They reminded me there are hidden joys that lie in wait for us all day long–no matter where we are. Sometimes challenging. Always available. Often free.

So, friends, here are my top ten adventures:

PDX Airport International Terminal

1. Bringing a rolly suitcase: I saw almost no one using backpacking packs unless they were actually trekking. In five trips, this was my first time bringing a real suitcase to Europe, and I must say, I felt like a grown up! While wheeling it along the massive cobble stone hills in Sintra was not fun, it was much easier to live out of.

2. Going to the doctor and getting medication: After too many sleepless nights due to self-diagnosed bronchitis, I went to the clinic in Almocageme. Within five minutes, I was in and out: cough-cough, say “ah,” yes to antibiotics, 30 Euros, por favor. The Portuguese doctor, a dead ringer for a Neil Diamond doppelganger, wrote me five prescriptions to take for a week. Of course, the medications only had instructions in Portuguese. It must have worked since seven days later I was back to normal.

3. Shopping at the local’s farm stand market and not speaking the language: I wanted the village life and I got it. I couldn’t understand anything the farmers said at the market and vice versa. Talk about a compromising position for negotiation. That said, I managed to buy two carrots, two tomatoes, a head of broccoli and an onion for 1,2 Euros! My favorite slang word I learned: obrigadisma or super thanks!

4. Not having an international phone and having to ask to use everybody else’s phones: It was kind of embarrassing, like being a kid back in the pre-cellphone era, asking the bar owner to call my Airbnb hosts for a ride instead of walking a mile up hill at dusk after a beer on the beach. Oh well! The international plans I looked into were crazy expensive, so I opted to keep my phone in airplane mode and prayed I didn’t have an emergencies. Luckily, mission accomplished.

5. Being alone with no TV access to Hulu or Netflix: Solitude sure sounds great (especially to an introvert)–all that delicious quiet time and independence. Doing whatever you want, whenever you want. It is great, until about day six of not having any real conversations with anyone besides yourself. Apparently, there is no Hulu or Netflix in Portugal, so it was a good thing I brought six books. Reading and eating dinner at 8 or 9 p.m. filled up the evenings until the very end of my trip when I got desperate. Did you know there are looping “funniest moments” montages on YouTube of hit talk shows like, Ellen? Hours of entertainment!

6. Having the best Airbnb hosts ever: I much prefered my two Airbnb experiences to hotels. It was quite pleasant to come back to the adega (Direct translation: “wine cellar,” but I’ve been calling it a cottage) each day in Almocageme and see my fun and sweet Airbnb host neighbors. Occasional rides, translation at the pharmacy, locals tips etc. have been super convenient, but also enhanced the feeling of actually living in these places.

7. Streets with no stop signs, sidewalks or rules, for that matter: As a former bike commuter in Portland, Ore., I felt pretty confident getting my rental bike with only pedal brakes, instead of hand breaks, in Amsterdam. Just like I felt pretty confident walking the narrow streets sans sidewalks to and from the beach in Almocageme. But, there have been more than a few moments where my heart has skipped a beat from an aggressive biker or an Audi racing by. It’s a wonder there aren’t more accidents given the lack of stop signs or traffic lights!

8. Wearing the same thing every day: At home, I wear something different almost every day. I think I did laundry three times in the month on this trip. Perhaps the deodorant I bought there was magic? Mostly, my clothes just didn’t get that dirty. Plus, nobody seemed to care. There was one whole outfit I didn’t wear until the very last weekend and even then, it was more on principle. It seemed silly to bring something so far and not use it.

9. Light switches, electrical outlets, flushing toilets etc.: Having been born in the era of personal computers, I consider myself relatively tech savvy. Over there everything electrical was confusing and different. I couldn’t figure out how to plug the adapter and my computer cord in at the airport at all and barely figured out how to throw away tissues in a motion-sensor activated trash can. Jury’s out on better or worse than in America, though I’m leaning toward electricity there being more efficient.

10. This fancy new chip credit card and having to use cash instead: Mint sent me many emails about “unusual spending” at the ATM. At the rare places that took MasterCard or Visa, my credit card didn’t work at all and my debit card worked half the time. So, I paid cash for almost everything, which I had not done on previous trips. Considering how reasonable costs were in Portugal and the excellent conversion rate, the amount wasn’t concerning, but I completely lost track of any kind of budget.

Making Every Minute Matter at Events

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When I attend an event, I don’t go with the intention of networking (even at “networking” events). I go for professional development. Networking is a byproduct.

There are so many ways to grow professionally through events: new connections to people, learning new things, job hunting, exploring a field or prospecting for new clients.

Unfortunately, more often than not, you leave an event feeling unsatisfied or discouraged.

Was that worth two hours of my week? I paid how much and got all dressed up for that? Why wasn’t I heard? Why did I go?

Ring a bell?

This could be because you lacked a reason for attending the event. Unless it’s mandated by work, attendance is usually voluntary. The difference between worthwhile and worthless lies in a simple question: What do I want?

Find the Purpose

There are many chances to ask this question. Even as you’re parking your car near the venue 10 minutes after the event started. All it takes is pausing, taking a deep breath and asking (perhaps even out loud): what do I (really) want?

Here are some potential answers:

  • Connecting to others: I want new friends and colleagues because I’d like to know more people doing certain kinds of work and who have the potential for helping each other out.
  • Learning: I want to learn new things. I’m curious to hear other’s perspectives and grow my own.
  • Job hunting: I want to have a new job in the near-ish future. Maybe I’ll learn about available opportunities I’m qualified for or learn information that helps focus my search.
  • Exploring a field: I want to learn more about this subject because it interests me. I think it has potential to be part of my current or future work.
  • Prospecting: I want to meet more people I would enjoy working with, in some capacity, some day. There are so many companies in this town I don’t even know about yet.

The least effective time to ask this question: on your drive home.

Choose Whether it’s Worth it

After assessing what you want, there is a follow up question: Is this event relevant to what I want?

  • Go and focus your energy on this purpose.
  • Go anyhow (perhaps you’ve already paid). Accept the irrelevance. Simply go and observe.
  • Don’t go (even if you’ve already paid). Maximize your time and energy. Participate online using the event hashtag or move on all together.

Be “On Point”

Part of having a purpose is being intentional about how you show up–bringing the right tools, not just the right mindset. That is, whatever you’ve determined is right for you. That way you know what to focus on throughout an event.

For example, if your purpose is learning, then you might dress in more comfortable attire, have a notebook and pen handy and forgo food to keep your hands free for note taking.

Consider these questions in preparation for the next event you attend:

  • Who to bring as a wing person?
  • What to wear?
  • What to bring? (e.g.: business cards, pen, notebook, phone, gum, cash)
  • Whether or not to actively use social media while there?

Serve the Intention, Not the Agenda

“What do I want?” is not about having an agenda, it’s about setting an intention and staying centered on that intention through all of your choices. For example, when I see someone “suited up” at an event I perceive that they’re looking for new opportunities or that they’re bringing their ‘A’-game.

Knowing your purpose helps you stay on course in your conversations. It helps others understand what’s of interest to you and perhaps how they can help you.

Did you notice how many of the “I want” answers in the first section emphasize open-minded learning and discovery? These are the key ingredients for professional development and also often lead to a networked community of people and things.

Let the event organizers worry about the event’s agenda. Your mission: show up, be genuine and come away with something you really wanted.

I’d love to hear what others do to prepare for events, generally or for a specific purpose. What are your stand-bys? Any pro tips?

Originally published as Networking Column for PRSA Portland Metro Chapter