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Valuable lessons about networking – and life – can come from unexpected places. I learned and was reminded of this as I participated in – no, scratch that – endured this year’s BP MS150 cycle ride from Houston to Austin, Texas. This ride, the largest of its kind in North America, raises awareness and funds for the treatment and cure for MS.

Here are a few of those lessons:

  1. It pays to be well-prepared. I’ve done this ride a few times and compared to previous years it was the most brutal. Heat, humidity, and gusty winds up to 25 mph the first day. Hills and more unrelenting wind the second day. These factors took their toll on riders, including me, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m so glad I trained well. But you know… I could have trained more. You could definitely tell that some folks made the decision to do the ride at the last minute and “winged it.” Ouch. That wasn’t pretty.  The same goes for networking events or social occasions: Will you be ready to show up at your best? How can you prepare? Have you set your vision, intentions and goals for what you want out of the experience?  Do you know how to pace yourself so you won’t get burned out in the first hour (or day)?
  2. Let fear fuel you, but not overtake you. A little fear and anxiety can be a good thing. Most athletes, actors, musicians, and speakers (ahem) get nervous and before they perform.  The adrenaline flows and that can be energizing.   We cyclists definitely had that going on. But don’t forget all the positive things you can do to pump yourself up, even if it’s encouraging someone else who is even more anxious than you are.
  3. It’s always better once you get going. The first 30 minutes are usually hard for me. I’m like a diesel engine: I need time to warm up. The same goes for networking events. Once you can get out of your head, start a conversation and listen to what others have to say, it always feels better.
  4. Perspective, perspective, perspective. While I was whining about the high winds in my Facebook posts, a friend who was climbing Mount Everest (Jim Davidson) sent me encouraging words that put things into perspective. “The wind is strong, but you are stronger,” Jim wrote on my page.  Darned, if he wasn’t right! No matter how doubtful or scared you feel, there’s always someone who has it worse than you.
  5. You will meet some interesting and inspiring people if you pay attention engage, and listen.  One rider was making the 150 mile journey with only the use of his arms.  Our team’s board president had her 12-week-old puppy, who is training to be a search and rescue dog, brought to our camp (part of her socialization training).  I learned a little about that endeavor.  The pup was adorable and so well-behaved. She will do important things in her life. I met riders from Scotland and Mexico who made me laugh and let me draft behind them when I was exhausted.  I had quick, but positive and inspiring conversations at nearly every rest stop with people I may never see again. I listened to and regained my energy and enthusiasm when I heard the music some of the riders had playing on portable speakers.  (Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” was a godsend at one point.)  Who will you meet that will be interesting or inspiring to you?
  6. Be kind. Everyone is working hard.  Since we were riding with 10,000+ other riders (did I mention this is the largest event of its kind in North America?), the roads were very crowded. There were cyclists of all skill levels, speeds, and ages.  Some cyclists considered it a race and road like bats out of hell.  Some had never done a group ride and didn’t know the proper etiquette. Others took their time, enjoying the experience or conserving energy.  Many of us were somewhere in the middle. We all did our best, and at times it was hard to be understanding when someone cut you off, nearly ran you down, didn’t signal what they were about to do, or veered into you accidentally.  But in the end we all were just trying to finish in one piece. Gotta let the negative stuff go and move on.
  7. Similarly, there will be jerks. Enough said there.  That’s just life.  Ignore or avoid them, and move on.
  8. Bigger and stronger is not always better.  I definitely know some big, strong people who kick ass on a bike. But I also saw one guy on this ride who had legs of steel, a lot of bravado, and a super fancy kit and bike – and I passed him several times on the hills.  You will encounter these people when you’re networking and socializing.  Don’t be one of them.
  9. Be grateful.  Be sure to thank the people who helped get you where you are, gave you advice, went on the journey with you, supported you, and made sure you were fed and stayed safe.  There are so many of these people in my life and I am so grateful to them. (Shoutout here to my friends on Team Mighty Fine Cycling. You guys and gals absolutely rock! ) Who are you grateful to? Who has helped you along the way?  Maybe today you could reach out and thank them.

What lessons have you learned from your hobbies, non-work projects and everyday life experiences that can help you be a more Intentional Networker? Let’s hear ’em!