We often talk about networking, and how important it is to develop relationships with many professional colleagues, to enhance your career in many ways. But while having a large network can be a benefit, it also affects you in other ways. Have you ever thought about the kinds of people who are in your network, how they relate to you – and what that says about you?
I recently heard someone say that she really only needs two friends – a poor friend to make her feel rich, and a fat friend to make her feel skinny. While she may have taken the idea to extremes, she did have a point. No matter what your personal situation is, there is always someone who is richer – and someone who is poorer. There is someone who is healthier, and someone who is sicker. There is someone who has a job they love more than you love yours, and someone who hates their job more than you hate yours. You can make yourself feel (and appear) superior in almost anything, simply by choosing to spend time with other people who have less of that particular attribute or ability. (Conversely, you may make yourself appear to be inferior by spending time with people who have more.)
You might conclude that you need to have as many friends as possible, so you can get a realistic sense of your abilities, relative to the general population. However, a recent report from the University of Edinburgh Business School (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-11/uoe-mff112612.php) showed that the more different social circles you are linked to online, the more likely you are to be stressed by them. Connecting to both your parents and boss seemed to add the most stress. Why? The more contacts you have, the more different kinds of people see your information, and the more likely you are to offend (or be offended by) someone, since each social circle has its own social norms, inside jokes, and slang. Currently, the average person on Facebook interacts with seven different social circles, and meeting all those different expectations simultaneously can be difficult, if not impossible.
Knowing that you act differently in different situations, around different peer groups, is there a way you can use that knowledge to influence your own behavior for the better?
In a recent study, (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2047-6310.2011.00003.x/abstract;jsessionid=3D90511C29D8BED39C38A02C04A336A8.d03t01) children were asked what various admirable people – such as Batman or Spiderman – would choose to eat, apple slices or French fries. When those children were subsequently presented with their own choice between those two foods, a significantly higher percentage of those who had been primed by thinking about the superhero choices made the healthier choice for themselves. By simply thinking about what someone they admired would do in that situation, they changed their own behavior.
Another way to take advantage of your existing peer groups is to look for ways to help them. For example, if you find you know a lot about NMR, and others often come to you with questions on that topic, offer to mentor them, or present a lecture or workshop. In order to prepare lesson plans, you will have to review the material, and in order to explain the concept to others, you will have to really understand it yourself. Furthermore, the learners will ask questions that you never thought of, and often make you think about the subject in a new way. It’s a rare teacher who doesn’t learn something from their students. Just remember that while you may be the expert on this particular topic, there are other topics on which you can learn from them.
So look around and see who is in your control group. Who are your peers, colleagues, and to whom do you compare yourself? Which of their behaviors do you admire, and want to try to emulate? What can you learn from them and what can you offer to teach them? If you don’t have a wide enough network, to both learn from and offer advice to, it just might be time to expand.
This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.