“Who you surround yourself with, you become. What you think of yourself, you are” – Unknown
I had been in New York five months but still felt new to the scene. Only the week before had my company given our NYC team office space in Manhattan and I remember being excited to escape working from my apartment for a change.
I stood happily on the cramped subway bumping Pusha T as we pulled up to Bowling Green station. I squeezed my way out between the thick winter jackets and followed the swarm of worker-bees through the gates and up the stairs as the chilled January air hit my face. Hustling across the street to beat the cold, I found the entrance to 26 Broadway and pushed my way through the revolving doors. As my extremities warmed up, I took the elevator to the co-working space Primary on the 8th floor where our new office was located.
As I walked through the doors, I was greeted with a warm smile from the receptionist who sat behind a desk covered in lush ivy. Beyond that was a cafe and open workspace that was buzzing with conversation. For a moment I thought to pinch myself. What a different environment this was from the rows of cubicles I had been in just a year before at my financial firm up in Boston.
Later that morning, I received an email about a Networking Luncheon that was to take place at noon in one of the conference rooms. I scanned the invite and after a moment’s hesitation hit “Accept.” I wasn’t sure what to expect but it didn’t much matter. It was a chance to break into a bigger network of people in New York. So far, I only knew my co-workers and a handful of friends from college who had settled in the city.
Leading up to the event, I fought off slight nerves but reassured myself that I had moved to New York for networking events like this. I wanted to be a part of the conversations in the cafe, not just a passerby.
At noon I walked over to the conference room and came to a table of food outside with a few people filling their plates. I grabbed a plate of my own and found a seat inside. I was polite with my “Hello’s” but didn’t go out of my way to talk to anyone as I settled in. Mad at myself at being so timid, I shoveled some quinoa into my mouth.
It was then that I heard a warm “Hi there!” over the corner of my right shoulder and as I turned my head I saw a smiling woman standing above me in a flowered dress. I swallowed my quinoa and stood up clumsily with a smile to try to match hers. “My name’s Lisa. Nice to meet you!” she said. I introduced myself and asked, a bit too quickly, what she did. “I’m one of the co-founders of Primary, did you just start here?” I explained my sales role at the tech company that had just moved in down the hall.
It was a great conversation, but all the time I felt a bit out-of-place. Lisa had started her own business. One that she was clearly passionate about. And what had I done? I was still a mid-level sales executive. All of a sudden, I felt very small. I took my seat again as the room filled and Lisa took the head of the table.
As the luncheon began, Lisa welcomed us officially and then let us know that everyone in the room would get a chance to introduce themselves and their business through a 45 second pitch. I gulped hard as I tried to rack my brain for what to say. Who am I? I thought. My business card said that I was an Account Executive at a tech company but deep down that didn’t feel right. Should I tell them about my blog? Should I say that I wanted to be a coach? My mind bent into a pretzel as the first person stood up to introduce herself.
The introductions began and with each person that went, I felt more and more out of place. One woman had her own fitness company. Another had her own PR agency. A guy right across from me had started a company with something to do with cryptocurrencies. I felt my heart beat in my chest hard as my turn neared.
I was on deck when the guy next to me told everyone he was an executive coach. My internal dialogue stopped momentarily as I looked up at him.There was a coach right here in Primary? He didn’t seem so much different than me. I jotted down his name quickly before he finished up. I had to talk to him.
He sat down and I came out of my trance as I realized it was my turn. I took a deep breath and stood up shakily. I cleared my throat and tried to explain myself. What came out of my mouth that day I can’t remember exactly but I know it wasn’t clear. I tried to say that I was both a sales executive and an aspiring coach with a blog. I pitied my audience who must’ve been confused but they smiled and nodded all the same. After my time was up, I sat down and took a sip of water. I had survived my first Networking Luncheon.
A year later I look back on this day and smile. Many of the people who were in the room that day would soon become friends, mentors to my business, and supporters of my blog. I can see now that feeling out-of-place in that room actually meant that I was in exactly the right place.
Because these people were further ahead on the entrepreneurial path than me, they could help guide me. Without stepping into that room and meeting Lisa and the others I wouldn’t be where I am today. That much is certain.
I can see now that who you surround yourself with, you become. As I began to spend more time with these people I would become just like them. I too would become an entrepreneur with an inspiring story to tell.
If you have a vision for what you want to become, find people who are already living that life. Immerse yourself among them and attach yourself to them and see how far they can carry you forward. Then when someone reaches up to you, pick them up as well.