There’s an old saying that a person usually becomes as successful as the average of her five closest friends. I’ve given this quite a bit of thought recently and now believe I am beginning to understand why this is true. The connections that you make throughout your life become your “power grid”. The ability of the people within your circle to present you with opportunities is one of the top determinants of your future success level. I am not suggesting that you only keep people around who can do something for you, but you have to understand why it is important that those types of people are in your mix.
As humans, we tend to lean toward Homophily, or the tendency to surround ourselves with people like us. While this naturally brings us comfort it also limits our ability to grow. One key to building a successful network is what I call “Leveling Up” or connecting with aspirational friends. Quite often we don’t connect with people that we feel are out of our league. However, the reality is that no matter how successful someone appears to be, they still have the same human needs we all do. You would be surprised how down to earth many people that you read about actually are when you meet them in person.
Of course, people who have achieved a certain level of success naturally have some walls up to prevent being taken advantage of, but like all of us need sincere people in their lives that offer them some value. The take away from the previous sentence is “offering value”. You may mistakenly believe that someone who is successful could not need or want for anything you could possibly offer. I invite you to take a personal assessment of what you can offer. Are you honest, can you tell a good story, are you a good listener, are you detailed oriented, can you execute a plan in a timely fashion? Any of the above traits and many, many more seemingly simple traits are in surprisingly short supply. Just take a moment and think about the one or two things that you do very well. That is your Super Power and that is what you offer to your connections. I’m reminded of how Fonzworth Bentley got the job as Diddy’s right-hand man simply by being sharply dressed. The key to him getting in the door with Diddy was to be consistent and visible. He would make sure he was at the venues and events that he thought Diddy would be and always present a consistent image. He was also proactive.
A successful person is not going to approach you, you have to speak first. If you’re nervous, remember that behind all of the celebrity this is a person just like you at the end of the day with insecurities and uncertainties that many of us have. The key is to be authentic and generous. If you are able to get contact information, make sure you follow up. If you don’t receive a reply, don’t take it personally, this person is probably very busy and receives a lot of messages. Just make sure you send regular messages that offer some value, remember you are building a relationship, not trying to close a transaction.
One key point in this exercise is to reach out to many successful people. Most of them won’t join your network or become one of your connections, but if one does, you will immediately Level Up. That one person can then recommend you to other successful people in their network. You would be surprised at how quickly this can happen, once you have been “vetted” by someone in those social circles, other members of that circle will most likely welcome you as well. Imagine how Fonzworth’s access and financial opportunities changed after he was connected in Diddy’s circle. Believe it or not, adult life is still very reminiscent of High school. Once you get invited to sit at the “cool kids” table, people will assume you are a cool kid as well.
Again, I am not advocating that you abandon your old friends to chase the rainbow of success and fortune. We all know how that After School special ends. The people who we have known for years keep us grounded and provide comfort during tough times. What I am advocating is not to settle at your current level. If everything you have in life comes from a connection, then your level of success will depend on the average of your connections. So Level Up.