This week, I was reminded of the importance of getting out and talking to other creative people. Ironically, I’m writing this as I sit by myself in a railway-station bar…
In my defense, I have just come from a ‘networking event’. Yes, that phrase makes me shudder too. It conjures images of a room full of people, desperately selling themselves to one another. However, such occasions do have their merits.
We began, as is often the case, with an opportunity to chat informally. A panel of ‘experts’ then spoke on a topic that united us all. Next, a live act was introduced to entertain us. At least, I’m told they were there. From the back, I couldn’t see and they were – frankly – ignored by all and sundry. And, finally, we were set free for some ‘B2B’ (business-to-business) networking.
As you may gather, the horrible corporate language is not something I hold dear. Neither are the specifics of this occasion of any particular relevance, so I won’t bore you with those. However, how the evening panned out for me personally was, I think, interesting and informative.
I suspect I was not alone in feeling this was an evening I ought to attend. At the same time, the idea of having to impress myself on a room full of strangers was daunting. Add to this the suspicion that everyone else present was more successful, talented and self-assured than me and you can imagine my discomfort.
BUT… there’s a very good chance that many, if not most, people present were feeling the same way. So, the only thing for it was to dive in, introduce myself and talk to people. Mostly, this led to genuinely interesting conversations and a reminder that it is, after all, good to talk. In a couple of instances, it also paved the way for what could be fruitful partnerships.
The truth be told, I did actually make to leave, following the panel presentation. Fortunately, an instinct persuaded me to say hello to some people who had nipped outside for a cigarette. Somehow, this felt less intimidating than competing with the apparently super-confident throng at the bar inside. Thus emboldened, I returned to the fray and did manage to connect with some people there.
Again, the details are unimportant but common interests were established and emails exchanged. Whether or not anything concrete will materialise from these brief encounters is far from certain. However, the simple fact of having made connections felt like justification for making the journey. More importantly, it has also been a catalyst for looking again at some aspects of my work.
Overcoming Negative Feelings
Two things strike me about this experience, when thinking of its relevance to children’s’ education. The first is that the feelings of inadequacy and awkwardness are routed in memories from my own childhood. This makes me think it is of vital importance to do all we can, as educators, to help our pupils overcome such negative feelings.
Self-worth is a powerful currency. Sadly, it is all too often confined to a measure of ‘success’ or aptitude. However, the ability to be open, friendly, attentive and empathetic is arguably of greater value. Children need to be encouraged to recognise their own worth. If they see that others share their own innate shyness, awkwardness and lack of confidence, they will be more able to talk freely with one another later in life.
So, the second point is that how we get beyond those potential limitations is by connecting with others. Every project, collaboration, play, band, orchestra or dance company will have begun with a simple conversation. Somebody will have said to somebody else ‘shall we have a go at this?’ or ‘shall we try that?’.
I, like many, have made a career in the creative arts, in spite of constant doubts about my own capabilities. And I can report that just about every professional situation in which I have found myself has come about through a chance encounter. People often say ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’. The implication is that those who have succeeded have had special access to the right people.
The fact is they have sought-out or happened upon the ‘right’ people. And they have done this by putting themselves in appropriate situations, regardless of any discomfort they may have felt. They have persevered, in spite of their personal misgivings.
Worth the Effort
And the real point is not that through mingling and networking we can all became famous artists. That is only ever going to happen to a select few. No, the point is that we can all benefit, both creatively and as human beings, by being more connected and open.
In the digital age, real-life interaction is more important than ever. It may feel intimidating, sometimes, to approach people we don’t already know. But it is always worth the extra effort. It really is good to talk.