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The Best Advice I Ever Received at a Networking Event: “Just Step Off”

I was young. I was ambitious. And I was dreading the next few hours.

I walked into a cocktail party filled with fresh-faced professionals. Everyone looked comfortable and relaxed. Everyone appeared to belong. And then there was me.

“How do I break the ice?” I thought. “Do these people know each other? If I interrupt the conversation, will they welcome me into the fold, or will I get blank stares?”

For a split second I considered turning around and going home. Cracking open a fresh pint of Häagen-Dazs was so much easier than this. But then I scanned the room—and breathed a sigh of relief. I quickly approached the bar, where my friend Rachel had just popped the cork from a new bottle of Chardonnay. I smiled and waved. But before I could even say “hello”, she extended her hand sternly, as if to stop traffic.

Now the blank stare was mine. I blinked, in shock. “Why are you here?” she asked. “Well, to meet people.” I replied unconvincingly. “So go meet people. Jodi, Just step off.”

My face burned with frustration. This was a friend. Couldn’t she see I needed her? But then came my “aha moment”: she gave me exactly what I needed. She reminded me why I was in that room. I came there for a reason. And I wasn’t leaving without what I came for. To this day, when I’m outside of my comfort zone, I remember those words.

We are all faced with moments that we’d rather avoid: that cocktail party with colleagues you struggle to tolerate during the day, let alone during your social time; the networking event where everyone seems to “click” except you; your buddy’s Christmas party where everyone has been friends for years—except you. But in every situation, you will always bring something unique to the table: your life experience, your passion, your skills, your sense of humor, your ability to do a convincing impression of the Tazmanian Devil.

When you’re uncomfortable, remember what makes you “uniquely you,” and focus on that.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath . . . and just step off. 

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