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The balanced life: Strong networks

Posted by Chad O'Connor  March 21, 2013 11:00 AM

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This article is the fourth in a monthly, five-part series that advocates for living a balanced life in the areas of: Global Citizenship, Local Volunteering, Meaningful Careers, Strong Networks, and an Empowered Self.

Technology has enabled us to easily connect to virtually anyone across the globe. But who, when and why we connect are questions that are not as straightforward. In her article 10 tips for successful networking, Executive Coach Rita B. Allen outlines the many reasons why we network; including: business development, referrals, vendor selection, and perhaps the most famous reason - learning about job opportunities. Another reason we may not consciously realize - is that social interaction has been proven to be good for us. In their book Wellbeing (which included data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®), authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter cite Social Wellbeing as one of five essential elements that contribute to our overall wellbeing over a lifetime.

They recommend that individuals:

(1) Spend six hours a day socializing with friends, family, and colleagues (this time includes work, home, phone, e-mail and other communication).

(2) Strengthen the mutual connections in your network

(3) Mix social time with physical activity.

Carolyn Meenan, Chief Executive & Visionary Officer of The Good Ones - an online social event company, suggests, “whether seeking social connections, a career, or a partner in life - we need to individually embrace and redefine our approaches to networking - and recognize that friendship exists at the core of the most powerful and effective relationships.” Meenan believes that "networking has become very blurry in the ‘social networking’ era, where an emphasis on quantity has consumed our interest and intrinsic need for quality.”

Indeed the social norms of networking are drastically transforming, where it has become quite normal for complete strangers to request your “Friendship” on Facebook... or to “Follow” you on Twitter. Though creepy to some, others are excited by the Internet’s capabilities to self promote and/ or unify. So how do we determine whom to “accept” onto our social media platforms? Do we rely on intuition, or is there a more logical process?

In Japan, relationships have historically been more clearly defined through the concepts of “Uchi” versus “Soto” - where Uchi relates to: the internal, one’s self, and the home, and Soto refers to: the outside, foreigners, and otherness. But Japanese social networking sites like “Mixi” (founded in 2004, and surpassed 21 million users after four years) are complicating relations in Japan too. Now each and every global citizen must make up their own rules, and enforce their own boundaries, of how accessible they wish to be, both on-, and off-line.

While some may accept every single friend request on Facebook, I decided to create two Facebook accounts - one for my “Uchi” family and friends, and another for my “Soto” business contacts. This decision (possibly influenced by my two years living in Japan) may sound excessive, but it helps me mentally distinguish the thousands of contact I maintain on social networking sites – because it can get very overwhelming, and may one lose sight of balancing other priorities.

Above all, I believe that building a strong network is about karma, so I try to be authentic, kind, helpful and “present” with others I connect with. A quote from a bag of Yogi tea I drank recently proclaimed that “we are here to love each other, serve each other, and uplift each other.” So people should not be seen as means to a desired end or goal, and as Rita Allen’s article urges, we should “toss out the term ‘networking’ and replace it with ‘building relationships.’”

Shannon O’Brien works at MIT, and is the founder of Whole U., LLC, through which she advises clients on living balanced purposeful lives, helping them connect to meaningful careers and service projects. She can be reached at Shannon.OBrien@post.Harvard.edu.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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