Ever heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Now, of course there are times when what you know is extremely important. But you get the idea. Who you know in life, and the relationships you make along the way, plays a vital role in our life. Regardless of your social or financial pedigree, we all rely on others. And despite where you think you may sit on that social or financial scale, there are things you can do to cultivate relationships, not only for the benefit of yourself, but also for those you interact with along the way!

About a year or two ago, I read a great book which brought this topic of relationship building to my attention. The book is called Never Eat Alone and is authored by Keith Ferrazzi (Ferrazzi, Keith. Never Eat Alone. New York: Random House, 2005). To list just some of Mr. Ferrazzi’s accomplishments, the World Economic Forum listed him as a “Global Leader for Tomorrow”, and he appeared as one of the forty top business leaders under forty in Crain’s magazine. Much of the insights I share in this post are discussed in his book, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in finding out more information and strategies you can apply to build strong and lasting relationships across a network of friends, family, and associates.

Now, take a moment to really think over some of the things in your life where you have been given some good opportunities. Then consider what factors went into that opportunity presenting itself. For example, maybe your parents helped you attain a college scholarship through their employer. Perhaps a college professor put in a good word for you which helped you land an internship. Or maybe former work colleagues took it upon themselves to pass your name around to potential employers and put in a good word for you after you were laid off. Whether we realize it or not, we continually affect those around us!

You have access to a much larger web of people than you may think. Think of all the people in your immediate and extended family (parents, siblings, cousins, nephews, etc.) in addition to any friends or acquaintances. Then imagine all of the friends, family, and acquaintances each of those individuals has. And that’s a network of people you already have access to today!

When you think of networking with other people, try not to think about being that brownnosing individual you may envision in your head who is overeager to hand out business cards and internally thinking “Me, me, me”. Mr. Ferrazzi refers to this type of person in his book as “the networking jerk”. That is most definitely not what we are after here. We are not after trying to win a contest of who has the most friends or contacts on Facebook or Twitter. What we are after is building true connections with others in the context of generosity, rather than with a what-is-in-it-for-me perspective. As Mr. Ferrazzi states in his book:

“I learned that real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful. It was about working hard to give more than you get” (Ferrazzi 9).

He goes on further to describe connecting as:

“A constant process of giving and receiving – of asking for and offering help. By putting people in contact with one another, by giving your time and expertise and sharing them freely, the pie gets bigger and bigger for everyone” (Ferrazzi 15). Furthermore, “relationships are more like muscles – the more you work them, the stronger they become” (Ferrazzi 19).

And as you continue to grow your network, you and those around you will benefit in both your personal life and your career.

“A relationship-driven career is good for companies you work for because everyone benefits from your own growth – it’s the value you bring that makes people want to connect with you. You feel satisfaction when both your peers and your organization share in your advancement” (Ferrazzi 12).

It all really boils down to this: we do not go it alone in this world! The people in our life influence us one way or another. That in no way discounts our own talents, hard work, and dedication! You can have all the doors in the world opened for you, but it is still your own sweat-equity, drive, and skills that make you succeed and capitalize on those opportunities. I very much encourage you to read Mr. Ferrazzi’s book and gather some tips and tricks on how you can continue to expand your network, and in the process, better your life and those you connect with!

So go ahead … reach out to those you know, and to someone new! A stranger today could be a friend tomorrow!