Never Eat Alone: Build It Before You Need It

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This is the second of sixteen parts of a “book club” reading and discussion of Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz’s Never Eat Alone, where this book on building a lifelong community of colleagues, contacts, friends, and mentors is teased apart and looked at in detail. This entry covers the third and fourth chapters, “What’s Your Mission?” and “Build It Before You Need It,” which appear on pages 23 through 47.

neaOne of the most fascinating parts (for me) about Never Eat Alone is the connection established between personal relationships and personal goals.

It’s not a connection that many people make. Most people think of goals as something that we define all on our own and work towards on some sort of solitary journey, like John Wayne or Lao-Tzu.

In truth, we’re often heavily dependent on the people around us for success in our goals. We need our family to be on our side. We need other people to provide us with key advice when we need it. We may need others to provide more tangible help, like an opportunity or an interview or a loan.

This human aspect of goal-setting is something I’d not considered at all before reading Never Eat Alone, and this portion of the book really focuses on that idea.

“A Goal Is a Dream With a Deadline”
One of the best summaries I’ve ever heard of what a goal actually is appears on page 25:

The best definition of a “goal” I’ve ever heard came from an extraordinarily successful saleswoman I met at a conference who told me, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.” That marvelous definition drives home a very important point. Before you start writing down your goals, you’d better know what your dream is. Otherwise, you might find yourself headed for a destination you never wanted to get to in the first place.

For a long time, I fell into this trap. I’ve always been good at setting short- and medium-term goals, especially in my career, and for a long time, I marched into my previous career using these goals.

At some point, though, I realized that my career march wasn’t in line at all with my biggest passions in life – my family, writing, and learning new things. I had done a great job of figuring out short-term goals for myself, but I didn’t really ask myself if I was walking along a path I really wanted.

I did a great job of keeping my eyes on the sidewalk and putting one foot in front of the other, but I hadn’t really thought about where I’d wind up and whether I wanted to be there.

When I stepped back and thought about it, I realized that the place I wanted to go was a place where I was a full-time writer with enough flexibility to spend time with my family whenever and however I wanted. And although I was proceeding right along a career path, it wasn’t really the path I wanted to be on.

Goals don’t mean much if you’re unhappy with where you’re headed.

Creating a People-Oriented Plan
Ferrazzi argues that the best way to achieve a big goal is to plan carefully for it and recognize that it’ll require the help of others to get there. On page 29:

The [p]lan is separated into three distinct parts: The first part is devoted to the development of the goals that will help you fulfill your mission. The second part is devoted to connecting those goals to the people, places, and things that will help you get the job done. And the third part helps you determine the best way to reach out to the people who will help you accomplish your goals.

Yes, other people are essential to successfully accomplishing your goals. They motivate you. They open doors for you. They offer you advice and help. Ferrazzi’s twist is to focus on people as a big part of your goal planning. And doing that can really transform the way you do things.

Take, for example, my desire to get into better shape. That might seem like a deeply personal goal, but there’s a huge social component to it. I need my wife to be supportive and to be willing to give me the daily hour or two I need to get into shape. I need my kids to be supportive and be open to eating healthier options. I certainly utilize people on websites where I share my exercise data and set shared goals with them.

Try this on for size. Take a big goal you have in mind for your life. Now, start thinking of all of the people you’ll need to help you and be supportive towards you for you to make it. Usually, it’s going to be a lot of people.

Right there, you have a list of relationships you should be focused on shoring up. Because without those people, you won’t reach your own goals.

Specific Goals
Another big part of making goals successful is to make them very specific and very tight. On page 32:

Your goals must be specific. Vague, sweeping goals are too broad to be acted upon. They must be concrete and detailed. Know what steps you’ll take to achieve your goal, the date by which it will be accomplished, and the measurement you’ll use to gauge whether you’ve achieved the goal or not.

It can be really hard to do this with big, nebulous long-term dreams, and thus many people ignore this kind of advice with regards to them.

But there’s a much better way.

Instead of focusing on those huge dreams, break them down. What do you need to do in the next month to get there?

Let’s say you dream of running a marathon, but you’re a couch potato. Saying “I’ll run a marathon someday” won’t get you there. Instead, ask yourself what you can do this week to get there. You need to surround yourself with supporters. You need to get out there and start walking, because that’s the first step. You need to keep track of exactly what you’re doing.

Personal finance goals are the same thing. You need to get your spouse or your parents on the same page with you. You need to start looking at the short term – cutting spending this week and this month and setting up a debt repayment plan now. What are you going to do at the end of the month? Not add any more debt… and make a double or triple payment on one of your debts.

That’s how you do it, and it works with any big goal you have in your life.

Getting It Backwards
Many people put the cart before the horse, putting the “me” part of personal goals ahead of building relationships. Ferrazzi talks about a discussion he had with someone doing this, on page 42:

“Have you started to reach out to potential clients?” I asked.

“No,” he told me. “I’m taking it step by step. My plan is to work my way up in my current company to a point where I can afford to leave. Then I’ll incorporate, get an office, and start searching for my first customers. I don’t want to start meeting with potential clients until I can presnet myself as a credible PR person with my own firm.”

“You’ve got it totally backwards,” I told him. “You’re setting yourself up for failure.”

You have goals in mind right now and you’ll likely have more goals in the future. All of those goals will require people for success – you know that now.

So why not start building those relationships now?

Sure, you might find that some of the relationships you build now might not match up well with you in the future. You completely change careers. You move far away.

But many of those relationships will remain if you’ve put real value into them, and you might just find that those relationships pop up when you need them.

The internet makes the world a smaller and smaller place every single day. I have friends in Africa and Australia that I’ve never met face to face – but if I ever go to the Ivory Coast or to Sydney, they’ll be the first people I get in touch with – and I have no doubt they’ll help me get my feet on the ground. I keep in touch with tons of people from my past, dating all the way back to my close friends in grade school – and we’ve helped each other as adults without ever bumping into each other face to face.

Every time you have a chance to give of yourself to someone else, do it. You’ll be amazed how often those relationships you’ve built will pop up again and again in your life.

Efficiently Doing Ineffective Things
Busywork is often the opponent of building such relationships. On page 44:

Too often, we get caught up efficiently doing ineffective things, focusing solely on the work that will get us through the day. The idea isn’t to find oneself another environment tomorrow – be it a new job or a new economy – but to be constantly creating the environment and community you want for yourself, no matter what may occur.

I certainly fall into this trap. Many days, I’m busy from the moment I get up to the moment I fall in bed. I’ve grown pretty efficient at managing a lot of things in my life – my family, my writing, connecting with readers, and so on. Still, it’s easy to let the “important but not urgent” things fall through the cracks in my life.

Clearly, keeping tabs with old connections (and building new ones) fall into the category of “important but not urgent.” So, I treat it the same way that I do other “important but not urgent” tasks – I make room in my life to do a few of them a day.

In fact, I plan ahead for this. I keep a big list of people I like to keep in contact with and each day, I make an effort to at least look them up and see what they’re up to. Quite often, this will lead me to giving them a call or sending them an email. Sometimes, I can contribute something of use to what they’re doing – offering advice, exposure of their work, a direct helping hand, or making a connection for them.

This type of “touching base” is just a part of my daily routine now – and I’m glad that it is.

Right Here, Right Now
What kinds of things can you do proactively to build new relationships. On page 45, Ferrazzi outlines four options:

Right now, there are countless ways you can begin to create the kind of community that can help further your career. You can: (1) create a company-approved project that will force you to learn new skills and introduce you to new people within your company; (2) take on leadership positions in the hobbies and outside organizations that interest you; (3) join your local alumni club and spend time with people who are doing the jobs you’d like to be doing; (4) enroll in a class at a community college on a subject that relates to either the job you’re doing now or a job you see yourself doing in the future.

These just scratch the surface. If you dig into each one, it’s easy to see tons of options inside of those, and it doesn’t even include online networking possibilities.

I’ll walk through each one of these four and point out some opportunities that might work for you within each one. If you have some great ideas, don’t be afraid to toss them up in the comments.

Create a work project. Many people wait for the opportunity to plop on their plate, but quite often these rewards go to the proactive. Look around. What doesn’t work at work? Are there some ordinary tasks that just annoy everyone? Why not come up with a plan to fix it and ask for permission to make it happen? Estimate the time/money you could save everyone and just pitch it. The worst thing that could happen is that you get told no. The best thing? You make the workplace better for everyone, learn some new skills, and get the profound respect of your boss.

Leadership in hobbies and other organizations. What do you enjoy doing? What personal skills would you really like to build? Are there any groups in the area that revolve around those areas? Find these groups and get involved. Step up to the plate and be a leader. If these groups don’t exist, start one.

Join an alumni club. Facebook and LinkedIn have effectively become online alumni clubs. Dig through people who identify themselves with your schools, with organizations you were involved with, and with places where you’ve worked. Boom – you’ve found a big group of people you have something in common with.

Take a class at a community college. It’s not even so much about the class, it’s about the people. If they’re taking an evening or weekend class, they want to be there, and thus they’re the perfect people to build relationships with.

On Wednesday, we’ll tackle the fifth and sixth chapters – “The Genius of Audacity” and “The Networking Jerk.”

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4 thoughts on “Never Eat Alone: Build It Before You Need It

  1. The connection between goals and people is becoming something of a conflict in our culture. We seem to be becoming a more insular people, looking to snuggle ourselves into our homes surrounded by all of our gadgets and electronic entertainment and security equipment, seeking to create a virtual reality that often excludes taking more people into our lives.

    The media do their part, between the six o’clock news, and the steady fare of cops and docs programming convincing us that the world outside our doors are overpopulated with dangerous people and we can never be too careful. While there’s grain of truth to it, if it were completely true, none of us would be surviving in anything that looks like a civilized society.

    In nearly all that we do, interaction with people is crucial. It’s foundational to our nature as human beings too. I’m thinking I’d like to read this book. Thanks for the review Trent.

  2. our lives are affected by the things that we surround ourselves with. It is important to stay close with positive people and avoid negative people as much as we can. Although, sometimes it may not be possible to avoid negative people such as close friends and family.

  3. Goals- powerful tools indeed, and will very efficiently get you where you don’t want to go.

    What do you want to be when you grow up?
    Go find yourself?
    What’s your passion?

    Goaling your way to being really good at something you hate is really painful.

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