Once in a while, you see a tweet that triggers all kinds of thoughts and deserves more than a like, retweet, or 280 characters reply. Anna Gát, the founder of Interintellect, wrote such a tweet for me lately. Here’s a quote: “I organise most of the things that exist in my life. Social, professional, intellectual events and impulses all come to me at my own effort. I’d love to be invited to other people’s parties, initiatives, idea-sharing as a guest sometimes.” Although I’m nowhere near Anna, who literally runs a community that is about organizing and hosting events for others, I felt this is relatable. Let me try and articulate my thoughts.
First, it’s a general rule of any community that most of its members are lurkers. Only a subset of the community actively participates in activities. And an even smaller group initiates anything in the first place. In fact, everything in the world exists because people are willing to take the initiative. We owe these people a lot, and it would be great to see more of them, but we can’t expect everyone to take on these roles. It takes effort and persistence, there’s always a risk involved that your thing fails, and you will face rejection and must not take it personally. On the flip side, you can be the one that makes the thing happen that you wish to exist.
Second, I feel I often enjoy initiating things more than participating in things others organize. It’s for two, probably related, reasons: One is that I like to be in control of what’s happening, and being in the lead lets you do that better. The other is that I sometimes find it hard to navigate social situations regarding roles and hierarchies and find my position in them. Being a leader or initiator gives you a predefined part, which helps. So … it’s all great, right?!
Although I’ve said that organizing things can be better than just participating, sometimes it’s nice to invest less effort into it. Also, sometimes not knowing what is happening is precisely the point. However, the sentiment of the original tweet that I can relate to isn’t about just that. It’s about being invited in the first place. Or, instead, not being invited.
When people attend events or activities you organized, you may start wondering why they showed up. Are they interested in the thing itself? Are they showing up because of you? Or are they just happy that something is happening that they can attend? It would be awkward to ask. I’d assume many people wouldn’t be fully aware of their combination of reasons anyway. But why does it matter? Someone showing up but not inviting you in return feels like rejection, just a different kind. Yes, the other person may be one who never initiates, but what if they do but not invite you? You start realizing you’re having a one-way relationship with that person, where you care about including them, but they simply don’t care about you at all, or, worse, they don’t like you. If they followed your invitation, they didn’t do so because of you, but despite you. Ouch!
The above paragraph may sound full of ego, but it’s the truth that humans, or at least most of them, are social creatures and want to be liked. Or even before they are liked, at least their existence and relevance wants acknowledgment. We want others to care about us. Some of it may seem superficial, like worrying about “likes” or follower-to-following ratio on social media. Still, these are just modern expressions of deeply human desires.
(A consolation for people who are already well-networked and lead a visible social life: others think you are already fully booked and wouldn’t accept an invitation anyway. So, they don’t receive invitations due to anticipation of rejection. If you are one of those others: don’t be afraid! Yes, these somewhat famous people receive many requests and invites and may likely turn you down, but there’s still nothing wrong with asking.)
In the past years I’ve increasingly spent time trying to build connections and participate in communities, both personally and for business (and at the intersection of both). I believe in the importance of a network of strong and weak ties to get ahead in life and work. I’ve invested some time in reaching out, following up, and building a personal CRM. Sometimes I wonder why I did this and whether these efforts pay off. Then, at some point, it hit me that one of the big reasons why I’m doing this is so I can receive the same in return. Again, this may sound shallow and self-centered, but I want to be honest. Every outbound connection is made in anticipation of an inbound connection. Every introduction creates the desire to be introduced to someone in return.
(To avoid misunderstanding, I have wishful goals for myself, and there’s nothing wrong with you having similar purposes. Still, I don’t think you should communicate these as expectations or attempt to run your social life in a tit-for-tat mode. For multiple reasons, including my first thought in this article, there will never be a perfect balance. Some people are natural givers, making others natural takers. And there can be a lot of joy in giving even if you get no return.)
A north star goal could be a life in “inbound mode”, where you stopped doing the work of reaching out and still have a pool of people who reach out to you instead. And I feel the tweet captures the sentiment for me. Yes, being invited to things is about experiencing new things and meeting new people that aren’t part of what you’re doing so far. However, it’s also about the safety of knowing that you still had an active social life even if you ceased any investments in it. The confidence of having people caring about you.
I am unsure if it’s possible or even desirable to live in “inbound mode”, because you will also receive a lot of unwanted attention and people aren’t taking rejections nicely. But it would be nice to get even part of the way there. Until then, let’s continue making the things happen that we want to happen and reach out to the people we want to include.