When You Are Advised to Network, But Feel Network-Disabled

“Maybe you need new friends.” Have your parents or other authority figures ever said that to you?

What happened to inspire that advice? Usually, it’s because you told them it was your friends’ idea to do something stupid. When you’re a kid, doing what your friends are doing makes you popular. But we grow out of that, right? Not according to data.

According to data we earn, eat, and generally do what our 5 closest relations earn, eat, and do. 

When I was a recruiter, this was used as justification to always ask top candidates for referrals – good talent runs in packs, apparently. However in the real world working with rising, thriving, and even dying corporate stars, not everyone feels particularly akin to their closest circle of influences. Some even pride themselves on being the black sheep.  For most others, however, being the black sheep is isolating and creates challenges, particularly networking challenges when it comes to making career moves. 

Even though some of these clients were top performers and great team contributors, they shied away from inter-office friendships and social activities. In their private life, they had smaller social circles and preferred low-key, private gatherings to un-traversed, public adventures. 

They were happy to surround themselves with people who know and accept them, introverts and extraverts alike. Not all of them felt the need to change anything until it came time to campaign for a career change (moving up, over, or out.) 

Some coaches I have paid over the years have advised me and many others to cut people out of your life who hold you back or weigh you down. I think this is awful, even dangerous advice. Success that requires you to cut people out of your life sounds too cultish and elitist to me. Yes, sometimes we change and grow, which can cause conflicts with people who have known us as we have been. Sometimes we do outgrow relationship. Sometimes people are genuinely toxic and you need separation. 

Let’s go back to the main point our parents usually got around to making: If your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you?

Friends aren’t the real reasons we stay stagnant in our lives or our careers. Once we get to age 18, family is no longer a reason we can legitimately use to say why we stay stagnant, even if we stay in the same location for their sake. 

Can friends and family influence us? Sure, if we let them, but we let them influence us because, ultimately, we choose. The tighter we make our circle, the harder it is to recognize their influence on our decisions and our path. 

Before I tell you about the light on the other side, I should share with you my personal triumph:

I was severely friendship-disabled during 3-8th grade. I preferred reclusively sitting home and watching television because socializing hurt, sometimes physically. All interactions with peers could easily transgress into a “social suicide” situation. I had to outgrow and overcome this. I did this by diversifying my friend pool. Doing this helped me in multiple ways I could not have expected. It started as a way to have a friend to call when there was drama with my best friend and her other friends. I started doing new things my other “friends” weren’t doing, like tennis camp. I made a friend at tennis camp. She introduced me to other friends, many of whom were going through similar home situations – divorce, shared custody. My best friend could sympathize with this but really didn’t understand like my new friends did. In fact, she and my four other friends from that group still have parents who are alive and still married. 

My new friends shared some of the same anger and pain, and I felt safe talking about it with them. They gave me new ways to deal with it, even how to use it to my advantage. Hanging out with this group changed me a bit – I got/talked tougher and started smoking. My best friend didn’t like the changes so much, but I gained more confidence and stuck up for myself more. This new group also helped me appreciate my individuality. For the most part, I was the “Bomar” of each group, a word we used for studious bookworms who loved to participate in class and generally earned good grades. They didn’t shame me for this like my older group of friends – they admired it. Eventually, I expanded my sphere of influence and even became a “joiner” in high school – athletics, school clubs, yearbook and prom committee, etc.  I also found that my guy friends were a lot more fun with less drama, usually. I spent more time with them and enjoyed being the girl in the group. This came in handy when I started working at a sports apparel retail store working mostly with men talking mostly about professional athletes, and even getting to meet a few. This also helped when I worked in other male-dominated fields, like tech. 

The cumulative effect of having diverse groups of friends is that I can work with difficult personalities successfully, but never feel like I have to continue associating with anyone who mistreats me or whose values are not aligned with mine. I have tried and adopted new hobbies, traveled to new places, and can relate to more people. I meet fewer and fewer people now with whom I can’t find something in common, and that’s a good starting place for rapport, mediation, and negotiations. 

I didn’t leave anyone behind, but some groups grew closer while I expanded my horizons. I became a “special appearance” friend. I wasn’t always where they were, which actually saved me from being arrested on multiple occasions. I still have multiple groups of close friends from high school. We made different decisions at graduation, and we all mostly wound up successful in our careers. We all eventually expanded our circles to include new people – neighbors, sports parents, co-workers, spouse/partner’s friends and in-laws, etc.  

I’m certain that if you take a look at the years since you were in grade school, you would see an evolution in your social sphere as well. 

Some people choose to delineate the social sphere from the professional sphere.  That’s a personal choice and one I didn’t make for myself because of the richness of opportunity that has come from cross-pollinating my professional and personal networks. In fact, I can say with utter certainty that if I had made the attempt to keep my personal and professional circles separate I would have failed at my jobs and in my business. 

If you are choosing this for yourself, this blog is not for you and I really don’t think I can help you get where you want to go. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a career or leadership coach that will help you get where you want to go in your career under the conditions that you continue to only associate with people on either a personal or professional level and never bleed the two together. I do encourage you to start your own society of people who follow the same belief system and maybe you can ONLY help each other based on what you learn about each other professionally. You do you!

Back to the other readers who saw this headline and thought, “Yes – that’ me. I’m network-disabled.” The first step is identifying this. Right now, I want you to know that if you recognize that this has been holding you back from enjoying opportunities for greater professional growth and performance, your network is not permanently broken. You can enjoy expanding your social spheres and spheres of professional influence simultaneously while expanding your comfort zone and discovering new strengths and qualities. It doesn’t take as much time as you think. You could be the new “Norm” to your new Cheers within a few weeks, actually. 

In the coming weeks, I’ll share advice and tips that will help you maximize your victories, minimize and learn from your failures, and accelerate your ability to leverage your new-found friends without feeling sleazy or self-serving.


Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where her students won the 2018 national competition and were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs.


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