How did you do it?
That was the question from the academic advisor at my law school. It was the first line of the email.
Normally, you would expect congratulations from your academic advisor for landing a job but instead, I received questions. Questions because she couldn’t understand how I had landed a job as a trial lawyer.
Most people in law school rely heavily on help from the law school to get jobs. On-Campus interviews, career fairs, and networking events put on by the school. But I had done it without any of this.
It only matters to tell this part of the story because it also highlights the journey I took in 2020.
Back in law school, I wanted to create real connections with people. I had real conversations that led to real connections. I spent 3 years doing things that don’t scale. Just talking one on one with people I admired and wanted to learn from.
No motive behind the conversation. No promise of a job and most of the time a guarantee that there wouldn’t be a job. Just great lawyers and even better people.
This is the greatest tool a person has to create serendipity. Talk to people just because they are people. They aren’t pawns. They aren’t leverage.
They are people.
I continued that throughout my career. When I left the District Attorney’s Office, defense attorneys and civil litigators immediately reached out and offered me help. They sent me forms, paid for lunches, and made sure I was set up for success.
Not because they wanted anything out of me but because we were friends. We created real relationships even though we were on opposite sides of the cases for years. In trial, we fought. In life, we were friends.
When I opened up my own practice, attorneys reached out to me and again offered to refer cases my way and bring me on to advise them. A way to make sure in those early days I would be able to keep the lights on.
As it happened I made a pivot because of Covid and because I wanted to. I had a different vision. A vision outside of the Dallas legal world. But I never forget those friends and colleagues who reached out to me.
The things that don’t scale make all the difference.
So this year as my online presence grew, people would reach out. Variations of the same question.
How did you do it?
But a few of the variations showed me why people continue to struggle even with the nearly unlimited opportunities to be found on the internet. The variations focused more around a sales pitch to “big names” and asking me how I did that.
My answer was always the same. I don’t.
The way I approach people is always the same. When we talk there is no motive. I just want to talk. See if we connect. See if we want to build a relationship.
It’s a genuine interest in meeting interesting people and learning from them.
What happens with this approach is sometimes people ignore me. No problem.
Sometimes we do end up building relationships and then helping each other out but it’s not because I made some sales pitch to them.
I just struggle to look at human interaction as a transaction. If you’ve read any of my other articles on conversations, stories, and Bourdain, I think this all makes sense.
Every person has a story to tell. Every person has emotions and experiences. Why would we treat each other like a bank teller treats a check?
The best podcasters I know have an insatiable curiosity about people. They want to learn what makes them tick. They want to learn what inspires them. Just think about great podcasters and you will see it’s true.
One of my favorite experiences, when I go on a podcast, is when the host actually listens to the conversation and picks up interesting comments or ideas. Then they run with them and we end up down these crazy rabbit holes because they are building a connection instead of treating it as a transaction.
Now that doesn’t mean I don’t want to provide value to the listeners because of course, I do. But there’s a way to blend the two. Transaction and connection on a podcast.
And so as I look back on 2020 and see where 2021 is going, I’m both amazed but not surprised.
I remember the first time I talked to Jack Butcher and Luba Yudasina who are now founding fellows in my On Deck Performative Speaking program. We didn’t talk that first time because I wanted anything. We talked because I was interested to meet them and connect with them. It led to meaningful conversations and friendships.
I remember the first time I talked to Justin Mikolay and feeling this deep sense of excitement. Not to talk about the people he wrote for as a speechwriter, but to talk about him. I wanted to learn how he wrote, how he thought, and who he was.
And now, he’s a good friend, close advisor, and also a founding fellow.
Spend the time just talking to people. It doesn’t scale. It takes a ton of time and energy. Especially in this zoom era and Covid world. But the best thing you can do is just have a conversation.
Just because people matter. Relationships matter.
So now when I get asked that question, I know my response.
I did what I always do.
I built real relationships.
And that makes all the difference.
Want to have a conversation with me? Robbie@beondeck.com
I'm the Founder of Performative Speaking. In December, On Deck acquired my startup and I now serve as the Program Director for On Deck Performative Speaking.
Have any questions about what that program looks like? Just email me.
Follow me on Twitter @robbiecrab