There is an old Chinese proverb that states: “Dig the well before you are thirsty”. I can’t think of a better way to remind folks of the importance of putting some energy into being prepared for some of the inevitability that life will throw at you. If you are surrounded by a lot of water and it is abundant, it may seem like a waste of effort to dig a well. However, when a dry season comes along that well could save your life. The deeper it goes, the more you are able to draw from it.
Think about it. The time to save money is when you are making money. That way, when something unexpected strikes, you have reserves to draw from. The same thing can be said about your network of professional contacts. When you are working and find yourself surrounded by other professionals you may not be thinking about building your network. However, many will come and go and you will have lost the opportunity to stay in touch with all those people who were at one point part of your professional life. Most of us get so busy with work that we neglect to stay in touch with professionals outside of those in our immediate circle. We think there will always be time for that later but if suddenly we find ourselves needing those contacts (like from a job loss) then wouldn’t it be a shame to suddenly realize you have little or no reserves to drink from.
So if you find yourself wrapped up in work and life and wonder about how you could ever make time to dig a well, allow me to provide a little advice. Don’t try and dig the well all at once. That’s not only intimidating but also not very effective. Simply dig the well a foot deeper every week. In other words, for the investment of 15-30 minutes of your time every 1-2 weeks you can slowly develop a wide range of professional contacts that over a course of a year or two will become fairly extensive. Then if you ever find yourself “thirsty” you will find that you have a deep wellspring of people from which you can network and discover opportunities.
If you haven’t figured this out yet, I’m writing this note for people who are still employed. It would be a shame that during this time of downsizing and economic uncertainty that you suddenly find yourself wishing you had put a network of contacts together. Stop putting it off and start reaching back out to folks you have worked with and build up your Rolodex. If you already find yourself out of work but are short on contacts, I will try and cover networking and building up your contacts quickly in another post.
In the mean time, the best tool for you to use in order to “dig a well” would be LinkedIn. I can’t stress enough how great a tool this is for building up and maintaining a list of professionals you have worked with. If you don’t have an account, set one up. If you have one but it has been largely neglected, then you need to update your profile with your various companies and positions. Not just so that you can advertise yourself, but also because this is what will help you locate others on this tool who have worked with you in the past.
I had a “near death” experience back in 2002 as the tech bubble burst and the company I worked for went through a bankruptcy. Over the last 6 years I have logged into LinkedIn every 2-3 weeks (again not a lot of time at once) and looked up new people who joined that worked at companies that I have also been at. If I knew them, I invited them to my network. Over time this has grown tremendously and recently has been a blessing for me as I search for my next opportunity.
I will write more later on LinkedIn and provide some suggestions on how to best use it as well as point you to some of the other blogs where you can get great tips on how to get the most from this tool. In the mean time, start digging! It only takes a little time once a week or every other week to pay off big later.
Water really is essential and life giving. You can change the lives of others by helping put wells into villages that do not currently have access to clean water. See Living Water International or Living Waters for the world for great charities that change the lives of others dramatically through the building of deep freshwater wells. They could use your support!