If you look at the people someone is connected to on Facebook or Twitter, you can tell a lot about them.
You can tell if they’re a social butterfly or a hermit. You can tell if they’re depressed, or anxious. Researchers have even used people’s connections to predict, accurately, whether someone is likely to become overweight or obese in the future.
The connections that we make, and the networks we build, come to define us. That’s true whether it’s your Twitter followers, or your work network — your mentors, your advisors, your colleagues.
We have total freedom over how we choose to build our networks, but we often don’t exercise it. We pick up mentors, advisors, close friends and colleagues basically by accident — from whoever we happen to work with or go to the same events with.
We let people “happen” to us. But if you put some work into thinking about just what kind of people you want around — and exercise some conscious choice around who you include in your network — it can be one of the most powerful routes to personal growth.
If you don’t like where you’re at — not in the right career path, or not advancing quickly enough to where you want to be — then take a look at your network.
Are you picking your network, or is it just happening to you?
The hive mind
Everyone has a certain perspective through which they see the world, and that perspective rubs off on you when you talk with them, work with them, or seek their advice. Your own perspective ends up shaped by all those with whom you spend your time — for better and for worse.
That applies to investors, incubators, accelerators, colleagues — everyone.
Some perspectives have been more successful, historically, and have become more popular in turn.
A big part of the reason that so many start-ups today seem to be part of the same VC-funded hive mind is that they are — their founders all sought out the same start-up accelerators, raised from the same VC firms, and read/write the same blog posts.
That community exerts a powerful effect on everyone inside it. If you want to be a part of it, that’s good. If you don’t, then you shouldn’t build your network there.
Buying into a network just because it’s the “default” option, without consideration for your goals, is a great way to burn out and hate your work.
Finding a mentor
Other founders sometimes ask me about the best ways to grow as a founder. They say, “I need a mentor. Who should I ask?”
It’s not that simple! There’s no one kind of “good mentor” out there: you need to think about the different kinds of people you have in your network, as well as what they can contribute to your specific goals.
People also ask who my mentor is, but to tell the truth, I have a lot. Different people have helped me grow at different points in my life.
The basic rule is that you should always find someone who can help you grow in the direction you want to grow. If you want to know more about science, spend time with scientists. If you want to learn how to build a bigger company, spend time with the leaders of bigger companies.
Individual growth is simply a representation of how we are spending our time: whom are we having conversations with, what are we reading, and what are we watching. Think critically about your balance of time, and you can grow in the right direction.
Work with people that you admire, that you want to emulate, and eventually, you will. Work with people you don’t admire, and you’ll make yourself miserable.
It is a huge mistake to let your network get built for you — to let it happen to you. The people you choose to hang out with and associate with will determine how you grow. Choose wisely.