This week Jeopardy! is airing the final week of its “Battle of the Decades”, a special invitational tournament that was put on to celebrate the quiz show’s 30th season in its current incarnation hosted by Alex Trebek. As a former Tournament of Champions contestant, I was eligible for an invitation to play, but did not receive one. Still, I got to be part of the festivities, as a member of the audience. I have friends among the contestants who were kind enough to invite me to come watch the tapings.
I would have enjoyed the chance to play, but I got over the disappointment of not being invited pretty quickly. After all, playing games on television is just a hobby, a fun diversion; not playing was not going to disrupt my life goals. Besides, I got a great deal of pleasure from being part of the community of former players who got together, as both participants and observers, during the tapings of the episodes. These were my people. Once I had appeared on Jeopardy! in 2005, I never questioned that I deserved to be part of the Jeopardy! alumni community, an unexpectedly broad and sometimes tight-knit network of ex-champions and former contestants. I felt no hesitation introducing myself to other former players, in person or online, and developing and maintaining relationships with them. When I wasn’t invited to play in the Battle of the Decades, I did not think twice about finding out how, through my connections, I could at least be a part of the experience by watching some of the tapings. And, in fact, the people who did invite me to be their guest did so before I even had the chance to ask them.
I could not have had a better networking experience.
This was in marked contrast to my life as a tax lawyer, in which I had not been nearly so sure of myself and, consequently, had found it much harder to reach out to colleagues. I was reluctant to call people – even those who had invited me to do so – to pick their brains or ask for introductions. How could I expect these people to treat me as a fellow tax attorney, I felt, when I wasn’t even sure that was how I saw myself? I understood the concept of networking; I just did not believe I could execute it.
Now that I am a professor of academic support, all the plain and simple mechanics of networking and relationship building come easily to me. I reach out to people in my professional role, and people respond to me, often quite generously, and I return the generosity whenever I can. This works for me now in part because this is a role in which I more confidently feel I belong, but also in part because I have had the benefit of seeing the same self-assurance and openness work for me in a different realm over the past several years. Developing a strong network in the Jeopardy! community not only taught me how to network; it also showed me how well I could do it.
Networking shouldn’t be a chore, if the persona you are trying to share is really one you are comfortable with. But like any skill, it may require practice. One great way to practice is to make connections in a realm in which you already feel entirely comfortable – perhaps among hobbyists or scholars who share your interests, among members of an organization to which you belong, or among fellow alumni of your high school or college – just to learn how readily people respond to confidence, amicability, and generosity.