Sometimes The Most Important Relationship Is With Your Coworkers

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My mom once told me that my dad doesn’t believe in networking. I had just been accepted to transfer to NYU, and she used this fact to explain why he didn’t think the prestige of the school was worth the $40,000+/year price tag.

It’s not necessarily that he doesn’t believe that networking works: obviously, knowing people opens doors to things you may never have had access to otherwise. But going somewhere with the intention to network and doing it in an inorganic setting where everyone is looking to get ahead … that was something my dad never really subscribed to.

A textbook introvert in high school, I never really was one to “network” either. So when I moved into the NYU dorm in Union Square my junior year of college, I never would have imagined that I would find myself in an uncanny sort of network. But it wasn’t connected to my school. No, it was the building across the square: my local Barnes & Noble. 

Having worked there part time for over seven years now, I can honestly say that a lot of what I have here in New York is a result of the connections I’ve made at the bookstore. The store gave me some pocket change — or, really, money to start paying back student loans — throughout school and unpaid internships, one of which led to my first job out of college. A year after graduating, I was able to move into two of my coworkers’ old Upper West Side duplex, a place which remains one of the finest living arrangements I’ve had the joy of experiencing.

When I wanted to leave my first full-time job, I found a new one through a former Barnes & Noble coworker, who found the job listing through an NYU Publishing listserv. All of my managers have been like friends, advocating on my behalf, talking through career questions, and, in one particular manager’s case, forwarding me Spa Castle promotions over email.

There were also a lot of unexpected opportunities, like finding a director for a reading of one of my plays in a guy I barely knew who worked on the second floor. I’ve also been published twice in a literary magazine started by a former employee, and had another offer to take my headshots for my blogging bylines for cheap. One of my coworkers became a flight attendant for a brief stint, inviting me to be on her benefits plan and allowing me a year of free travel that I will always be eternally grateful for and also feel like I did not use enough. I’ve even got a great boyfriend who I met at … you guessed it.

In return, I’ve tried to give back to my coworkers. I helped prep a former employee for her first interview out of college, beaming proudly as I helped advise her in buying her first pair of heels. I’ve provided references for coworkers who have moved on to other jobs. I’ve helped people move, search for apartments, get discounted show tickets, volunteer opportunities, and advanced copies of books.

The truth is, though, that as much as this is networking, it comes from the most organic thing in the world: friendship. Through our time in the trenches together, several hours spent doing sometimes thankless work, we all become more like family than just coworkers. It’s hard not to want to help people you consider your own.

Because my coworkers have provided for me in ways that are less quantifiable than money, career, or real estate: it’s been in venting sessions over drinks, showing up to my events, movie nights, hugs, holidays spent together, and general support. In this way, I think my dad is really wrong about moving to New York and networking not being useful, though I will admit that it happens in places most of us would overlook.

When I was writing my first play that would be published, I remember that a group of about 12 of my fellow Barnes & Noble peers came over to my apartment and offered to read it out loud. Not a person among them was an actor, but everyone brought food and crowded onto my small Murray Hill apartment floor. And while it was no Shakespeare in the Park, we all had an amazing time, laughing nonstop and enjoying each other’s company.

The memory stands out in my mind so much because of how honored I was to have these friends, a seemingly random assortment of people but all wonderful and incredibly supportive. We weren’t necessarily well-connected or had great resources, but we gave each other what we could. The next play I published was inspired by my retail experience, and I even used some of my coworkers’ names for the characters. It’s a nice little reminder that every time a group performs it, they might get a glimpse into our little network too.

 

This story is part of our relationships month series.

Kimberly Lew is the proud writer of plays, blogs, and the monthly check when the rent is due. Check her out at www.kimberlylew.com.

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