“Network! Connect with people! Expand your network! Make more connections!”

This kind of tireless “business” rah-rah seems to wear on us all. Like me, most creatives have a hard time wrapping our heads around the narrative that our success will result from forming countless faceless connections that will bring us a step closer to the people who can truly help us.

In reality, it’s by staying human that we find those people, and they’re often not the ones we originally had our sights set on. We aim to meet the most successful and prestigious of our industry—the authors, speakers, and figures who shape our worldview. And these people are accessible, make no mistake. But we have to work our way into their networks, by forming mutual connections ourselves. So, while we’re at it, why not make new friends?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

While the concept of “making friends, not connections” may sound to some people like just a bunch of hippie-dippie talk, I urge every aspiring freelancer to consider this deeply. By focusing on what creates lasting friendships, we resist the temptation to be transactional, we form deeper connections, and we reap far greater rewards in the long run.

Resist the temptation to be transactional.

When we focus on quantity over quality of connections, we shoot ourselves in the foot long-term.

You’re not the only freelancer in your trade—by far. When we’re too transactional about the connections we make, we miss the chance to form real bonds with people like us. As Seth Godin famously reiterates, there are piano teachers who win competitions, and piano teachers who refuse to enter competitions—and focus on giving students a fun learning experience instead. They’re competing, they’re just on the same board.

In the same way, when we don’t focus enough on who we’re connecting with, we spend unnecessary time on people who won’t become helpful in our lives, at the expense of optimizing our time for people who will.

Get to know others, and just as importantly: let them get to know you.

For the reasons I listed above, it’s in your best interest to get to know the people with whom you’re connecting. For these same reasons, it’s equally beneficial to let others get to know you.

We don’t always think of it that way; we focus on getting to know people as the outbound, intentional activity that it is. But we rarely consider what it means to allow others to get to know us. It means not being too mysterious, not hiding behind a façade, and being okay that you don’t jive with every person you meet.

The point is, when people feel like they are getting to know us, they will trust us more. Right? When you get to know someone, don’t you start trusting them? We can spend hours learning every little detail about someone, and never earn their trust. We have to also let them learn who we are.

Remember TTT: things take time.

My future father-in-law, esteemed child psychologist Dr. Scott Nelson, is famous in his family and communities for three letters: TTT. Things take time.

We can’t rush the process of getting to know people; we shouldn’t shortcut the time it takes for real human connections to form. When we really get along with someone, that time will be shorter, but it doesn’t mean we should rush it. We just need to enjoy the journey and let it happen naturally. Otherwise, we risk damaging things in the process.

Photo by Vlad Sargu

The saying “You can’t make old friends” encapsulates this perfectly—no matter how much you have in common with someone, it is the time spent together that deepens the interpersonal bonds which make life worth living.

To summarize, just focus on staying human.

If you’re in it for the long run, rather than just the short-term wins, we’d love to see you apply to become a student, mentor, or partner for GigLoft U. Students not only learn how to make friends rather than connections, but actively do just that with our expanding network of other students, volunteer mentors, and partner brands.