I usually surround myself with action-oriented, creative people whom I can learn from. Everyone is approachable and willing to share their knowledge and experience, and they respect what I can contribute. I'm fortunate to be around such a nurturing environment. I credit my personal and professional successes to the people and the culture of these groups.
Unfortunately, I am sometimes forced to spend time in toxic environments where my talents, accomplishments, connects, and personal brand are seen as threats to others. There are people who are jealous of my successes and take steps to backstab, discredit, and undermine my accomplishments. These people, who are obsessed with status, rank, or prestige, believe in playing a zero-sum game. They try to isolate you from your successful tribes and try to manipulate you. They try to make their shortcomings and insecurities your problem.
It would be easy to spend rest of this post about the woes of these toxic cultures and dysfunctional relationships. Jay-Z noted, in his memoir Decoded, observed that becoming successful results in more people who want to take you down. Whether it's surviving a hardscrabble 'hood, a cutthroat music business, or a predatory workplace culture, haters gonna hate. But what if we flip the script and contemplate how to best establish and nurture an environment of connectedness, inclusivity, and opportunities? Several strategies can help with these goals.
Learning about others people's interests, sharing knowledge, and collaborating: I attended a documentation conference a while ago. One of the fellow attendees was a colleague from my place of employment who worked in a different group. We both contributed informal presentations at the conference, and we rocked our presentations. We reached out to one another during and after the conference and discovered that we were both interested in transforming culture, life hacks and curating knowledge. We now exchange resources on regular basis, meet regularly after work, and riff on transformational ideas.
This concept will pay dividends over time. I have established relationships with people from the annual professional academic support conference which I attend regularly. Over the years, my value proposition and commitment to the organization have led to participating in a productive Mastermind group, being tapped to provide career advice to fellow members, and presenting at conference sessions. I look forward to being a part of three conference sessions this November.
Connecting resources: Some of my tech friends and I are part of highly-involved regulars at our local watering hole, who have lent our technical expertise and innovation to the success and the reputation of our hangout. One developer friend developed the digital menu board at the business, and its eye-catching appeal and effectiveness have turned many customers' heads. Recently I was enjoying libations with him at the hangout. I overheard a party sitting couple tables away being in awe of the technology behind the display. One of the guys was also talking about establishments in a foreign country where my friend is expanding his business in. I politely introduced myself to the folks in the party and introduced my friend to the entire group, as "the designer of the display board." Before I left the hangout, one of the guys at the table and my friends (who were engaged in deep conversation after I introduced them) were exchanging contact information. The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin wrote about the satisfaction she feels whenever she plays a role in connecting people, and I share the same sentiment.
Taking advantage of lucky breaks and spreading opportunities: Back in college, I signed up for an introductory course in Electronic Music even though I did not possess the prerequisites to enroll in the class (I managed to sneak in due to a technical glitch in the automated class enrollment system). The small class consisted of about eight people--seven of whom were serious music majors, and myself. Instead of booting me out of the class based on my lack of credentials, the professor treated me like a peer. I showed lots of interest in learning the academic and technical elements of the course material, and was encouraged to enroll in the advanced Electronic Music course the following term.
Around that time, I had couple of good friends (and fellow students) who were interested in electronic music. I gave them an unauthorized after-hours tour of the electronic music lab, and they were very curious about the equipment and the curriculum (this was back in the days when electronic music gear was beyond the reach of poor, cash-strapped students). I approached my professor couple of days later and told them about my friends who were interested in taking the introductory course the following term. The professor liked what I was contributing to the class, and took a flier on my friends who, like I, didn't have the prerequisites needed to enroll in the class. For the next three years, my friends contributed greatly to classroom discussions and were among the top talents in the program. They made a name for themselves, and they are both still composing music some twenty years later, with many commercial releases to their credit. Even though I wasn't one of the top students in the program, I'm glad that I took the opportunity to introduce my friends to the lucky break that I was provided.
Being inclusive: Over five years ago, I was hanging out at one of the many beer festival events which take place in town. My friends were those from my circle of goth friends. While at the festival, I met--in person for the first time--a friend whom I had met through an online blogging community. Since it was the right thing to do, I introduced my new friend to the folks whom I was chilling with. Couple of days later, my new friend had thanked me for "being inclusive." That comment left an indelible imprint on what would become a part of my personal brand. Ironically, my friend, who is a fellow blogger and a long-time serious runner, helped me feel welcome earlier this year when I started participating in running activities. Her writings about the inclusive nature of the running community has inspired me to embrace the sport with added interest.
I'm very fortunate and spoiled being in environments where it's second nature for people to celebrate others' talents and knowledge, and to promote new connections. So when others try to shit on me with their jealousies and insecurities, I don't always respond well to those threats. During times of adversity, it helps me to think about how I've used my personal brand and value proposition to create environments and tribes which reflect how I visualize my surroundings.