You invest in your money, but do you invest in your relationships? I've spent many nights thinking about money, worth and finances. I've plugged my assets and liabilities into online retirement calculators and dreamt about unexercised stock options in attempt to forecast my future worth. These types of exercises can be useful, but somewhere along the way I realized that if I wanted to assess my present or predict my future, I was spending too much time focusing on the value of the wrong set of assets.
I believe your social capital, or your ability to build a network of authentic personal and professional relationships, not your financial capital, is the most important asset in your portfolio. I believe that seeking out and working in collaboration with others who share your interests and values will provide a stronger foundation, enabling you to reach a higher level of success than you would on your own. Therefore, I believe that your "net worth" will be based not on the size of your portfolio or the size of your network but on your ability to define and stay true to your passions and values and that working with other people who share them will allow you to build a strong and enduring interpersonal safety net that will carry you through any financial calamity to greater output and personal fulfillment.
Connecting with people that shared my values and interests has changed my life. I feel so strongly about the concept that I wrote a book called Your Network Is Your Net Worth.
Why is your network your net worth?
Less Job Security Than In The Past
One reason your network is your net worth is that how we work, along with the role of the employer, has been completely transformed. Globalization, changes in digital technology, and a wavering economy have made tens of millions of corporate positions more contingent and less secure. A 2010 Deloitte survey found that nearly half of all employees say a loss of trust in their employers will cause them to look for a new job when the economy improves. What's more, between 1999 and 2010, the share of workers who said they were satisfied with their job dropped from 59 percent to 25 percent. The reality is that no matter how much you like your job or your company, you can, at any given time, be forced into unemployment. With few workplace guarantees, it's important to recognize your best path to job security is yourself. The more adaptive, flexible, and agile you are, the more you'll succeed. Look internally, not externally, for happiness and job security. Build your skill sets, improve your network, ask questions, and don't assume that others will take charge of your career.
Big companies like Ernst & Young are increasingly using their own workers to find new hires, saving time and money but lengthening the odds for job seekers without connections, especially among the long-term unemployed. The trend, experts say, has been amplified since the end of the recession by a tight job market and by employee networks on LinkedIn and Facebook, which can help employers find candidates more quickly and bypass reams of applications from job search sites like Monster.com.
In 2007, I experienced the power of a network referral when the advertising agency I worked for closed. I worked my phone, email, and in-person connections daily. I told people I was looking for freelance or full-time work and followed up promptly. One day, a past coworker called and mentioned a recruiter had called him about a job in San Francisco. He said, "I'm not interested in applying, but it sounds perfect for you." When I needed it most, my network proved to be my net worth and I landed a job leading the marketing department at Virgin America. Without my network, I would not have heard about the Virgin America job opportunity. Without my network, I would not have had the references (i.e., a prior employer and a past client) to provide to pass the employment screening process. Without my network, finding a job in a down turning economy could have been much more challenging.George John, the CEO of Rocket Fuel, agrees:
My first job, my Stanford PhD admission, my first and second startup gigs that led to two IPO's, and $76mm investment to date plus scores of great hires into my current company Rocket Fuel have all come through my network of friends and colleagues. It's not just true in some allegorical or metaphorical sense, but true in a very real, direct, and measurable sense that looking back over the course of my life, the present value of my network has always eclipsed the value of my current assets by millions of dollars. I never thought that way about it -- I just tried to be helpful to a lot of people, and the result was that all of my favors were repaid 10x or more.
Technology Has Accelerated Connecting
Your network is also your net worth because we've entered a new era where shifting cultural values and improved technology enable us to network in vastly improved, more focused, and more enjoyable ways that are more in tune with our personalities and passions. Technology has accelerated networking, reduced the degree of separation between contacts, amplified our global playing field, and redefined the job prospecting process. The team at PeopleBrowsr, a company that has analyzed Twitter data from 2007 to the present, has a hypothesis that on a global level we're four degrees apart, on a community level (e.g., fitness lovers) we're three degrees apart, and on a niche level (e.g., love kite surfing) we're two degrees apart. It's easier to find niche communities' online, new relationships may be just a tweet away and existing relationships may hold more value than you realize.
Connections Increase Happiness
If the career implications aren't enough to convince you, consider that connecting with others with similar values and passions can also increase your feelings of happiness in most cases. An article in Scientific American titled "Your Brain on Facebook: Bigger Social Networks Expand the Size of Neural Networks" by Gary Stix noted, "Lots of 'friends' drive the growth of gray matter in areas linked to processing social information." James Fowler, a professor at UC San Diego, stated in an interview with NPR, "We find that people at the center of the social network tend to be happier... We think the reason why is because those in the center are more susceptible to the waves of happiness that spread throughout the network."
There is something that happens in groups that can catapult people in their lives in a way that was not happening before. People have lost weight and gained confidence, shed poor relationships, changed their eating habits, and even become more social. Many studies show that social connections and friendships do something for our bodies. There is even research demonstrating that people who are isolated fare more poorly with regard to disease, poverty, and illness than people who are socially integrated. If you get connected, you can live more healthfully and longer. It doesn't have to be about CrossFit; it can be any program or endeavor that fosters community or a shared experience with commitment, discipline, or sacrifice and makes us need each other and learn in a different way.
What's Life Really About?
Your network is also your net worth, because at the end of the day, what is life really about: head, heart or wallet? The filmmaker Jason Zada believes surrounding himself with passionate people has been a key to his happiness and success. "The worst word I can ever hear from someone is 'no' or that it can't be done. There is always a way to get things done. You have to find a place where 'no' doesn't exist in your circles or in your personality." Rachel Masters of Red Magnet Media knows that choosing friends, relationships, and contacts is key. "Do what you love, and don't look back. Take risks, work for free to get in the door, and only keep friends and romantic partners who bring you love, support, energy, and positivity."
Whether you goal is to focus on your head, your heart or your wallet; remember, building and strengthening your network will help you improve your happiness, productivity, and true net worth. I encourage you to focus on your passions, surround yourself with people that share your values and don't let your social capital lie dormant. Reinvest it! And remember, your network is your net worth.
Porter Gale is a start-up advisor, public speaker and former VP of Marketing at Virgin America. She is the author of Your Network Is Your Net Worth, a clear guide on how to bring value yourself and others through the powerful currency of relationships'.