08/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Corporate Freshman: Your Community is Your Most Valuable Tool

The most important thing I've learned in the last five years is the value of community. Growing up, I didn't have much of one. We lived in one of those diffuse suburbs about twenty miles outside of Washington, D.C. My family wasn't religious so we didn't attend a temple, and because my parents were who they were, we didn't have a close knit network of family and friends surrounding us.

In high school and college, I never seemed to be one of those people who fit easily into a clique or a group. I maintained relationships friendships from all over the place, from the cheerleaders at my school to the drama nerds across town, and for the most part, my friends weren't friends with each other. Even when I joined a sorority, I often felt like an outsider because I didn't agree with a lot of the house rules and had an itch to break free from what I deemed a mob mentality.

In Corporate America post graduation, I was taught that work friends aren't real friends, and that you have to be careful who you trust. So while I enjoyed being a part of a team with the same goals, I recognized that we spent time with each other because we were paid to, and I was hesitant to expose my weaknesses and ask for help.

It wasn't until I joined the career advice blogosphere in 2006 that I started to feel that I was a part of a real community of people who shared my interests and genuinely cared about my success. They welcomed me with open arms and gave away their own knowledge and expertise freely. They understood my frustrations and celebrated with me when my career slowly started to build momentum. These were the people who volunteered to promote my book How"d You Score That Gig? when it was released just a few weeks after my first child was born. I have never met many of these folks in person, and yet when I receive an e-mail from one of them, I open it and usually answer it immediately. I try to help them whenever I can.

Since I started writing for the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, I have had the opportunity to meet several high-profile writers and businesspeople who have been enormously successful. Quite honestly, given how busy these people are, I was shocked at how forthcoming they were with their advice and how generously they gave their time. Many have offered to sit down in person and provide invaluable guidance to me as I struggle to make a living as a writer and grow my platform as a career expert. They've introduced me to other impressive people who have added me to their networks as well.

Little by little, I've started to form what Keith Ferrazzi terms a "lifeline group." Although I don't meet with them on a schedule, these are the people with whom I can be vulnerable, candid, and accountable. They are individuals who are a bit ahead of me career wise and help me strive to be better. They are my community and I wouldn't be where I am -- or going where I'm going -- without them.