If I had to choose a motto to live by, it would be "Expect the unexpected." I like that because it prepares me for an adventure, it helps me be more aware of my surroundings and I don't get upset easily when things don't go as planned. Most of all, I learn something new every day and I can share those insights with you.
On a weekly basis, I like to have at least three to five "one-on-one" meetings. I schedule an hour for the conversation plus travel time, which is usually minimal. The common courtesy when meeting someone for the first time is to each take half the time to talk about yourself. While this can be informative, I really don't like talking about myself and I'd rather know more about you.
When I say more, I mean more than what you do for a living. I don't have a standard set of questions, I just go with the flow. When I'm sent an introduction to meet someone new, I don't second guess why I'm being asked to meet them, I simply agree to meet.
Finally, I ask you to choose the meeting place. This gives you the opportunity to be comfortable in your surroundings and show me somewhere I may not be familiar with. It really becomes an adventure for me, taking streets I haven't been on before and seeing stores, buildings and areas I'm not accustomed to.
Last week, I was invited to meet at someone's office in Brooklyn. We did everything by email and put the appointment on our calendars. The first rule I broke is that I didn't confirm the day before. The second is that I assumed my destination was just a subway ride away.
The morning of our meeting, I put the location into Google Maps and found that I had to take the F line to Jay Street - Metrotech and then switch to the B57 bus. This made the total travel time 43 minutes (in a perfect world.) The F train runs every 6 minutes from Bryant Park, but there were rail problems and the train was delayed.
I got to Brooklyn and found the bus stop. Crazy thing, I've never taken the bus in NYC before. I either use the subway or I walk. In fact, I've only taken a cab two times and that was at the request of the people I was with.
Jay Street is under construction and the traffic is heavy. The buses are running late, too. The bus finally comes, I get on, swipe my MetroCard and confirm with the driver that he stops at Cumberland Street. He says, "No, that's the B57." "Isn't this the B57?", I ask. "No, it's the B67. The bus you want is coming up next." Arghhh.
That was a $2.50 lesson learned but better than missing my stop. I hop off and then onto the B57. It ends up that my destination is about 15 minutes away, across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The first interesting discovery I learn is that my legs are too long for bus seats, so I have to sit on the aisle with my legs turned sideways or stand up.
As we make our turns, I carefully take in the neighborhoods and recognize so many street names that I hadn't been to before. Cumberland Street sounded so familiar to me and I couldn't think why, until the bus stopped.
Where is the home of Sweet 'n Low? Cumberland Street. Having grown up with grandparents who never missed an opportunity to empty out the supply of those tiny pink packets at every diner, that street name was firmly implanted in the recesses of my brain. Finally, I get to see this long, narrow factory where it all began.
I walk one block to the address where my meeting is. Hmmm, that's strange, it's not an office building, it's a self-storage facility. A big building with no windows and an entrance gate with no humans to be found. Maybe I'm in the wrong place, although the address is correct.
I walk across the street to the Brooklyn Navy Yard but there are no offices there, either, just a café and an employment center. I call my contact and get their voicemail. I leave a message, asking for clarification as to where I'm going and to please call me back.
I go back to the building to make sure I didn't miss anything and I even walk down the block, looking for possible clues but I find nothing. I'm kicking myself for not confirming the day before and I've learned a valuable lesson as well.
I will ask from now on, "Is there anything unusual I should know about where we're meeting?" This is a good question because addresses aren't always where you expect them to be. In Manhattan, the address can say Lexington or Madison but the entrance is on the side street. It's more common than you'd think, so it never hurts to ask.
I return to my office and a few hours later, I get an email from my morning appointment, asking if they had gotten the details wrong. I explained my adventure and it turns out, their office is indeed inside the self-storage building. They wrote, "Now you know why I need to find a new office." Interestingly, I had no idea they were in the market for new office space -- so this was an unexpected surprise.
We've now made new arrangements to meet next week, in Manhattan, at a location of my choosing. Was the day a waste of time? Absolutely not. I had no expectations of what the day held for me and I learned a lot in the process. Knowing where The Brooklyn Navy Yard is was the highlight of the day. With 4 million square feet of leasable space and housing the largest film studios on the East Coast, there's a lot more to come.
I also learned the bus system, which will certainly come in handy in the future. If you think like an actor, treat your networking meetings as if they're improvisation instead of following a script. Be open to anything and you'll never be disappointed, although I still recommend confirming your destination in advance.