Out of step

I was up much earlier than usual this morning to attend a BNI meeting in South Yarra. I was in the car before 7 and parked just before the rain hit, then entered into this very different world for me.

All sorts of things formerly strange to me have become normal in the last 18 months. Being your own boss necessitates a whole new order of thinking, and of activities, if you wish to be successful. I’ve undertaken a variety of marketing campaigns, with mixed results, have become a regular on the networking circuit, and become quite proficient at glad-handing strangers, exchanging business cards, and rattling off my reason for being in catchy 30 second grabs. BNI really is the natural outcome of all of that.

I’d heard all about BNI over the months, and had more than one person recommend it to me. Until today I’d resisted, knowing it was not really my thing. It was a lame excuse though and I knew it. There’s a lot of things foreign that you must do whether it fits in with your worldview or not. And if you’re serious about being successful then you really should be doing all that you can to make it so.

In this case it took a direct invitation to get me along. A very recent contact I’m hoping to do business with urged me to come along, already having laid the groundwork for me. The promise was a couple of good contacts and the potential for much more. Feeling obliged I roused myself from bed about the time the sun began its ascent and off I went.

I can confirm that BNI isn’t really my thing, though there were aspects of it I enjoyed. Obviously the lure of qualified referrals is tempting for any small businessman, and the support available in groups like this is similarly interesting. It can be a lonely business doing your own thing. Not only do you often miss out on the casual interaction with other people, there’s no-one often to turn to. At BNI most are small business owners, and so sympathetic to the challenges you face because they know them themselves. There’s support, understanding, people to bounce things off, and potentially help. I appreciate the great benefits of what amounts to a support network around you. In this case a very convivial, friendly bunch who have their fun along the way. Ok, pretty good then, but there’s more to it than that.

When I was a kid I got called a loner once or twice, and that was despite having a good bunch of friends around me. As an adult most people consider me very social, and many shake their heads at the people I know and the places I get to. The irony of it is that I consider myself basically shy. Like a lot of shy people I’ve overcome that by pushing myself out there; out there I’ve discovered I have a gift for words, some empathy, and, occasionally, some charm. That makes it easier, but it doesn’t alter the essential fact that I have to do it all again time after time. I may have confidence and a robust nature, which go hand in hand and quite naturally, but they exist outside or beyond my shyness. Being both shy and assertive is perfectly possible.

I don’t know whether it’s a subset of my shyness, or something separate to it, but I still see myself as a bit of a lone wolf. I’m social, but I must be independent. I delight in the warmth of other people, but need time to myself. I read once how there are two kinds of people, those who draw strength from other people, and those who take it from within. I’m definitely the latter, and if I don’t get enough me time then I’m in trouble. I like going my own way. I’ve never been a ‘joiner’, just the opposite really – my natural inclination is to go against the crowd, rather than with it. If I had to describe myself in that regard I would call myself socially independent.

Naturally then there is a huge resistance to joining something like BNI. I just feel uncomfortable with being a part of something like that, even though I know I should, and despite the fact that everyone is so friendly and supportive.

There were about half a dozen of us visitors there today. At a certain point, after the main business of the morning was out of the way, we visitors were invited to give our impressions of the event. I kept it simple, explaining how I enjoyed the convivial and supportive atmosphere. Others said something similar. Then one guy in a suit got up and explained how he really enjoyed the structure of the event. They have a lot of business to get through in 90 minutes, and they tick it off with almost military precision, and with a distinct bureaucratic hierarchy managing it. I understand why it must be so, but unlike the guy in the suit it’s not something I could ever warm to. I appreciate precision, I respect order, but I hate being regimented. That’s one of the key reasons I work for myself. I don’t want to be herded. I’d rather lead the pack than run with it. More precisely, I’m happiest to go my own way, whether the pack follows or not.

There in a nutshell I think is my issue with BNI and other groups like it. I’m unreconstructed, and I don’t think I’ll ever change. I appreciate the morning, and I’ll probably attend another meeting sooner or later, but I can’t ever see myself becoming a member. It seems stupid really, why wouldn’t you given the potential benefits of it? I’ve got no other answer except to say it’s not who I am. And sure, the dollar/time commitment is pretty steep to. Ultimately, like most things, I don’t like to be locked-in, and prefer to be free to go my own way, in my own way.

If I do return however, it’ll because the red hot girl I met there. Different story, but hope to catch up with her before too long. Happy to join her.

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