Creating a Filter for Friendships and Collaborators

A few weeks back, a friend of mine asked me a question over text. “Now that you are where you are in your career, fairly established, how do you think about building your network and furthering those relationships? Or is it mostly a byproduct of what Holloway needs?” What a lovely question to ask and what a delightful one to answer.

But it begins with some immediate bristling. See, I could do without the word network. The way we might hear a Midtown Uniform say, “Totally, bro, I’ma batcall my network,” it’s a flippant way to describe real people with real lives and real goals and real feelings as commodities we can go shopping for in some theoretical Target that carries people and favors instead of orange juice and premium mediocre blankets.

Over the years, I’ve developed this idea of what I call fellow travelers, not a network, not relationships I’ve built, not my “tribe.” Sure, there’s all the people in various places on my Life Mountain, but I believe what people are really asking about when they ask about networks is how they find more people to fall in love with. We meet fellow travelers at dysfunctional work functions and places of play. They’re the people who share our values. The ones we feel at ease with. The ones we call when we somehow have an open night and want to be real with someone who’s real.

How do you find fellow travelers and keep them traveling with you? When I was twenty-fiveish, I wrote out my values. The first cut was decent. I valued risk-taking, mastery, and curiosity. Over the years, “People who don’t take themselves too goddamned seriously!” has risen to be the quality I value most in friends or colleagues. When you take yourself too seriously, you can’t take a joke, you can’t take feedback, your ego drives you, and I just don’t want to spend my life ride seated next to folks who’ve wound themselves up so tight that they can’t appreciate the absolute and utter absurdity of the experience of being alive. People I met who didn’t take themselves too seriously made my traveling feel less alone.

Listing out what you value most in yourself and want to see shared by others, or qualities you’re struggling to attain or ways of being you simply appreciate can be helpful when looking for fellow travelers. Here are a few more of mine:

  • Believe in giving assholes a run for their money
  • Are interested in leaving the planet better than we found it
  • Love learning, reading, absorbing knowledge
  • Are willing to abandon certitude in the face of new evidence
  • Demonstrate character and respect
  • Are willing to take risks

Building your filter helps you recognize these people when you meet them. But finding them is hard enough, so when you do, don’t miss the opportunity to reach out. Follow them on Twitter? Interact! See someone’s work on YouTube you admire? Find their email and tell them (this is how I met the Michael Marantz). Go to conferences. Make it your goal to meet one person at the entire conference whom you think you could be friends with for more than ten years. I’ve been doing this for almost a decade. It’s been the single most valuable tool I’ve sussed for finding fellow travelers.

Finally, this is a newsletter about work, Good Work. Find your fellow travelers, but don’t stop at falling in love with them. Start making things with them. Make a short film. Throw a monthly dinner. Buy a canvas, some paint, some firecrackers, and a six pack and see where Sunday takes you. Ask your fellow travelers for help. Show them your writing. Share your goals about doing that thing you’d do if only you had the time. Do business with these people. And when they share their goals, do your best to make them your goals. Hell, that’s what they’d do for you, right?