Monday, August 16, 2010
Holly and The Importance of Talking
Saturday night was a slow night at work. When I saw a single woman with a maroon book and a thick package of Post-It notes sit down at my table with a lone menu, I felt as if-- well, not as if the night was about to get worse, but as if the gods of monetary luck were not on my side. I'd seen this woman in the restaurant before, though, and she always seemed nice enough. I suppose when you mostly serve people who could be your grandparents it's refreshing to see a well-heeled, 30-something brunette come in. I went over and she seemed happy to see me. Good enough.
By the time she ordered coffee and chocolate mousse, I decided to make conversation-- after all, she was there alone. I asked her what her book was about. She explained that it was something about how poetry influenced the works of classical composers. Most people don't read that for pleasure.
"Are you a professor?"
She was, and a singer. Formerly at Emerson, currently at Salem State and UMass Boston, teaching musical theater. She asked me about college. I told her I wanted to be a journalist. She listened to me like someone who was truly, genuinely... interested. It was almost jarring. You'll meet a lot of people in life who are sort of obligatorily interested in you because they know what questions to ask, but this was different. We talked for a long time. At one point, we discussed freelancing and how hard it can be to scrape by.
"I don't think that will be you," she said. "There's something about you that tells me you're going to do big things. You have the personality for it. I can tell."
After that point, I was smitten with her. I asked her her name: Holly. We shook hands. I resolved to ask her for her e-mail address before she left-- she was so nice that I couldn't just smile and say "have a nice night" as if she were any other customer. I feared, though, that I wouldn't follow through. As talkative and friendly as I can be, I'm also quite shy when it comes to asking for things. Who was I, after all, to ask her for her e-mail as if we could be friends someday?
I walked up to her table at the end of the night, and before I could even back out of the whole let's-talk-sometime thing, she handed me one of her little pink Post-It notes. It read "Mark D'Agostino, People."
"I believe," she said, "that in any creative field people find success through a series of coincidences that aren't really coincidences."
"I went to college with this guy, Mark D'Agostino, who has been writing for People Magazine for a long time now. I went on a date with him once and really embarrassed myself by forgetting his name. I don't know if he'd ever want to have anything to do with me again, if he'd do me a favor, but if you want I can call him for you and see if he'll talk to you. I don't know if you're interested--"
"I'm very interested."
"Okay, well, I'll give him a call and I'll let you know what happens. Maybe something, maybe nothing. But it's worth a shot, right?"
"Yes, absolutely, thank you so much!"
"I can find you here and let you know?"
"I'm going back to school soon. How about we exchange e-mails and we'll get in touch?"
We did. I got her e-mail and a promise that she would see what she could do about getting me, a 21-year-old waitress that she'd just met, a chance to talk to a senior writer at People Magazine. Sure, it's not the editor of Vanity Fair, but a senior writer a well-known magazine nonetheless-- someone who could, if I played my cards right, do something awesome for me down the line.
I beamed the rest of the night, and even though I hardly made any money, it was the greatest night of work in my entire life.
The point here for all of you, especially you creative types? Talk. To. Everyone. Be friendly. Be kind. Open up about who you are and what it is you dream of. While 95% of the time it will probably result in nothing more than a pleasant encounter, you never know what passing stranger has friends in high places. It's entirely possible nothing will come of this and Mark D'Agostino will be totally unwilling to say a single word to me, but even if that's the case, I've learned something about the importance of networking, even if you don't know who you're networking with.
Talk. To. Everyone.