If there’s one thing my time in education has taught me, it’s that regardless of what you plan on doing with your life, there’s one underlying goal to shoot for that will nearly almost guarantee your success.

Like it or not, no matter how good you are, it’s only partially what you do – it’s a lot of who you know!

networkingPhoto CC-by bflshadow, and I can’t imagine the nightmare of cords


Last January, I took a trip to Anaheim, California to attend the annual NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants), a convention where over 100,000 performers, merchants, vendors, executives, and every other facet of the music business industry go to peddle their wares. The convention consisted of a lot of panels from successful record executives, audio engineers, and other people who’ve carved a successful path in life.

There were two common elements in each of these panels. #1: Market yourself, what can you do to make someone else money? #2: Get to know everyone. This is the important bit. You never know who you’re going to run into, and you never know if that person will be your foot in the door. I had the guts to head right up to the President of NAMM, Joe Lamond, and ask him for a business card. A few weeks later, he had read my entire portfolio online. Needless to say, I was equal parts excited as well as surprised.

No matter your skills, no matter your ability, they’ll do you no good (in a professional environment, that is) if no one notices. How better to get people to notice you than to increase your surface area of people known?

anne davis Photo CC-by Anne Davis, didn’t bother checking the validity of this quote. But damn, it looks inspirational.

Personalization + Networks = Learning 

In what is potentially the worst instance of “using a word to define itself” ever, Wikipedia’s definition of a PLN (personal learning network) is “A personal learning network is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a personal learning environment.”

…Well. That’s literally useless. Let me take a crack at it:

A personal learning network is a series of connections you create with others based on a common interest or profession, primarily Internet or social media-driven. There is perhaps no better way to learn about a subject than seeking out those who have found success in that field. This is another instance of the power of the Internet being used for good: with the right Facebook groups or Twitter feeds, your access to information is literally limitless. 

I resolved to make my PLN about writing. I would love to be a professional novelist or short story writer. The issue here is that to me, that doesn’t seem very realistic. I think what’ll wind up happening is I’ll be a columnist for a newspaper or a website, and moonlight as a horror author. Which would also be awesome. No matter which facet of my would-be profession I approach, the theme of writing remains constant, so that’s where I decided to look.

If you didn’t laugh, we can’t be friends.

A few things I learned about building PLNs:

  • Quantity > Quality
    • At least when it comes to social media resources like Twitter feeds, you want reliable information over numbers. Information is good. Good information is great.
  • Participation is Key
    • A network means a series of exchanges. You’re doing your network no good if you aren’t giving your own ideas and asking your own questions. Active participation will do a lot more in the way of you learning.
  • All Angles
    • Think of all facets of whatever subject you’ve chosen for your network. Part of my network consists of finding publishers, authors, editors, magazines, columnists – don’t narrow your scope.

Since I determined to make my PLN about writing, I Googled “Best twitter feeds to follow for writers,” and found a handy list of literary feeds that gave me a great head-start. Maintaining and building a network takes determination, but 24/7 access to varying levels of expertise, experience, ideas, and stories is literally priceless. Besides, who knows? What if someone in your network is a future employer or job reference of yours? The bottom line is that you’ve got to want to learn. Show everyone what you can do, don’t be embarrassed, don’t be shy, and don’t be humble. You belong here. Act like it.


  1. kaylahall02 says:

    You made a lot of really great points in your post. You really never know if one of the people you are following could possibly be a future employer. I agree 100% that it is all about who you know when it comes to getting a job. It’s like that foot in the door that is going to start you off and then you go from there by meeting other people. Your career can grow so much just based off of people you meet.

    • jamcfarland says:

      You wouldn’t believe the number of people I’ve met who have their job because of someone they knew prior. That’s actually how I got my job in The Pit at the student center, a friend of mine was the assistant manager and saw my application.

  2. It’s always who you know…whether it’s the entertainment business or education.

    I once had an instructor tell me “if you want to work with someone in particular, make them a colleague.” I wondered how at that time…now I get it. Hello PLN!

    • jamcfarland says:

      It’s been a strange journey for me as a writer. People who have done some fantastic work and been in leaps and bounds more books than I have are now (technically) colleagues of mine, as opposed to idols. I’ve been in books with people who have Wikipedia pages – to me, that’s crazy. It also will hopefully provide me with some handy connections down the road.

  3. angietemple says:

    Thank you for posting your thoughts. I was intrigued by so much of what you said. I think that we were made to network with each other. Those who try to be an island by themselves usually do not make it.

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