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Your Lunch Partner Will Change Your Life

Next time you’re standing with a tray in hand, don’t look for your friends.  You meet them enough anyway.  Look for your superior: the higher the better.

Your Lunch Partner Will Change Your Life

By James H. Choi
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Let’s imagine a situation:

You pick your food from the cafeteria, pivot, and scan the horizon for a place to sit.  You see a few people you know, and you see a few seats available across from those you don’t know.  Of all people to sit across from, who will you pick?

Our natural instinct is to pick the people we know.  They seem familiar, and we will feel safe.  But if you want to advance your career, whether academic or professional, in high school or at an office, you have to choose the one who ranks highest.  If you find a teacher sitting in the cafeteria, go and sit next to him.  If you find a higher-ranking classman, go and sit by her.  Same goes if you find your boss or boss’ boss, sit by that person.  You might feel uncomfortable, but you’re not at school to feel comfortable.  (If that were the case, sitting on your couch at home would feel much more comfortable!)  You might feel awkward, you might not know what to talk about — that’s natural.  But don’t worry.  These people are professionals and will know how to guide you.   Just by being with them you will gain insight from what they have to say; you don’t have to prepare any special questions or topics.
Once I had a chance to see a professional politician walk into a meeting and work the room.  He was an ex-secretary of state of Illinois, and it was amazing how he could just walk into a room without knowing anyone and start shaking hands with strangers.  I was in the same room, and my reaction was to stay quiet and try not to cause trouble for anyone, but his natural reaction was to get to know everybody and let everyone see who he was.  He did it with such grace and aplomb that he didn’t seem forced.  (If someone told me to do that, I would have been mortified; my insecurity would have shown in my attitude, and people would have been annoyed at my attitude.)  But this politician did it with such grace, others had no choice but to be equally graceful and rejoice that he had chosen to shake their hands.  I was equally mesmerized, instantly happy that I was able to meet him in person, and I shook his hand gladly.  And that experience changed me.  It still does not come naturally for me, but after having seen it in action, I know how to “work the room” if I must.

As a young person, you might not have that kind of caliber, but I think those who rise high display this, beginning perhaps during high school or college.  If you don’t have it, you don’t have to doom yourself to the bottom rung the rest of your life, but you have to work at it, just as you’re working on your knowledge and experience.  Work on your attitude, which could be even more important than your knowledge.  Sharpen your social skills.  Next time you’re standing with a tray in hand, don’t look for your friends.  You meet them enough anyway.  Look for your superior: the higher the better.


Categories: Career Advice
  1. May 18, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I agree with encouraging students to get out of their comfort zone and meet new people, but I disagree that they should target their superior. I would encourage just random interaction with strangers and practicing the art of dialog to learn something interesting from the stranger and in return teach something interesting. My primary disagreement with targeting a superior is that the primary motivation becomes a means to getting ahead, not learning and interacting.

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