Busy, ambitious women understand the importance of attending industry events, work-related parties, and having lunch with a colleague(Not now obviously because of the pandemic). It can, however, take some experience navigating the professional networking scene before you realize the importance of healthy boundaries. For some professions, this is easier but with the rise of entrepreneurship, many early-career women are now finding themselves in situations where they need to socialize with potential clients or referral sources. As a result, boundaries may be easily blurred, and learning how to manage this causes some women to neglect their personal life in an effort to nurture their professional endeavors. This is not always advantageous nor is it the best way to reach all of your life goals.
While your twenties and early thirties vital for your career development, they are also vital for your personal life. Many women report meeting dating partners at work and put little thought into how to navigate a potentially sticky situation. Rather than finding yourself in such a situation, here are five tips to help you align your personal goals with your professional life.
Know what you want in business and your love life.
Are you a female founder of a new technology company? Are you a freelancer or a soloprenuer? Where do you want to be in the next one, three or five years? Who are the people who are going to mentor you to reach those goals? Knowing where you want to go in your career early on can help you evaluate those sticky situations without your emotions being involved. For example, imagine you are at a book signing with an influencer whom you would love to have as a mentor one day. You find the courage to introduce yourself and the conversation with this person flows easily. Then you realize you are really hitting it off, in a flirtatious manner. Knowing ahead of time that this person is important for your career will give you the courage to set a boundary when he or she asks you to meet for a drink or go to dinner in a way that connotes they are interested in a date. You will not be caught off guard and will be able to answer with a class that you are flattered by the invitation but you are not available for dating. This potential future mentor will respect and admire your professionalism and it is likely to enhance his or her view of you. Likewise, if you know you are single AND looking for a relationship, networking events may lead you to a colleague who is available for dating. If you are unsure of the other person’s intention get very clear on your own intention first. If you think you might be interested do not start a business relationship with this person. Stickiness comes from mixing business and personal affairs and you do not want to end up in this common dilemma.
Always be prepared with a classy comeback for the man who hits on you inappropriately at a networking event.
It will happen if it has not already. Spend a brunch with your girlfriends or other female entrepreneurs coming up with very classy responses to personal questions in a professional setting. Any questions about your marital status, what you are doing over the weekend, compliments on your clothing or appearance, or an extended amount of time spent chatting on anything other than business should clue you in that this person may be smitten. Simply changing the topic of conversation or excusing yourself to the ladies room is often enough to send the message you are not interested in a personal relationship. If he or she comes back and asks for your contact information, politely give them your business card and reiterate that you are looking forward to discussing business. Should he or she follow up in an email and ask you out on a date, it will be easy to say that you are flattered but not available for dating. If this is a person who you see often, be prepared to simply explain that you like to keep your business and personal life separate and that you would appreciate their support. Most people will respect your professionalism.
Do not avoid dating while building your career.
One of the biggest mistakes I see women make is not taking dating seriously at a young age. While a relationship may not be important, staying focused and being mindful of your dating options and hookups mean you will waste less time in the end when you are ready. While you are busy networking for your career, you should be also attending personal events that will allow you to network for your future spouse/long term partner. There can be considerable overlap between people attending business networking events and social events so again, set your intentions before showing up for an event. If you are interested in someone you saw at a business event, extending an invitation to a casual group social event can be a good way of moving the connection to the personal side without being too forward. This shows your respect for the other person’s boundaries and gives you the option to see someone socially. If they decline, then you know where you stand. Do not be afraid to move slowly with people who cross both of your worlds – you’ll ultimately want to make a choice about where this person falls and avoid an awkward meeting post-hook-up if things fizzle.
Manage your personal brand via social media.
If you have not Googled yourself recently, get into the habit of doing so on a monthly basis. Information about you, your professional life and your personal life is very easily accessible. Managing your image is paramount for both successes in your career and dating. This means all of your photos as well as what is written about you. If you do not know what you want your personal brand to represent, consider hiring a consultant to help you. My clients are often unaware of why they have not gotten a job or a date. It is often related to their social media and the way others perceive their professionalism or personal values. Like it or not, people make a decision unconsciously about you in the first 7-10 seconds. While it may not be accurate, your pictures are speaking volumes to the outside world.
Try new dating apps that let you control who sees your photos.
Bumble is a dating app that allows the woman to release photos only to people she is interested in. This can be very useful if you are working in an industry where it would not be advantageous to show up on your future boss’s Tinder account. Be thoughtful about who you release personal information to. While swiping can be fun, being mindful will lead to higher quality matches and decrease the likelihood of an awkward job interview with a Tinder match you never contacted back!
In general, you should run your personal life like you are the CEO. Know what you want, make a plan to find it, and proceed in a manner that protects your reputation. There is nothing worse than a personal scandal for your career so choose your partners wisely, learn what you like and do not like and treat everyone with respect. You may not currently want to talk to that hookup again but you never know if that person will make a reappearance professionally. Be classy, be kind, and don’t be afraid to move on quickly if any professional or personal situation is not working for you.