“Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?
Hooking up words and phrases and clauses…”
If you grew up in the 1970’s like I did, you likely remember this little ditty and others from Saturday morning, short educational videos called “Schoolhouse Rock.” Many of us back in the day learned about grammar, science, economics, history, mathematics, and civics through these short musical lessons. I know that I can still sing a few of the classics from memory! (I’m just a bill, yes, I’m only a bill…)
“Conjunction Junction” taught us about conjunctions, a word that connects clauses and sentences such as: “and”, “but”, “or”, etc. For some bizarre reason, I thought of this song the other day and had the epiphany that I am a “human conjunction!” Allow me to explain…
Upon reflection, I realized that my function throughout life has been that of a “connector.” I guess I have been doing this for years, going back to my youth, but it never really sunk in until a few weeks ago when I was preparing to host a weekly “virtual happy hour” on Zoom. (Those who know me know that I HATE video conferencing but have warmed up to it after our captivity!) As I was getting ready to log into Zoom to see who would be joining us this week, I thought about how much I’ve enjoying bringing people together and it hit me…I’ve been doing this my whole life!
I grew up as an only child. While I didn’t have siblings to connect with (and consequently, get in trouble with) growing up, I usually found myself organizing events which brought others together to play sports, go on bike rides, and as I got older, road trips, beach parties, sporting and other events. While I never had a large network of friends, I was usually the person that would step up to be the one to plan, coordinate, and execute gatherings. These events usually brought together people that did not necessarily know each other very well, but I was the common connection who took the steps to make it work. I recall doing this more in college, post-college, at various jobs, and I continue to do so today. This was not something that I sought out to do but in hindsight, I guess I unconsciously stepped up because I liked being “the connector.”
Fast forward to today. I have come to realize that I still enjoy bringing people together. As a self-identified introvert, I don’t do this to be the center of attention but rather, like to do the behind-the-scenes planning and then just step back and watch the interactions happen. Presently, I have three examples of active groups that I enjoy devoting my time, talent, and energy toward in order to maintain ongoing and active connections:
“Linking You in Madison, WI” (LinkedIn Group)
This is a group on LinkedIn that I created back in 2008 when LinkedIn was somewhat still in its’ infancy. While I will admit that I don’t do much these days to promote or administer the group any longer, this was an initiative that I created when I had first moved to the area and wanted to create a way to connect people on LinkedIn and also selfishly, post local jobs I was filling within this network.
After an initial slow start, new members started to find this group and used it to promote local events, post job announcements, and network with others from the greater Madison area. Today, the group has just under 4,000 members and has been active for about 11 ½ years. As I mentioned, I don’t devote a lot of time to the group any longer, but since there are so many members, I am reluctant to close the group and will maintain it as long as I can.
“Milwaukee Lake Band Alumni” (Facebook Group)
Some people know that I am a musician (trombone) that played from grade school through college and beyond. My horn has collected a bit of dust over the past few years, but I still manage to play occasionally in church and in a 1940’s style big band. My best musical memories took place starting my freshman year of high school into college when I was a member of a competitive marching band, the Lake Band of Milwaukee. Lake Band was a community band that drew high school and college members from throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. We competed each summer in marching field show competitions across the Midwest and I marched for seven seasons before aging out. Over the years, thousands of young musicians participated in this band until it shut down in the early 2000’s after 50+ years of existence.
Over the years, alumni from the group have held a few reunions, some of which I helped plan, that have brought together former members that have moved across the country. As I saw an opportunity to keep everyone connected, I decided to create an online community, first as a Yahoo Group (remember them?) and eventually as a Facebook Group. Today, our alumni group has just under 500 members, some as old as 80 years old that were part of the early years of the band. I know of at least one marriage that resulted from a re-connection that took place in this group of two former members, and every time I see them, they thank me for providing the platform to bring them together. It just shows that you never know what can come out of a connection, or in this case, a re-connection.
“#StateLineCrew” (Facebook Group, In-Person Events, Zoom Virtual Happy Hour)
The #StateLineCrew is the epitome of an organically created group that has grown and evolved over the past almost two years. At the 2018 SHRM Annual Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, I met, in-person, many human resources professionals that I had previously “met” online through social media. Two people that I met, Mary Williams and Paul Lalonde were from the Chicago area. Toward the end of the event, I remarked that since we were within a few hours drive of each other that we should get together sometime after the conference. In September 2018 I organized a get-together in Milwaukee, WI and posted an open invitation on social media. Mary, Paul, and I, along with several other HR folks met and the rest they say, is history.
Since that initial meeting, the #StateLineCrew “membership” has grown, we organized about eight in-person events in either Illinois or Wisconsin (each adding more attendees), and the group continues to grow. Earlier this year, we decided to create a Facebook Group and added alumni from the previous SHRM Annual Conference Blogger Teams, growing to over 60 online members, and expanding our membership across the country even Canada!
During our current period of social distancing, the #StateLineCrew has remained in touch with weekly “Virtual Happy Hours” held on Zoom, just to stay connected until our next in-person event. I feel that by maintaining the momentum of our group during our current lockdown, our next in-person event will be long overdue and incredible!
All of us as humans have the innate desire to connect with one another, and these are just a few examples of some of my recent ways to act as a “human conjunction.” At times, it can be a lot of work to coordinate busy schedules, plan events, and ensure that we are being as inclusive as possible, but for me it has been time well spent. It is an example of being “better to give than to receive” as I get so much from seeing these events succeed.
Over the years, I have had the ability to connect people from all walks of life and have witnessed many positive outcomes from these connections. As I previously mentioned, these have included marriages, new jobs, relocations, and other valuable interactions and life events that might not have occurred by chance. If I had even a small part in making these things happen, I am forever grateful!
We all need to find our purpose or “function.” I think being a connector has worked well for me and continues to be one of my passions. I look forward to maintaining the groups that I have shared with you as well as those that have yet to be created. The connections never end…