Giving thanks (and nurturing your network) in the digital age

By Kelly Cleary

As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, hopefully most of us are finding a quiet moment here and there to reflect on what we are thankful for, including the people who have positively impacted our lives. I was prompted to formally write this kind of list last week when I was creating a “career network map” of people who influenced my career path while I was preparing for a career and major exploration workshop.  As I filled in the names of family members, teachers, coaches, supervisors and colleagues in the circles on my little map, I realized that these people not only influenced my academic and career plans, but they also helped make my life more interesting, fulfilling and fun. Of course, this overlap of personal and professional isn’t surprising since most of us spend the great majority of our waking hours at school or at work.

While self-reflection and taking stock in what is important to you is a worthwhile exercise in and of itself, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to reach out to the important people in your lives to let them know that we appreciate them. For those people you aren’t in contact with very often, it’s also a chance to give them an update on what’s going on in your life. In our fast-paced world it’s easy to lose touch with people. Certainly Facebook and other social media have made it much easier to know what friends and acquaintances are doing or thinking about (and letting them know you “like” whatever it is they posted), but how often do you make the time to have meaningful connections or conversations?

I’m not necessarily recommending you write a panegyric to your favorite high school teacher, but a quick note to say, “Remember me? I really enjoyed your class in 10th grade, and it’s proven to be really helpful in getting me through my writing intensive course this term. In fact, I’m thinking about declaring an English major. I just wanted to send a quick note to thank you for being such a wonderful teacher,” could really make their day.

This is also a great time of year to reconnect with supervisors and colleagues from past internships or jobs to let them know that you’re still benefitting from what they taught you during the time you worked together and to give them an update on your latest academic or career interests and plans. It might also prompt a conversation that could open doors to new opportunities for you. It’s also a good time to reach out to alumni who’ve taken the time to do informational interviews with you in the past. Again, it doesn’t have to be a long letter, just sending a couple of sentences to express your gratitude will brighten someone’s day, and perhaps prompt them to offer some you some words of wisdom or valuable tips for your upcoming job or internship search.

It’s easy to put off writing thank you notes, but here are just a few suggestions for quick ways to say thanks to the people on your “I appreciate you” list:

  • Post a personalized message of thanks on their Facebook page.
  •  Tweet your thanks and praise (if the subject of the praise is a fellow Tweeter.)
  • Write a blog about them …I’ll have to find a way to forward this post to Mr. McCarthy whose voice I still hear when I’m reminded of Silas Marner, Caesar, or the experience of being exhilarated in a classroom learning something new from a great teacher.
  • Write a recommendation on their LinkedIn page.
  • Send a short, or long, email (or a handwritten letter) to let them know how they’ve helped you and why you appreciate them.
  • Pick up the phone! We spend a crazy amount of time talking, texting, and listing to music on our phones. Next time you find yourself walking across campus, take the time to call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. If you’re pressed for time, it’s ok to say, “Sorry this is short, but I was thinking about you and I just wanted to say, thanks.” You’ll probably just get their voicemail, but it’s still a nice way to make a connection and brighten someone’s day.

And THANK YOU, our Penn & Beyond readers. I greatly appreciate having the opportunity to meet with and advise Penn students and alumni on their careers and to work alongside my exemplary Penn colleagues. Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Author: Kelly

Kelly Cleary is the Senior Associate Director of Career Services for College of Arts & Sciences undergraduates.