Neil Armstrong. Apollo 11. The Power of Networking. And My Father.
With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing coming up next month and Father’s Day this past weekend, I wanted to share a story about my father and Neil Armstrong. If you are looking for yet another “How To” article on networking for your job search, you will likely be disappointed. But if you are interested in a story about the power of networking and humor, you may enjoy this article.
In the mid-1970’s, my father was a Senior Vice President for the University of Cincinnati. As the Director of the Medical Center at the university, he also had responsibility for obtaining funding from the State of Ohio. Faced with another trip up to the capital in Columbus to lobby the state for a larger share of the annual budget, he knew he needed some help. The University of Cincinnati was not yet a member of the state university system. An “unfair” portion of the budget routinely went to the favored child, Ohio State University. The state senators had grown tired of my father’s speeches. He needed another voice. One that carried a fresh perspective. Enter Neil Armstrong.
After a stellar career as an astronaut, and with Apollo 11 and the moon landing behind him, Neil Armstrong had left NASA and accepted a teaching position in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. Often described as a “reluctant American hero,” he preferred to keep a low profile, teach his courses, and focus on his students and his research. My father, it would seem, had other plans. The university desperately needed more funding, and he figured it could not hurt to ask.
It is said that in networking, it is not always what you know, but rather who you know. My father sought out Neil Armstrong over in the College of Engineering. He presented his proposal. Come with him up to Columbus and ask for increased funding for the university. It would just be a day trip. They usually only gave lip service to this tall, bald physician from that “municipal” university down in Cincinnati. But surely, they would listen to a native son of Ohio. Especially if that native son was also the first man to have ever walked on the moon!
My father promised that he would not ask him to parade his celebrity status in front of these state politicians in exchange for budget dollars. His mere presence beside my father would be the only requirement. Initially reluctant, Neil Armstrong finally relented and agreed to make the trip. As my father shared the trip logistics and thanked him for his support, he added one last request. “Oh, and Neil, one more thing…could you wear your spacesuit?”
I can’t verify the truth of that last statement. But I know my father and his dry sense of humor. Therefore, I don’t doubt it for a minute. I do know for sure that they made the trip together. And I know that they got the funding. Several years later, the University of Cincinnati became a full-fledged member of the Ohio state university system entitled to its fair share of the annual operating budget.
I take away a couple of lessons from this story. Mostly lessons about courage. Look the word courage up in the dictionary, and you will see Neil Armstrong’s picture. From his military career, to test pilot flights and of course to his career as an astronaut, he personified courage. But I also believe it took courage to live his life with humility and grace. To choose not to always trade fame for fortune. They don’t make many like Neil Armstrong anymore.
And on this past Father’s Day, I reflected on how much I miss my father still even today. I miss that sense of humor. And I realize that maybe he taught me my first lesson on the power of networking when he told me his Neil Armstrong story. If you want to build your network, you first need the courage to ask for help. And don’t be afraid to just be yourself. I am pretty confident that will work in your job search as well.
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Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.