Ray: I don’t care what it’s for. It’s soft. I’m on it. It’s mine.

We’ve shared our house with a pair of cats for over twelve years now. Ray and his brother Luke have been sweet and (in general) pleasant companions on the road of life. Sadly, Ray developed cancer about six months ago and on Wednesday afternoon we finally had to let him go. His once solid sixteen pound frame had shrunk to only eight. When he couldn’t even muster the interest to eat his beloved tuna, we knew it was time.

Thinking back on my time with him, I realize that Ray had a lot of lessons to teach about networking, if we only had paid attention.

Like most cats, Ray believed himself to be an independent iconoclast — going his own way without a care in the world. Of course, when mealtime came, it was up to us to make sure that bowl had lots of kibble. Oh, and, servants, my litter box needs cleaning! Yeah, he was “independent”. We entrepreneurs and networkers have to remember the same thing. We count on others to achieve our successes. Clients, vendors, employees, doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance agents — the list goes on and on — these are the folks we need to have in our network.

Unlike many cats, Ray was almost aggressively friendly. He liked most folks and would quickly flop over on his back to have his tummy scratched. You could usually hear him purring from across the room. People loved him almost immediately. He had discovered a secret that’s still hard for a lot of networkers: In order to build strong relationships, we have to make ourselves a little vulnerable. Are you willing to share some details of your personal life so that people will see you as a person instead of a position in a company?

On cold days, Ray would camp out on the heat registers. His self-satisfied smile said that he knew where the best seat in the house was. For as long as the warm air was flowing, that was where he was going to be. It never occurred to him that he should wait for the heat to come to him somewhere else. Similarly, networkers need to remember that they are the ones who are going to have to reach out to create the connections. They have to go where they can meet people and they have to be the ones to follow up. They can’t afford to think that others are going to come to them.

One lesson Ray never picked up on, but it was only because he was such a lover. He assumed that everyone would love him. Unfortunately, this included a number of people who had horrible cat allergies. He just assumed that the more time he spent with them the more they would love him. As networkers we do want people to like us and want to make strong connections with everyone. Sometimes, though, the chemistry just isn’t there and we just need to move along. Remember that for every one person who doesn’t want to connect, there are probably four others who are ready and waiting.

I’m going to miss Ray. He was a sweet spirit who shared our lives for all too short a span. At times he could do the silliest things that would make us laugh and laugh. At others he could be solemn and almost compassionate. I’ve seen him curl up in the laps of more than one person who has been feeling a little down, almost as if he were lending some moral support. He brought a lot of joy to this household.

Wherever he is now, I hope there’s lots of catnip and sunbeams.