Remember the post about how I got dumped and still made it to a meeting with a venture capitalist in Menlo Park?
But that’s not actually the end of the story. I got back to my hotel, which, you may recall, I did not even need because I was not staying overnight in that area, and I sat on my bed and cried. Normal. Right? I mean, I did just get dumped.
But then I had to go to a party. For those of you who don’t hang out in Menlo Park, which might be 99% of you, there are no real parties there. For one thing, the ratio of men to women is about 1000 to 1. And the ratio of men with life-of-the-party social skills to women is about 1,000,0000 to 1. So all parties in Menlo Park are actually networking events. The line between work and friends is blurred there more than anywhere else in the world. Most people are very high performers, so they can choose to work only with people they want to be friends with. And most people there work all the time, so they have to tell themselves work is not work—otherwise, when would they be doing their personal life?
I sort of fit in with this crowd. But sometimes I make mistakes. Like, I live in Madison, Wisconsin, where all fashion comes down to some version of fancy camping. When I go to New York, I wear a professional version of fuck-me black, and I feel dressed right every time. In Menlo Park, I thought it would be sort of like New York, but with color. And I don’t really do color. So I did white.
Well, I did white after I cried. You cannot cry in white. So I put my blouse on the chair and put on a t-shirt that is good for blowing my nose into, and I wallowed in sadness for an hour. Then I put on the white blouse and black skirt, and I went downstairs to the party. Yes. It was in my hotel. Moments like this—me making sure that my drama episode is in the same place as my next meeting—is what makes me a smart traveler.
So I go to the party and the first person I see is, unbelievably, the most important person for me to see. She is a woman who has reached out to me and done a bit of mentoring and is maybe a little bit too respected in the world to pop up in a blog post like this. But she greeted me with a hug and she said, “You look so nice.”
Which means, “You are overdressed.” Which I knew when I saw that she was dressed like the guys—the girl version of blue shirt and khakis and ECCO shoes. So I went upstairs and changed and hoped that too many people would be vying for her attention for her to notice that I changed clothes in the middle of the party.
Back at the party, in pants and shirt, I fit in. I think. But it was loud and the idea of mingling killed me. I wanted to just be sad. But because it’s Menlo Park, there was already a social network for people who are going to this party—you identify yourself in this network by how many companies you have started and how much funding you have raised. And people had already seen that I was coming. And emailed me about catching up.
Because people in the top echelons of the business world are fantastic networkers.
Sometimes I think I can keep up with these people. For a long time, I consciously spent one third of my work day reaching out to people and meeting them, whoever they were, to build my network. And it paid off a lot. It gave me more than a few gems, but also, it gave me the stamina for a lifestyle where networking is built into everything I do. I am always thinking about who am I meeting new on any given day.
But what do good networkers do when they want to hide? The first thing I did was make my way through the crowded, noisy room to pick up my badge because it was the last one left on the table and it screamed: Penelope Trunk did not show up!
Then I went to the bathroom. I picked the handicapped stall to get extra room. But I didn’t need space for thinking—I needed alone time. So I left. I left the party. I told myself that no one would notice. It was huge and I am from Wisconsin and no one expects to see me at a place like this anyway.
I ordered room service and I read about the recession, which is like celebrating rainy weather on a day you’re depressed, and then I took the red eye home.
Then I got an email from Ramit Sethi. He said, “Where were you at the party? I thought you’d be there.”
Actually, let me clarify, he first told me that he is doing something on his web site where he is launching a 30-Day Challenge for people to save $1,000.
I tell you this to tell you why amazing networkers are amazing. Ramit genuinely cared that I was M.I.A., and he is also always promoting something. So he counts on people who he genuinely cares about to help promote his stuff because he figures that they genuinely care about him.
And I do. Ramit is really fun and innovative and every time I talk with him I learn something.
So this is what I did with his email: I deleted it. Because I couldn’t think of anything to say about why I wasn’t at the party. Then, later in the week, I told myself that he’s a friend, and he reads my blog—well, he reads the posts that are not too heavy on career advice—so he probably already read the post anyway and knows why I wasn't there. So I should send an email saying I didn’t go to the party because I needed time to sulk. But I didn’t send that because I couldn’t imagine a guy writing that, so I thought maybe it’s alienating for guys if women who are work-friends write them emails about that.
But then, today, I was thinking about how when I was doing my three years of networking three hours a day, I connected with people all over the country, but my most useful network has grown in the Bay Area. And I think that’s because people in the Bay Area are better at networking than anywhere else. And then I asked myself why.
And then I thought: Wait. I have to respond to Ramit. Being non-responsive is exactly the wrong thing to do. So much of networking is just taking the next step to building a closer bond. And the next step is not to hide from the fact that I did not show up at the party.
So here it is. But here’s another networking tip: It’s not enough to write a blog post. I’m going to write Ramit an email. I’ll tell him why I wasn’t there, and then, just as he included a link to his blog, I’ll send him a link to mine. To the post about him.