Think of networking as a lifestyle, not an event


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.

48 replies
  1. Dave
    Dave says:

    Obviously, you have to live your own life, but I couldn’t help thinking as I read this that I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. So, I’m no networking genius, published author, or succesful entrepeneur (did I spell that right?), but if I need some time to sulk, I can do take it. This is a lifestyle choice, and my choices have perhaps returned less monetary rewards than your choices have given you, but I’ve got to say I don’t feel deprived. I’m well off enough, I’ve traveled, I’ve made contributions to the greater good, I’ve made a marriage work – bottom line, I’m happy with who I am and where I am. Can you say the same?

    I don’t mean that as negative as it might seem – I’m just wondering if you ever take the time to stop and ask yourself if you are going down the right path? Is the cost you are paying worth the benefit you get (or may eventually get)?

  2. Michael Fontaine
    Michael Fontaine says:

    Dave you must be a new reader of Penelope’s blog. I think it is safe to say that there is NO OTHER blogger ever who has put more of her struggle to “take the time to stop and ask” about the right path? OMG that’s what this blog is about 90% of the time – finding the right path for yourself!

  3. Barchbo
    Barchbo says:

    I think it’s so interesting that you want to dress to “fit in” in the room. Not in a judgmental way – I really do find it interesting!
    Shopbop is based in Madison – you should call them. Seriously. They have some amazing fashion that is well beyond fancy camping but not too frou-frou. (I live in Austin, so I get what you mean about the “fancy camping” look.)

  4. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think you did the right thing for yourself by leaving the networking party. You did try so I give you a lot of credit for doing so. If I had the same “dumping” experience, I wouldn’t have been able to even consider a party or networking event. Also if Ramit is as good a friend as you say he is, he will be understanding about the time delayed email response. You have easily made up for it with an email, a post, and your good sense of humor. It says a lot of good things about you. Definitely late than never.

  5. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    I only found myself thinking I was glad I have never been to a party as you described. Intriguing world you move in glad you like it. I rather go to a hockey game.

  6. micsmith
    micsmith says:

    Nice to have you back.

    It is my sincere hope that some of your posts are embellished… it not, and I don’t mean to sound judgemental, you are exhausting.

    And I mean that in a good way.

    How about you cry it you want to… you stay or leave a party if you want to… and you answer Mr. Ramit’s email if you want to…

    Life shouldn’t be that complicated. Although, it does make for an interesting blog and a good read.

    By the way. My money is on the Return of the Farmer.

    I miss him.

  7. Alice Bachini-Smith
    Alice Bachini-Smith says:

    I think there are plenty of advantages to not having a spectacular career! But also plenty of advantages to having one. The important thing either way is to make the most of what you do and what you’ve got, surely. Maybe mix the boundaries up a little. Life is bigger than “work” or “home” on their own.

    (Not telling PT what to do there, just being banal & obvious :) )

  8. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    I love the title of this post! To me, this is the antithesis of your previous post about how you managed to pull yourself together and go to the ‘big’ meeting after you got dumped (and let’s be frank here – it was the 3rd or 4th time he dumped you, you just didn’t talk him out of it this time). You managed to make it thru that presentation, it should have been a piece of cake to go to the networking/party, have a drink or two and call it a night. So why couldn’t you do it? My guess is that you made it thru the first part on pure adrenaline, knowing that this might be your ‘big chance’ and the fear of blowing it. Somehow the networking party just didn’t hold as much importance for you, and that’s where I think you went wrong. That party was, in some ways, more important than the presentation itself. Investors tend to give money to people they genuinely like, and it’s hard to genuinely like someone after a 30 min meeting. But after a few drinks and socializing, well that’s a different story. You blew your chance to really dazzle them with your charm – plus with odds like that, you would probably have met a much more appropriate guy to date – even if you were overdressed. And speaking of which, it is way better to be overdressed and look gorgeous, than to dress like the crowd. I’m sorry, the female version of a blue shirt and khakis is way too conformist for a forward thinking blogger. You should not have changed your clothes – unless you like to wear your insecurities on your sleeve.

  9. RedEye
    RedEye says:

    Does it make you feel any better that since you posted your most recent photo shoot pix that you really don’t have to wear fuck-me black for many of your male (and probably a fair number of your female) readers to be happy to oblige? :-)

  10. Ari Herzog
    Ari Herzog says:

    Speaking of networking clothes, Penelope, is your picture in the top right corner reflective of your camping gear or your fuck-me black?

    I’ve been to Menlo Park. In passing. If their social scene is anything like Palo Alto’s without the college, I know what you mean.

  11. Chris Yeh
    Chris Yeh says:

    I hope that I count as having life-of-the-party social skills…but I rarely go to parties, so I guess they’re wasted.

    You made the right call in not going to the party. There will always be other opportunities to make a good impression. On the other hand, making a bad impression is something that’s difficult to recover from.

    I’m pretty sure Ramit will understand…but don’t expect a response for another day or two. He was in Chicago visiting a coal mine (don’t ask) but should be back tomorrow.

  12. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    Sun’s headquarters are in Menlo Park and I lived and worked there for many years. I do love the dress code. Our CEO Scott McNealy used to say “Sun’s dress code is, you have to dress.”

    Also true that many Bay Area guys have awkward social skills. There’s a legend about an engineer who wanted to propose to his girlfriend so he took her to the family graveyard and said, “My grandfather is buried here, my grandmother is buried there, my dad is buried here, my mom is here. I’ll be in this lot. Do you want to be here?” Ya gotta love ’em.

  13. Erica Douglass
    Erica Douglass says:

    I am amused. Maybe at least partially because I have a couple unanswered emails from Ramit in my inbox. About the 30-day challenge, of course.

    But at least this blog post made me laugh. :)


  14. Steve C.
    Steve C. says:

    Penelope, I was going to tell you a story that came to mind after I heard your first post about your troubles with the farmer on your trip to Sand Hill Drive; but the post just felt too personal to get involved. It made me feel uncomfortable, awkward. But then I read this post, and I felt how huge of an impact the dumping had on you, messing up a major gig on you out here in the center of the VC universe(and a whole lot of over-rated, phony self-promoters who got lucky simply by being in the right place at the right time),and the thought came back to me.
    I worked with a guy in construction years ago. He was a guy who just drew women to him like a magnetic force, everywhere, all the time, without ever trying. Uneducated, even a little dumb, but street-smart and rugged, street-fighter tough; a paradox of sorts, hard to describe almost. Wicked Italian handsome, a good bad boy. The guy had it all in the land of love. I was impressed.
    He once said to me something along the lines of: “did you ever notice how when you dump someone, they never forget you, but if they dump you, in like no time at all it’s like they never even knew you?” I understood this at first to be a confession that he too had been dumped before, a thought that was reassuring and unsettling at the same time.
    Over all this time I have remembered that conversation, and it has since occurred to me that if you are feeling insecure about a relationship, like maybe you’re about to get dumped or being cheated on, maybe the smartest, gutsiest move is to dump the other person first; sort of like, “The best defense is a good offense” strategy. I’m not so sure anymore that he wasn’t revealing one of his secrets to me instead of revealing his failures.
    It’s a risky move to be sure, but if you feel like your losing at love, what have you got to lose? Losing at love is the worst emotion to deal with in life, maybe even worse than losing a loved one,except maybe a child. It’s terrible. You know they’re having sex with your replacement, all that stuff. Awful, painfull, tormenting thoughts.
    So here’s the thing: what if that’s the farmer’s game? There is obviously plenty about you to be intimidated and threatened by, physically and intellectually; yet at the same time, you cannot seem to resist exposing your vulnerabilities and fears, right out here for everyone to read, all over the world.
    And the more I think about it, anyone who would do something like that to you at that particular moment, knowing full well(unless he’s freaking brain-dead)how important that day was to you, is either so totally self-absorbed as to be pratically useless to any other human being, or is just a psychopathic prick-of misery.
    Well, maybe that’s a little harsh, and maybe he’s really just a scared little wimpy hiding under that independent self-made-man rugged individual farmer thing, who just doesn’t have a clue how to deal with you being in his life.
    Either way, my advice to you is to dump him right back, which is to say, don’t go back. Which in your case means, don’t go back and don’t blog about him anymore, not even a hint that his actions have any impact on any thing in your life anymore, ever.
    Of course, that’s assuming that you want to get him back, right?
    By the way, WTF are you doing in Wisconsin, anyway? I don’t get that part at all, unless it’s some sort of self-imposed purgatory or something. Isn’t Wisconsin best know for cheese and hockey?
    Steve C.

  15. Anca
    Anca says:

    That 30-day challenge sure is getting a lot of mention on various blogs. Sure wish it lived up to the hype or at least was served with less attitude.

  16. astrorainfall
    astrorainfall says:

    On the contrary, I think it was a good idea you left the party, Penelope. You were in no state to promote yourself effectively and you might as well be banging your head against the wall repeatedly. Take care, and heal your emotional wounds. We all know you’ll get through it.

  17. Bee
    Bee says:

    ‘Fancy camping’ made me laugh. I know exactly what you mean. I also used to live in New York but now live in Madison, Wisconsin. My $700 pairs of shoes are definitely NOT appreciated by the ladies with permed mullets and pleated khakis at my office. I think people think I’m crazy, but I don’t care!

  18. dartmouth01
    dartmouth01 says:

    Your musings about the human factors surrounding the wonderful world of entrepreneurship are fascinating. Often times your experiences have helped me understand issues that I know have bothered me in the past but was never able to verbalize myself (and even in the wonderful business of toymaking there are many similar issues to deal with). Now, to tie this comment back to your post, your last statement about “it not being enough to write a blog post”, I wonder if in the near future this might not be true. Just a few years ago I was taught that email should not be used for most networking situations, and that a call or a letter was a more appropriate method of communication. And before that, just after the advent of the telephone I am sure social convention deemed calling to be too informal and telegrams/letters to be the preferred method of contact. Now that email has become a mainstay of networking, it seems possible to me that blogging,twittering,and “stalking” via facebook would be a natural and acceptable progression in the evolution of “networking”…..

  19. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    @ Penelope

    As I have mega-lunch (really, they are meetings with mentors, clients and prospects) every day last, this and the next week, I so agree with the networking bit.

    But I do not get this whole thing about women dressing like men to mix with them. Men still notice we are women, you know. No hiding there. Ask any man if a woman wearing khakis, blue shirts and Ecco shoes* has ever successfully confused them about her gender. So why not keep DvF in business?

    * In Europe, only old ladies, who have tea and cupcakes at 4, wear Ecco shoes. So this one made me laugh out loud.

  20. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    I see people trying incredibly hard to “work it” via networking. Do they have to work that hard, always on, to make a decent living? Or, it’s not enough to make a decent living, they are looking for an extraordinary living (I don’t mean that to sound as judgemental as it does – I just want to figure out what makes them tick)? I have a very small network, and am satisfied with my success. I can’t imagine a prize that would make me want to always be working it. Is everybody else really calling people all day to chat, and meeting for drinks every night?

  21. Mark F.
    Mark F. says:

    1. Timing is everything so skipping out to go back to your room was smart…right time and right place/ wrong time wrong place
    2. Good to see you value friendships in the face of adversity and personal stress ( emailing Ramit)
    3. You will work it out, you always do… but it will suck for a while till you work thru the anxiety of the situation…
    4. I am not sure all the voyeurism is eliciting the type of support you need to deal with a situation that most of us could never deal with beyond our closest circle of friends. You may choose not to edit the posts on this site, but hopefully you filter all the expert advise as you work it out…
    I am hoping to hear from the Happier Penelope in the near future…and think most of your friends and followers are too!!!

  22. Rob Dromgoole
    Rob Dromgoole says:

    How refreshing to read someone who really puts themselves out there. I saw you speak at ERE and loved your passion and emotion about Generation Y (even though I disagreed with some points) your presentation was by far the best. Keep up the great work Penelope. There are so few who speak their truth. You are an inspiration.

  23. Lauren
    Lauren says:

    You made a painful situation funny and enjoyable to read. Kudos and the catharsis and relfection is also a great way for you to heal. I’ve spent a lifetime at those SillyValley parties. There’s always another one. You’ll dazzle them next time. And anyway, VCs generally don’t make investment decisions at parties.

  24. Jennifer Lynn
    Jennifer Lynn says:


    Permed mullets and pleated khakis? Wow.

    My Manhattan colleagues and I cry tears of fashion for you and your fabulous shoes.

  25. Cathy @ RiseSmart
    Cathy @ RiseSmart says:

    I love the way you say to look at networking as a lifestyle and not an event. That way you build it into your life. It can become who you are and a natural part of your daily routine. What a good way to approach networking. Also, don’t beat yourself up over not staying at that party. When you don’t feel it, you will not project a good image. It would have been a waste of time.

  26. jenX67
    jenX67 says:

    Menlo Park and networking – that is so far from my virtual PR shop and humble home office (the kitchen table) where I watch my kids scoot each other around in a Tonka truck all day long. I felt like a voyeur reading about it, and for a split second I questioned my own relevance and the world even felt dangerous. What’s up with me, anyway? Then, I thought about what you were really saying about networking. It does come down to respect and being genuine. Which is precisely why you should never, ever change your clothes in the middle of such an event again. You’re too brilliant for that. You didn’t get the memo? No. You ARE the memo. Let everyone else change.

  27. Maurice
    Maurice says:

    isnt the point o fnetworking to stand out a bit and karkies and blue shirts what is this are all the guys to repressed to just to waear jeans and a t shirt if tehy want to dress down.

    The only time i flet over dressed was when I went to an interview in central london all suited and booted and soem guy on the street asked me if I knew where the IVY was

  28. Dale
    Dale says:

    Do you really need these people to be successful?

    They all seem so shallow and self absorbed. I am not a financial success – and my statement above probably explains why – but seeing and being seen seems so 80’s.

    I guess I missed the point of it all.

  29. John
    John says:

    What the hell was this post *about,* besides more self-absorption?

    If they amputated your navel, what would you spend your day gazing at?

  30. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    It’s interesting that you are so sensitive to what’s unsaid.

    “But she greeted me with a hug and she said, ‘You look so nice.’ Which means, ‘You are overdressed.'”

    If someone told me I looked nice, I would smile and say thank you. Not as a mask – unless someone is obviously being sarcastic, I tend to assume that people mean what they say.

    Maybe that’s an indication of lack of emotional intelligence because I do know intellectually that people don’t always mean what they say.

    But actually, I think my instinct is quite useful because pretending not to notice subtle digs is a very good defence mechanism – their words simply fall flat and my lack of reaction takes any sting or power out of it. So my reaction tends to be the same regardless of what I think the other person’s motivation or intent is.

    Also, I don’t think being slightly overdressed is a big deal. If someone came round to my house for a barbeque wearing a party frock, I would probably exclaim “wow, you’re all dressed up”. But I would mean it in a good way. Even if everyone else is wearing jeans I think the dress is fine. Being underdressed is far worse.

  31. Dianna
    Dianna says:


    I love your comment because I grew up in an environment – very working class – where people said what they meant (oh, yes, were very loud). I married into a family that was the opposite and it took me a long time to adjust to the words and the meanings not matching. I will say that it did help me in the business world.

  32. Steve C.
    Steve C. says:


    After reading Caitlin’s comment, I can’t help but wonder who this important person was, who was so effective at manipulating you? It’s easy to figure out why someone would do something like that, if you happen to have spent any time around pithy little snits, especially in the domain of the wealthy class, where around 98% of the people had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with acquiring the wealth they are so good at spending. But, didn’t you grow up around teenage girls in middle-school and high-school? You must know that many of these adolescents never really do grow up and become adults, don’t you?

    The funny thing is, if you had ignored the comment and gone about your business and enjoyed the party, she probably would have bolted and come back in an outfit similar to yours in no time at all. But then, what would you have written about?

    Whoever it was, if she didn’t notice what a great job she did by your reaction at the party, she sure knows about it now after reading your post.

    Penelope, the reason why these kinds of people know about you and read your blog is because your blog is successful and you are the influential one, probably not the other way around.

    Of course, I’m assuming some hidden meaning here in what might really have been an innocent compliment, but your reaction leads me to think other wise, of the dark places.

    Come on, whoever you are. We know you’re out there somewhere in Penelope-land. Fess up and clear the air here, will ya?

    Steve C.

  33. Karen Phone
    Karen Phone says:

    If I can network with cool people that I enjoy their company and input socially then that’s fine. It is dealing with the smarmy idiots that I struggle with.

  34. ISO 9001 Accreditation
    ISO 9001 Accreditation says:

    Great article Penelope. You certainly have some great knowledge that could help a huge lot of people. Especially with these times where jobs are the main concern for any one. Cheers. Appreciate all your wok

  35. Women's Fancy Dress
    Women's Fancy Dress says:

    Its kind of interesting and at the same time to imagine being at a party with the sole purpose of networking as opposed to having a good time etc.

    Especially with myself not being to great at meeting new people i think i would struggle to feel comfortable there! Don’t envy you on that front.

    Great and at the same time interesting post.


  36. Antiques
    Antiques says:

    @ Fancy Dress
    Of course you should still be having a good time. A great time, as a matter of fact. You’re just attempting to add goals when you meet with people. Make it into a game, seeing what you can accomplish, and have fun at the same time.

  37. paul @ fancy dress
    paul @ fancy dress says:

    Networking is the best way of introducing yourself to a community or a new neighbourhood. When we moved house we got invited to what we thought was a local party and we found some excellent friends aswell as some business opportunities.

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