Networking means making real friends.

I took my kids to a four-day music workshop in Boston. The kids play fiddle music at home and the workshop is with a fiddle player they love: Brian Wicklund. But the workshop was terrible, so we quit the first day.

Now we are tourists in Boston. So I go through my list of people who I know who I would want to hang out with in Boston, and the list is really long. If I were here with no kids.

I call Ryan Paugh. I started Brazen Careerist with him. And one of the notable things about my relationship with him is that he was fresh out of college when I met him, and I had a falling-apart marriage, and he used to babysit my kids while I went to meetings with investors.

So when I tell the kids we are going to see Ryan Paugh, they high-five each other and say, “Oh yeah! This is the best music workshop ever!”

1. Your network is people who will really go to bat for you.
We have a bit of a cash problem here in Boston. I lost my ATM card in Illinois, and I couldn’t get a replacement, becuase you can’t get a replacement if you’re out of state. So they had to mail it to me, so I just took out $1000 cash. I thought I would never need more than that at a music workshop.

But I forgot that we don’t have luggage. I know that’s a big thing to forget, but we travel so much that we were already packed from going to cello lessons in Chicago the week before. So on the way to the Milwaukee airport I stopped and bought luggage, with cash.

Then we got to Boston and I realized that I should have rented a car, but now I couldn’t, because I don’t have a credit card. So we took cabs. That was another chunk of money. And then we stopped at Whole Foods to buy gluten free food for the week. And you can’t walk into Whole Foods without dropping $200.

All this would have been fine if we had just gone to the music workshop. I mean, not fine, but manageable. But it became unmanageable when we quit the workshop.

So I decided that we will take a cab from Newton to a Chase branch in Boston and withdraw more money. I use the Chase iPhone app to locate a Chase. We take a $60 cab ride to the address. It turns out that it’s not a bank branch. It’s corporate offices. There are no Chase branches in Boston. Can the person who oversees the Chase iPhone app please identify himself so I can kill him?

The kids are in the cab, playing video games, as if nothing is wrong, and the cab fare is getting so high that I don’t have cash to pay for it. I realize that I have an $8000 check in my wallet, though. So I can deposit it into my Wells Fargo account and then beg them to let me withdraw money right away.

But there is no Wells Fargo in Boston either.

I call Melissa because she’s the only person who understands how I can be so incompetent with money. Everyone else will say to me,  “Stop being so irresponsible!” “Just do better!” “Hire someone to help you!” Melissa understands why none of this advice is useful.

Melissa opened an account for me at Wells Fargo because she banks at Wells Fargo so every time I get into trouble, she can access my account and fix it. This time, she deposits cash into my account from hers and it’s available right away.

Almost right away. We sit in the cab, running up the meter, waiting for the cash to be available so I can use my Wells Fargo card.

So far the kids think Boston is great. Video games all day long.

2. Work hard on a few workplace friendships. You’ll leverage them later.
Ryan meets us at a bike rental place downtown. The kids ride their bikes around in the park while I talk to Ryan on the pier. Part of the deal, when I founded Brazen Careerist with him, is that he moved to Madison. It’s way more fun to do a company with people who are with you. And I wanted fun.

But Madison is a very small city to grow a big career, so he went to Boston and started YEC. That stands for Young Entrepreneur Council. That company is a great example of how Ryan can create value out of air. It’s a group of young CEOs who have revenue of a few million. Or something like that. There’s a cutoff. And it’s a way for them all to help each other and get to know each other.

Ryan has done a great job of riding the trend toward private networks. He tells me about how people want to apply to join, but they can’t even fill out an application unless they have a sponsor from the group. And then they get rejected for not having enough revenue. He tells me about an app YEC is developing to help members find people to meet up with when they travel.

I think:

1. Ryan is a good person for me to know because I can get someone into YEC and I will look very connected.

2. It’s amazing to me that entrepreneurs today are focused on how much revenue they have instead of how much money they’ve raised. That’s a big shift in the last ten years.

I get upset with myself that Ryan has already built a new company and I am struggling to make time to write. I hate that he has an app to find cool people to meet up with if you don’t have kids.

We leave Ryan to go work at his incubator space, and we ride bikes up the Charles River.

But there is a detour, and we actually ride bikes at one of the biggest traffic interchanges in Boston, and I cross a highway against the light, and my younger son screams at me to pay attention, and I want to say, “I can’t pay attention because we are lost and I can’t read a map and my phone needs charging.” But I just move back to the curb.

The kids are hungry. I have money in Wells Fargo, but I’m scared to spend it. I just like having it there. So I tell them they have to drink tap water. But they are scared to drink tap water because I don’t let them drink it on the farm because I think the laws in Wisconsin are too lenient with farmers dumping nitrates into their land.

The kids throw fits about buying bottled water. Which turn into fits about Gatorade. Which resolves at six Sponge Bob popsicles.

3. Network with people who inspire you, but can’t necessarily get you work.
The next day the kids won’t leave the hotel. It’s hard to go from life on a farm to riding bikes on city streets. So I say fine.

I email a friend from graduate school, John McCoy, to come visit me at the hotel. He knows the version of me who wore the same clothes every day and turned in story after story about my endlessly incompetent sex-life for credit toward a master’s degree I never got.

John has three graduate degrees, which is pretty common in Boston. He runs the Boston College art museum. He’d say, “Well, I don’t actually run it.” But I can’t remember his title, and anyway, I’m great at inflating peoples’ titles without lying, so I think this is a fair example of that. He runs enough of it to say “runs.”

We talk about how Boston College exhibited a Caravaggio unearthed in Ireland. Ireland doesn’t know enough to forbid art like that to leave the country, and also, it was found at some Jesuit place, and Boston College is Jesuit-run, and the Jesuits stick together.

That enabled John to get a John Singer Sargent exhibit. “The fabric is abstract,” he says. And I know what he means. I have Seargant paintings in my head. But I never realized that’s what I was seeing in the painting.

He talks more about art and I panic that I am not talking to intellectuals enough. I am in Farmland. I am with kids.

John’s wife is at Boston College. He says she has become the Queen of Plato.

I say: “Really? I thought Susan Okin is Queen of Plato.” Now I worry that everything I learned in college is irrelevant; I can’t even hold my own in the world of feminist deconstruction of The Republic.

Marina McCoy. That’s John’s wife. Her next book is about how virtue and vulnerability go together.  “Remember the beginning of the Iliad?”

I say yes, because I remember not understanding it.

He says, “Remember how Aphrodite gets struck by an arrow and Zeus says, who cares, you’ll never die anyway? And then when people get killed, thoughout the book, Homer makes a big deal about it, and goes back to the person’s childhood and through their life. It’s because there is no virtue in living unless that life is vulnerable.”

I immediately see a career parallel, of course. You cannot connect with people if you cannot show them where you’re weak. People don’t have a capacity to care about someone who is not vulnerable. So there is no point in networking with people you won’t connect enough with to show a weak side of yourself.

Keith Ferrazzi says this well in Never Eat Alone. But I think Marina says it better in her published paper, which of course I haven’t read. But that’s why I don’t really fit in Boston: I want all the interesting theories without the work of sitting in school slogging through difficult reading.

4. Helping other people is a huge part of networking.
The next day the kids don’t want to leave the hotel room. They practice cello and violin in order to see one more episode of The Regular Show. Which I love, by the way. I love how silly it is. And random. Here’s a good episode.

Then I say the kids have to leave the room, so they swim at the pool, which is swanky and looks more like a bar with a pool than a pool with a bar. The only shady spot is next to the lifeguard, so I sit there and read Garden & Gun, which really is surprisingly high brow. It’s grit and snobbery of the South rolled up into one, overly self-conscious magazine.

My kids wrestle in the pool and look as if they are drowning, but the lifeguard has seen them swim, so she’s watching unfazed. I watch the men at the bar watch her watching. It’s absurd how many men have come over to talk with her. She is dressed in shorts and a t-shirt instead of a bathing suit, her hair is in a pony tail, and she reads Chelsea Handler when the kids take a break.

One guy will not leave her alone, and I can see she’s frustrated. When he finally leaves, I say, “The men are just like that in corporate jobs, too.”

She is surprised.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’m telling you this because I used to work at the beach and I was blown away by how much the men bugged me. But when I got older and had a corporate job I realized that dealing with the men was good training for my career because it never stops.”

We talked about her job. Her college life. What she wants to do.

I gave her my email address on a pool-soaked bar receipt. That’s good networking.



55 replies
    • Don
      Don says:

      Ryan, I need to ask a serious question. Have you gotten treatment yet for anorexia nervosa? It’s a serious condition and may effect your fertility, assuming you are straight at all.

  1. Don
    Don says:

    This post is way too long to be effective. You could have probably published with half the words and it would be more widely read. It simply rambles and rambles when it doesn’t need to. Also, only a small portion of the advice is good, the rest is just you whining about how incompetent you are with money, which is why you are broke and an Obama supporter in spite of being in your 40’s when you are supposed to be wise and mature.

  2. David Perry
    David Perry says:

    Penelope – true words where never spoken. It’s about really ‘connecting’ with real people. Thank you so much for writing this. it’s FANTASTIC advice for everyone.

  3. Roberta
    Roberta says:

    Ah yes, Boston. Our mayor, Mayor Menino calls it a world class city. And yet, no Chase. No Wells Fargo…………..hmmmmm world class my **s!

    Anyway, hope you had fun in spite of that. The thing I like best about living here is that I can walk anywhere.

    Too bad the Newton Music School thing didn’t work out. Have a safe trip home.

  4. Universal Management
    Universal Management says:

    Sixty-buck cab fares? Have you never heard of public transportation? Boston has pretty decent public transportation that will get most of the way there for peanuts.

    Let me suggest that you get your kids to help organize you when you travel. Let them help pack. Let them be responsible for their own luggage.

    You are teaching them fear of ordinary stuff (water), pickiness, disorganization, and an utterly wacky relationship to money. How does this serve them?

    • Sarah Rain
      Sarah Rain says:

      It really is arrogant to take cabs when you’re low on cash, especially in a city where it’s not necessary. It would make a lot of sense to empower your kids by putting them in charge of more stuff. Right now, you’re teaching them that the way to get through life is to be incompetent and to throw money at their problems to fix them. (And that throwing fits gets them junk food, but anyway.) If you paid someone to handle your travel logistics that’d be proactive at least even if it wasn’t teaching them the skills they’ll need if they’re ever not rich. But instead you’re screwing up and getting other people to bail you out, which is not going to help them as adults.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Great example of the type of person who thinks they can just solve money problems for other people.

      If you are in a major city with no money and two kids, it’s much safer to be in a cab, where the driver can take you back to your hotel if you can’t find money. Which might happen, if, for example, you take the T to the Chase branch and it’s not a branch.


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I had the impression that the public transportation rather then cab rides might have helped not to get into the money pickle in the first place. Once you are on the last cent choices become pretty limited. Had the same issue once in Milan, Italy, when very few of the ATMs would read my card….

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          I actually think the link you provided is very interesting and unfortunately also wrong in many parts. Most prominently in how he presents the approach to building models: the starting point is always the most simple one with the fewest variables, not the most complex model. Only if the most simple ones do not work out one will build on complexity after testing and comparing with experiment.

          And human nature prevents often from doing just that by incorrectly assessing the magnitude by which a parameter influences life. Risk perception is one example, being shot by a mugger on the street is much less likely than having a household accident, but we build the avoidance of darks streets in our life but do not pay that much attention to household safety.

          The money spending described in the post is an example of narrowing the model by (presumably) overspending, which then leaves very little choices on how to act. It is more a self-inflicted simplification of the model. At the end only one parameter is left and thus only one trajectory for action.

      • D
        D says:

        Oh c’mon, when’s the last time you took public transportation, with kids or without?

        Lately I’ve been making a point of using it instead of cabs and it’s lots of fun. Most recently I took BART all over San Francisco. Before that, Vienna and Berlin.

      • Mobie
        Mobie says:

        The public transit can also take you back to your hotel!
        You do seem to have a very strange spending habit. Especially because this is all while travelling.

        But then again, I’m quite sure that this blog also defines the line between the very wealthy and the middle class. Perhaps your money habits just come from the fact that you have lots of it to spend!

  5. Harriet Husbands
    Harriet Husbands says:

    My son owns a couple of restaurants in Boston. If you’re still there you can call him and tell him his mother said to give you the VIP treatment. Let me know if you want the info.

    I enjoyed your post.

  6. Ashley A
    Ashley A says:

    This is so true. I think you’re better off with a network of 60 people, say, that you know well, than with a network of 1,000 that consists mostly of contacts that barely know and care about you. Brilliant yet again Penelope! You are so insightful!

  7. karelys
    karelys says:

    I want to read Marina’s paper so bad now!

    ps. I’ll be working from home soon/watching my kid. There should be a tab you write about great material to read just so that we won’t turn into people with one angle. I think this can happen if you don’t grow on purpose, even if you work outside the home and have no kids that watch silly shows.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I read the about page at the Garden and Gun magazine web site and think about “having it all”. Thanks for the link to the Regular Show’s Death Bear episode. I get so much more out of this blog than just career advice.

  9. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    You wrote, “I want all the interesting theories without the work of sitting in school slogging through difficult reading.”

    I have found that’s one of the great things about blogs and podcasts. You don’t have to do that.

    Btw, I thought your back up plan for getting money was clever. You figured out a way to cope with one of your own foibles. It doesn’t necessarily mean your sons will imitate it, but it might mean they will learn what not to do.

  10. Debt Free Teen
    Debt Free Teen says:

    Never Eat Alone is one of my favorite books!

    I think this comment is so true “People don’t have a capacity to care about someone who is not vulnerable. So there is no point in networking with people you won’t connect enough with to show a weak side of yourself.”


  11. Rachel D.
    Rachel D. says:

    I was connected with a small agency previously and networking and bringing in clients was super easy because small agency means they need your business to survive….vulnerability.

    Now I’m connected to a big nationwide firm and everybody thinks I don’t need them anymore. They think corporate is taking care of you and you’re secure, when in reality, you’re even less secure than you were with the small outfit. The company doesn’t care about you, and your clients think you don’t need them. It’s bizarre.

    That’s why I started my silly little blog. Everything is turned upside down and I need a new outlook. Networking should be fun, and it just isn’t anymore at this place.

  12. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    I went to a week long string teachers workshop less than a month ago. It was strikingly different than the annual state music educators convention. Everyone I talked about this with at the the workshop had a similar thought about the striking difference.

    That difference was vulnerability and an ability to be real. The state convention is about “networking,” and vendors, and several concurrent, hour-long presentations, and hundreds of people. The workshop had a strong 60-70 people. Although the days were planned out and segmented, with specific presenters, it was a time for sharing and letting down your guard–not about looking good to others. The master teachers that were there even shared their struggles.

    That was one of the only times I ever felt good about, and wasn’t having an anxiety attack during, professional networking. And I actually felt like I made connections that were beyond superficial–that I wouldn’t feel out of place asking for a favor.

  13. MA
    MA says:

    Instead of riding a cab around town searching for cash, have one kid carry a prepaid Visa for his mother’s emergencies. No? Worried that he might do something stupid with it? Seriously?

  14. Lilly26
    Lilly26 says:

    Penelope! I’d love to buy you a coffee whenever you have time in Boston. Thank you so much for all of your help! Hope you have fun!

  15. Julia
    Julia says:

    So what’s the best way to deal with guys bugging you in the corporate world? Had to ask since you sound like the expert!

  16. Mina Jiang
    Mina Jiang says:


    I have been a long time silent reader but have to shout out since you are in my neighborhood. Boston is totally confusing geographically. I have been living here for fifteen years now and know how to navigate my way around only because I am familiar with the area. But if I had to give someone actual directions, forget it. Nothing is linear here!

    In any case, if you and kids are still in Boston area and need some suburb sanctuary (Lexington with young kids, iPads, and greenery) send me an email. Seriously. Also, toally understand why you would cab around despite not having cash when you are with kids in a new, very confusing place. I would do the same.

    BTW, it is great that I can ID all the places in the posted photos.

  17. Liz Seda
    Liz Seda says:

    I realize that there is a higher purpose to this post than what I’m about to comment about, but I really just can’t help myself.

    WTF is the point of having an app/gps/other thing that’s supposed to get you somewhere if it doesn’t F-ing work.

    I’ve lived in the same place for two years and I still get lost going to the grocery store. This technology is imperative to my survival in a world where streets have two names and sometimes stop being streets at all and instead become parking lots or whatever else streets turn into when they’re to busy to stay put.

    Do you know how many times I’ve gone to a Starbucks following my google maps only to find some other coffee establishment. As if I was searching for synonyms to Starbucks.

    Who the F uses a consumer app to go to corporate offices for a bank? No one. If they feel like they have to include it to feel like they have a well rounded app, then I’m ok with that, but can you at least say that normal people have no business going to that location?

    And yes. Great post. You and Ashley Ambridge can take an ordinary day and turn it into a vital lesson about business while entertaining your audience. Lessons please?

  18. Marina
    Marina says:

    HI Penelope.
    Thanks for the thoughtful write-up on the book. It’s kind of my husband to suggest that I am the Queen of Plato, but alas I think he is biased in my favor. There are certainly others more advanced in their careers in that regard! The book that John was referring to is not yet out….it will be early 2013 when it is published under the title Wounded Heroes by Oxford U Press. Just takes a little while to get it from written to printed stage. I will be happy to let you know once it is in print. The essay to which you link is a talk that I gave several years ago that was some of my earliest thinking about the idea.

  19. Robinsh
    Robinsh says:

    I hate reading your blog not because it sucks but only because I love reading it word by word and that takes a lot of time due to your habit of detailing the story.

    Anyway every time when I comes here at your blog I learns a lot and now I know that what matter during networking.

  20. Senait
    Senait says:

    I really enjoyed this post. The point on vulnerability is so true. I guess you really have to be confident in yourself to be vulnerable in public. Which you are.

    But I don’t understand this, you said:

    “You cannot connect with people if you cannot show them where you’re weak. People don’t have a capacity to care about someone who is not vulnerable. So there is no point in networking with people you won’t connect enough with to show a weak side of yourself.”

    I get the first part, but I don’t understand why there is no point in connecting with people you won’t connect enough with? This does sound like you may be talking about specializing in something, and honing your interests? Is that it? Because I’m not sure why anybody or anyone is not worth connecting with?

    I realize not all of us share the same beliefs in life, but how do you decide who is not worth connecting with, and who, if you showed your weaknesses, would not be a profitable connection for you? Just curious.

  21. Bettina
    Bettina says:


    what are the scenarios where you don’t have access to money?

    You can’t find your sole ATM card.

    You don’t have credit cards.

    I really want to solve this problem for you, even though the idea of giving one of your sons a prepaid card sounds like it could work.

  22. Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel
    Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel says:

    Well, I was out of a job in 2007 and the economy was fairly bad **ahem** for my selected career of “marketing.” So I started going to professional networking events. Man, it felt like a funeral to me. So uncomfortable. But, I kept at it. I kept showing up to the same meetings week after week and introducing myself over and over again. And, wouldn’t you know it? People were friendly. They were helpful. They were supportive. And, I made a few friends that I still have to this day. Did it suck? Was it hard? Yes. But honestly, as usual, the hard stuff is where you grow and where you learn. I learned the value of an honest to goodness network of people who will help and support. In good times and in bad.

  23. Margaret M.
    Margaret M. says:

    This is advice I give to my husband all the time. Everyone thinks networking is going to Chamber of Commerce mixers and handing out business cards. And everyone hates that because it’s so weird and phony, because it is. He tells me he hates networking, but I tell him he loves becoming friends with people and becoming good friends with coworkers. He loves going to parties with our friends and meeting their friends and getting to know them. And that’s networking.

  24. Henrico Otto
    Henrico Otto says:

    The post is mistitled. The post is a narcissistic rant about the burdens of having kids; “oh woe is me, I can’t be cool like other people I’m jealous of, all because I have kids.” That theory is mostly likely false — there are other reasons you aren’t that cool — and judging by the looks of your kids, even after a number of years you still haven’t owned the fact that you do have kids, you are spending your time wishing you had a different life. Hope your kids don’t read the blog, though it probably doesn’t matter that much, because your narcissism likely infuses your whole life in any event.

    The references to “friends” are all about what they can do for you; and no descriptions revealing “real” friendship.

  25. Alicia Roberts
    Alicia Roberts says:

    Your younger son looks exactly like a male version of you. I mean that as a compliment, he looks adorable.

  26. mysticaltyger
    mysticaltyger says:

    Penelope, you are absolutely INSANE in the way you blow money left and right. It’s unfathomable to me that you just went out and bought luggage. And you only have one credit card?

  27. Sarah Protzman Howlett
    Sarah Protzman Howlett says:

    Amen on #3—networking with people for reasons other than mooching editors’ email addresses off ’em. (With a little digging, they’re not too hard to find on your own anyway.)

    I wrote a similar piece on the perils of social isolation with freelancing for Carol Tice’s blog yesterday. It’s here: Enjoy (and learn from my mistakes)!


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