THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- The chum parade: Networking's a lifestyle, not an event

The location: Menlo Park, California, home of high performers where every party is a networking event.

So I go to a 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 column like this. But she greets me with a hug, and says, "You look so nice."

Which means, "You are overdressed." So I go upstairs and change and hope that too many people would be vying for her attention for her to notice that I changed clothes in the middle of a party.

Back at the party, in pants and shirt, I fit in. I think. And people had already seen that I was coming. And emailed me about catching up.

You identify yourself in this network by how much funding you have raised and many companies you have started. 

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 I'm meeting for the first time 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!

So I left the party. I told myself that no one would notice. It was a huge crowd, 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. 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 writing online so he probably already knows why I wasn't there. I got dumped.

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.

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: 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 my writing about him.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.