I recently began reading the classic networking manual Never Eat Alone. I’m just not that into it.
To an introvert, saying Never Eat Alone is like saying Never Go to the Bathroom Alone.
The book begins with author Keith Ferazzi’s life story. He came from a modest background, and I appreciated his insights on how to infiltrate the upper classes (see Bullish: Social Class in the Office). Moral? People will often help you if you just ask, and ask audaciously.
But then Ferazzi goes on to brag that his network now includes 5,000 people who will pick up the phone whenever he calls. I had that feeling you get if you’re talking to a guy you like and then he says something like, “You live where? Oh yeah, I’ve fucked a lot of girls in that neighborhood.”
I mean, if someone brags that he has 5,000 people who will instantly pick up the phone when he calls, why would I want to be number 5,001?
In such a case, either you’ve just met a genetic freak of an extrovert, or else you’re a notch in someone’s spreadsheet, and by spreadsheet, I mean the one in which that someone is recording your birthday and the names of your family members so he can later approach you with a firm handshake and a shit-eating grin and ask about your husband Pete and whether he still likes the Patriots, amIright?
I’d rather be part of a braintrust of 6-12 people who know that I like and respect them very much because there are only 5-11 other people in that club.
But hey, I’m an introvert (see last week’s Bullish: How to Be a Lone Unicorn).
Here are some thoughts about networking for nerds, geeks, dorks, introverts, awkward savants, and people with important and solitary things to do.
Note: If you’re a true extrovert, you have to work with what you’ve got. This article isn’t really for you, although it might help you understand some of your acquaintances better. (You might enjoy Bullish: F*ck Corporate Personality Tests and Take Control of Your Personality.)
What it means to be an introvert
I am an introvert, and I am good at public speaking. I have made an audience of NYU business school students spontaneously applaud my solution to a math problem. Introverts are often performers. Managers. Bartenders. They’re just not minglers.
For an introvert, social events are draining. Meeting new people is draining. It’s like a video game in which life energy, represented by a tiny bar chart in the corner, is waning precipitously!
My gentleman friend has been apprised: I would be delighted to meet all his friends and family! I just need to not be surprised. I have to know it’s coming. He should absolutely not make plans with me and then spontaneously invite other people along. That is like someone asking if they can kiss you and instead putting all of their fingers up your nose. It’s a bit invasive.
Introverts can get “overstimulated” by social contact. This has something to do with why I liked taking the crazy hormones they put me on when I donated eggs – at least the ones that made me feel imperturbable, like a man-stereotype. (See Bullish: What Egg Donation Taught Me About Being a Dude.)
From Psychology Today:
“Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence, they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one. Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.”
That’s pretty much what I’m saying. Oh, and this:
“Introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they’d rather find meaning than bliss—making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture.”
Yes, this. For instance: Some people are out there trying to cure cancer, and the thing about science is that you usually have to try dozens or hundreds of things that fail before you try something that succeeds. This leads to low scores on the rate-your-happiness-four-times-a-day scale. Who gives a shit? Trying to cure cancer is an excellent way to spend one’s life. We should do hard things that are worthwhile, so when we’re on our deathbeds, we have something better to say than, “I spent decades on the couch watching reruns and masturbating with a fat fucking idiot grin on my face.”
A quiet, reflective lifestyle can help you succeed
Introversion can be a competitive advantage. It’s why my articles are so dense – I’ve spent the last twenty years reading far more words per day than a person who, OMG, just loves people! Some people will talk to anyone. This takes time.
Some things really are a zero-sum game. And people in real life express far fewer insightful thoughts and verifiable facts per 1,000 words than nearly any published source. Reading is better than people. Because everything you read was created by people – people who generally put much more thought and research into their writing than anyone can possibly put into casually talking out loud. Plenty of dead people’s books are much better than many living people’s running monologues.
Being an introvert hasn’t stopped me from reaching you online. It hasn’t stopped me from starting companies, speaking at colleges, publishing all kinds of things, and consistently increasing my income by more than 30% per year ever since I moved to New York in 2003.
In fact, I feel that being an introvert leads to far superior networking opportunities. Introverts simply make more good stuff. We write most of the books, invent most of the inventions, do most of the science.
Conversations with new people are more meaningful when your work precedes you; for this to happen, you have to have work that can precede you. You have to sit alone in a room and make something. That’s hard. It can only happen if one shuts one’s yapping fucking mouth for awhile.
Here is an excellent post about social media as a godsend for introverts.
You can definitely “network” too much
In Bullish: Three Career F*ckups I Made So You Don’t Have To, I detailed some of the mistakes I made as a young entrepreneur. Here’s another one: confusing networking with actual work.
As the owner of a web design and internet marketing firm, I needed to sell. So I joined a variety of networking groups: the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Women Business Owners, etc. I spent maybe a hundred bucks a month on admission fees and memberships, and drove all over town, killing evening after evening.
At these events, many of the people I met were other salespeople. We’d do the obligatory, “If I meet anyone who needs what you’re selling, I’ll send them your way.” We’d exchange cards. It wasn’t that productive.
Do you know someone who wants to be writer and so reads lots of books and magazines about writing? That’s “writer porn.” It’s totally possible to do “business porn” – getting off on talking about your business, having nice business cards, and perfecting your elevator pitch, without ever turning a profit or creating real value. Talking is not doing. Having a network is pointless unless you create something your network believes in enough to genuinely spread the word about.
For me, as a dysfunctional first-time entrepreneur, going to events was an excuse not to do the hardest, most important things. (See Bullish Life: Breaking Free From Terrible Situations.)
You do have to do some networking. Probably. You don’t necessarily have to do it in person, but, in 90% of careers, it’s important. Bullish exists because I met Jennifer Wright of TheGloss at a networking event. But I go to about three of those per year, and when I follow up, I really fucking follow up.
Before you head out to your next event, ask yourself:
– Have you followed up on the contacts from the last event?
– If you meet someone amazing, what do you have to pitch or sell?
– If you meet someone amazing, what do you have to offer? Why would such a person be interested in talking to you?
– What’s the endgame? What do you hope to get from this?
If you just want to be in a club, or can’t stand to be alone, or are substituting busy-ness for value, you’re probably networking for the wrong reasons. (Need tips on getting real work done instead? Try the Pomodoro technique, consider time tracking, and/or hold a ladies’ working brunch.)
A few actions you can take
I’ve always felt that the “pick one goal and go out and chase it and never say no for an answer” school of achievement was a bit … phallic. There’s nothing wrong with creating a web of value and contribution that brings people in to you.
To do that, you have to be so good at something that you cannot be ignored. (Google “10,000 hours” and the theory of “deliberate practice” for more on building expertise.)
You have to pitch – something I talk about all the time (here, for instance). But you can do that over email, to other introverts. Just do it often, and assertively.
If you do go to live networking events, find out ahead of time who the participants are and contact them over social media, leaving clever links to your own work in your signature. There’s no point in going to something where you’re just going to stand along a wall and look like you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Make normal friends – especially if you’re young – and make an effort to create depth in those friendships. (More here.)
Start a blog, or a portfolio website, showcasing your work (see Bullish: Basing Your Career on a Resume is Like Competing in a Brothel Lineup). Get out there by commenting on other people’s blogs, complimenting people willy-nilly, emailing your icons to ask for advice, and otherwise being literate around other literate people.
You’ll certainly fly under the radar of certain social butterflies – the sort who obnoxiously look over your shoulder while you’re talking to see if they can find a more famous person to verbally fellate. That’s cool. We don’t need those people anyway.