The older I get, the more I realize the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” holds true. It’s a requirement to come to terms with how the world isn’t fair and on the spectrum of that unfairness is being born at a time and in a place where the people you know can not help you get ahead, vs being born the royal prince, and everything in between.
Most of us lie somewhere on that “everything in between.” If you have access to Internet and running water, I bet you do. Then there’s always some sort of opportunity in life, but the further you are over to the left, you have to work exponentially harder to get to the same spot those on the right take one step into. You have to make the first chunk of your life about developing those relationships that may are born with. That’s not impossible, but it sure takes a lot of time and effort out of otherwise being productive.
When I moved to Silicon Valley, I didn’t know anyone. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, and I don’t regret it to this day. But it’s certainly been much harder to make those connections. I could easily watch someone waltz into a role like the one I have, and if they had deep connections across the business world through their family, they could easily make a few phone calls and accomplish the work I do in a few months in one day. And for anyone who wants to start a business, having a wealthy family to support you with angel funding is priceless. Having a wealthy family to catch you in case things don’t work out also helps a lot.
That said, there is one way to make these deep connections if you failed to do this by natural selection. That way is none other than marriage. There are two distinct ways to think about marriage, though in reality one doesn’t exist without the other. Is marriage a partnership about love, or business? The longer I live in Silicon Valley, the longer I realize I’m terribly unwise not to have forced myself to fall in love with a man who is deeply connected. Unlike New York, Silicon Valley is teeming with eligible young bachelors in their 20s and 30s, who, while you wouldn’t know it by their t-shirt and jeans ensembles, are actually quite well connected (and often well on their way to riches, at least on paper.) And I’m a sucker for nerds, so this place should be dating heaven. It’s not even about their bank account, it’s just being able to attend events — whether family events or professional ones — and make those connections. And if you two go to a professional event together and don’t know anyone in the room, you are an incredible networking team.
Instead, I fell for a guy who, while I love him to bits, is a terrible choice as a “marriage” business partner in life. Even though he grew up in Silicon Valley and graduated from one of the top universities in the country, he is not connected, and has no desire to be. Part of that would be sheer luck anyway — he doesn’t have an uncle who is high up at Apple, or an aunt who is a senior executive at Google with a mission to help her family excel in their tech-oriented careers. And part of that is by choice; an introvert with no desire to know anyone or be known, he doesn’t care about technology startups, networking, or a typical modern idea of success. Which is also why I adore him so much. I need to come home to someone who doesn’t live in the same hectic world that I do, and it’s my choice not to make my relationship about business — to leave business to business, and focus on the always-important love aspect.
That said, it sure would be nice to be dating someone who worked at a big technology firm where at the yearly holiday party I could make more connections in one night than I do in a year. Maybe I should have thought of love as a business relationship six years ago when I got into this partnership. I don’t really care to change things now, I’m happy, but still feel tinges of jealousy when I meet other people, especially women, who clearly were a lot smarter in choosing a mate in terms of getting ahead in their own careers.
Of course, I can, and do, focus on networking and building those relationships that are required of professional success. The challenge is keeping those relationships going beyond a LinkedIn connection. If you were “LinkedIn” through family and marriage, your relationships would grow throughout the years as your family gathered for holidays, and didn’t discuss work directly, but it came up on the side (“oh, let’s meet for coffee and talk about your career path in the next few weeks! I just love helping my family out as a mentor.”) When you don’t have that, it takes an incredible amount of time and follow through to maintain the connections you have worked so hard to obtain.