I Was Wrong… It Really Is Who You Know

I Was Wrong... It Really Is Who You KnowIt’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

I’ve always hated this saying.  It implies that hard work won’t get you as far as knowing someone will.

As if you can get further just by knowing people instead of busting your butt!

It’s insane… but I think it’s true.

From my first job, all I ever did was bust my @#$ doing the best I could.  While others played around at the companies I was at, I always focused on the job at hand.

In my mind, that’s what I was getting paid to do – work.  So that’s exactly what I did.

It wasn’t that I was a non-social guy before – I just figured that if someone’s paying me for my time, it should really be spent doing what I was hired to do.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve done all right in my career life.  In fact, somehow I seemed to find my way into middle management at almost every job I’ve had.

Funny enough, middle management might be the worst position at any company – non-management employees don’t have the same stress and those running the companies enjoy the big bucks.  Meanwhile, you get stuck in the middle!

Regardless, I don’t mind it and I’ve been the Systems Engineers Manager at my current employer for the last 13 out of 19 years I’ve worked there.

But is putting your nose to the grind the optimal way to go in life?


Shall we do some networking?

I Was Wrong... It Really Is Who You Know - Networking
I wouldn’t even make it to this little lunch event because I refuse to do anything but brown-bag it every day!

Networking… yuck.  I’ve never been in sales, but between the sales department at my job and my brother who also does this for a living, I’ve seen up close how this goes.

A regular part of the job is to entertain clients.  It might be as simple as taking the customer out to lunch or possibly drinks after work.  Or maybe it’s taking the client out golfing or to a ball game.

From those that I talk to, they seem to enjoy it.  It comes with the job and they seem to make some good relationships out of the deal.  It’s something that some people are just born good at and instinctively enjoy.

However, there will always be some real jerks or pain-in-the-butt customers that you have to entertain as well.  And that sounds miserable to me.

I always found that odd – it’s a business – why should you have to kiss someone’s @#$ to keep their loyalty?!

Nevertheless, it’s something that the account managers I know tend to enjoy.  Maybe I have more of an engineering mindset than a sales mindset.

Regardless, those that are good at their job always seem to have good connections when they need ’em.

Hmm, maybe an important part of life really is who you know?


The Connection King

I Was Wrong... It Really Is Who You Know - The Connection King
I think it would be cool if I could get him to wear a crown like this around the office every day.

I’ve realized from the masters that relationships matter… a lot.

The VP and sales manager of our IT company (who’s also my mentor) might be the king of networking.  He makes it his entire business to build relationships and forge connections and he does a fantastic job of it.

He connects people looking for jobs and needing good help.  He pulls strings to help out others whenever he can.  He finds ways to fix issues and make people happy.  That’s just what he does and he loves it.

In essence, though, he’s built such a vast network of contacts over the years that he can solve most of his problems with a simple phone call.  It’s actually pretty incredible.

When people need help with something, he generally comes to mind and they reach out to him.  I wouldn’t say that others then feel obligated to him, but they’re always more than willing to go out of their way whenever he needs a favor.

This is the epitome of “who you know” in action.


Making some relationships of my own

I Was Wrong... It Really Is Who You Know - Making some relationships of my own
The best part about this picture is that if you look closely you can see a Windows XP log on the monitor… that’s some ancient stuff!

I’m a sociable guy – it’s just my nature.  When I’m in line at the store, waiting to order beer at the bar, or talking to customer service on the phone I strike up a conversation.  It’s just small talk, but it tends to put people at ease.

At work though, I’ve always just focused on the actual job at hand.  Weird, right?

However, over maybe the past couple of years or so, I’ve decided to start opening up a little more while at my job.  Instead of just putting my nose down and focusing solely on what needs to be done, I’ve been taking more time to talk to coworkers and the bosses.

It’s interesting because it bothers me when I’m not getting everything done in the most efficient manner as possible.  But, on the other hand, it’s good to get to know my peers and bosses at a deeper level.

And guess what – I’ve seen a change.  I noticed that the more I get to know people, the more they want to open up.  And the more they open up, the more connections or opportunities seem to arise.

Some things were pretty straight-forward and simple.  When my wife and I wanted to see a big show, one of my contacts stepped up, reached out to some others, and got us front-row, center-stage tickets for the event.

Other opportunities were more valuable.  For example, when I was focused on getting into rental properties, I had a good friend that stepped up to be another financial mentor of mine.

Not only did he help me understand the numbers and what to look for better, but he actually spends hours of his time touring many of the properties with me.  That resulted in us purchasing the solid cash-flowing duplex we now own.


Who you know in the blogosphere

Even today with Route to Retire, I’m learning that relationships matter and who you know helps.

I think the biggest difference with the blog vs my 9-5 employment has to do with the people.  Most of the folks I meet at the technology conferences or the IT vendors that come into the office turn me off.  It’s a world I no longer have an interest in.

However, I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people at personal finance meetups and conferences.  The friendships are real and have happened organically.  But the relationships are also valuable.

I Was Wrong... It Really Is Who You Know - Who you know in the blogosphere
There we are… John and I. Friends for life… two old dogs. But, he’s the older dog, of course!

Here’s an example.  When I decided to go to FinCon for the first time in 2017, I had a choice.  I could concentrate more on the sessions or focus on meeting people.

Because the sessions are recorded and can be viewed later, I attended a lot less of the sessions than I normally would for conferences for my regular job.  Instead, my main goal was just to get to know all those like-minded folks out there in the personal finance community.

There was no pressure and I wasn’t after anything.  I sincerely just wanted to get to know as many folks as I could and share some laughs… and of course, some beer.

However, those real relationships turned out to be more than just chummy friendships.  Sometimes knowing people makes a difference.

For instance, I met John from ESI Money at FinCon and didn’t really know who he was at the time (sorry, John!).  But we hit it off (he’ll deny that), laughed a lot, and hung out quite a bit while there.

What I didn’t know was that he was in the process of buying Rockstar Finance.  And it wouldn’t have mattered regardless.

However, a number of months down the line, John was gracious enough to ask me to be the guest curator for Rockstar Finance.  He also recently invited me to write a guest post for his site, which draws a large amount of traffic.

Both of these are fantastic opportunities that I’m truly grateful for.

But I’ll be honest – if I had just put my nose to the grind and focused solely on the business side of my blog and attending all the sessions, I probably wouldn’t have met John or been presented with those opportunities.

I’m not saying that working hard isn’t important – far from it.  I’m just saying that sometimes the best shots in life come from those who you know.

And to make it clear, I didn’t meet or hang out with John to get those breaks.  He’s just a good guy who wants to help others be successful at what they do and because he now knows me, was willing to give me (along with countless others) a shot at some opportunities.


Making it real

I Was Wrong... It Really Is Who You Know - Making it real
I wonder if this is a real connection or if they’re just thinking that it’s all about who you know?!

I think we all know that who you know can be helpful in life.  I just never realized until the past couple of years that it can sometimes be even just as valuable as the work itself in a lot of scenarios.

And now I know.  But I’ve also realized that I don’t want to just make connections with those that I think can help me get further.  I think that’s a bad start to any relationship and totally phony.

Instead, I plan to continue to focus on just meeting like-minded people and finding that authentic rapport that actually matters.  Real friendships with real people.

These are the folks that I’ll continue to help out when they need it.  And from there, I would bet that if and when opportunities arise, I might come to mind for someone to reach out to.


What do you think ends up being more important – what you know or who you know?


Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

38 thoughts on “I Was Wrong… It Really Is Who You Know”

  1. It’s always both – your ability/skills + the people you know. You can’t succeed with just one. John asked you to curate but he won’t ask you again if you did a bad job. He wouldn’t publish what you wrote if it was bad. Knowing him isn’t enough… you have to be able to deliver too. 🙂

    1. Oh, boy – guess I’m in trouble then! 😉 Just kidding – completely agree that you need to have something to back it up. Having the relationship might just open the door for an opportunity to start with. After that, it’s up to the individual to come through with some skills.

      — Jim

  2. I couldn’t agree more with this post.

    Because 1.) this is exactly how I’ve gotten all of my “good jobs” and 2.) This is where the best opportunities will present themselves.

    I was looking for it in your post but didn’t see it. You should read the book “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazi (if you haven’t already). It’s all about this subject of networking and how far it can take you. I highly recommend it!


  3. It’s easy to fall for the why should I network it takes away from my time doing trap. I also did earlier in my career. But these days I’m at a level such that without those connections I wouldn’t get things done. Essentially my very productivity depends on knowing who to call similar to your friend. So even if we’re not talking about job opportunity it matters for productivity.

  4. My big takeaway is that you didn’t talk to John with the goal of getting some of that sweet SEO+traffic action. We can all smell through that phony bs.

    It’s funny how these things work out. You never know how important someone you met might end up being down the line.

    Thanks Jim!

    1. Very true, Gonzalo – it was just good to have some laughs with someone that shared common interests. He’s a great guy and it just happened to work out in my favor a couple times.

      — Jim

  5. Real relationships matter. In a career, yes. But more importantly, in life. It’s always good to take time to build relationships, especially when the focus isn’t on what you can gain from it. Who knows, you might just end up with a free dinner sometime. Wink. Good post.

    1. Yeah, you’re someone I could have written this whole post about as well! You’re another king of the relationships! What’s important though is that the relationships are real – you truly enjoy meeting people and the friendships that are born from those meetings. You’re not trying to just stack a Rolodex of contacts… even though I bet you still have a Rolodex that you use! 😉

      — Jim

      PS I do enjoy free dinners!

  6. Oh definitely! I’ve seen very successful people that never worked hard, but they were incredible communicators and great at networking.

    In a big corporate environment with lots of politics these kinds of people can really thrive. In small companies it’s more about getting the work done, but relationships matter there too.

  7. Shari, State of O FI O

    As someone who suffers from the occasional bout of social awkwardness, I can be tempted to hide in class but have found that when I make the decision that it’s okay to be uncomfortable, I have never been disappointed with the results. Kudos to you for experimenting in relationships over learning! It sounds like it will continue to pay dividends.

  8. Like you, I can strike up a conversation waiting in line, but in my engineering career I tended to work, work, work and not talk as much. And I commuted a ton, which means that now that I’m retired, I don’t have many friends from those days here in my town. Plus being a woman in engineering, it is hard to continue even the best friendships with my guy friends.

    Recently our rentals have needed several emergency repairs. My husband is always the DIYer and drops everything to get things fixed. He really is able to do most any repair. But because of this, we know few people to call when things break. Lately we are questioning whether we are “really” retired. This isn’t passive investing. So, I thought I would add that to the list of reasons that it IS who you know.

    1. Sounds like we both had the same work ethic on-the-job, Susan!

      That’s always a tough one with the rentals. I think Paula Pant from Afford Anything made a great point when discussing how she actually appreciates that her rentals are not local. The reason is similar to your problem in that she would want to just handle the issue herself because it would be cheaper to do. However, just like you’re saying, handling it yourself ends up taking a little bit of the passive out of investing. 🙂

      — Jim

  9. This one really bugs me, but it’s true. Who you know gets you in the door, and what you know keeps you around. I’ve watched plenty of others get roles because of their connections. And it can’t just be that you’ve worked together briefly. I find that I need to build solid relationships in the corporate world in order to progress. It can be hard to connect while working, so each time I get up for food or a walk, I ask a colleague if they want to join. This has definitely improved my relationships.

  10. Um, great pictures and captions, Jim!! Haha

    Relationships are where it’s at, no doubt. My best moments in life thus far have been with people.

    I’m really glad I read this before FinCon. Thanks for the great reminder 😉

  11. In me very brief time as a blogger and member of the PF community, I have to say that connecting with the people has been hands down my favorite part of the journey so far. I’ve been able to communicate with so many awesome folks that I would have never gotten to meet otherwise, and it’s produced all sorts of unexpected opportunities as well!

    As an aside, I’m attending my first FinCon this year and I’ve got a running list of people I owe beers. If we run into each other there may be one with your name on it too 🙂

    1. It’s definitely a blessing that we get to meet so many like-minded people in the PF community. Not only a true friendships developed, but the ideas that come from community tend to help us move more steadily on the path to FI.

      — Jim

      PS Mmmm…. beer. 😉

  12. I agree with Jim that it’s both too. I’m not very good at networking so that part is always tough for me. FinCon is a great opportunity to meet like-minded bloggers, though. It’s really awesome. Everyone is down to earth and it’s great to put faces to the names. I don’t think I’ll make it this year due to a conflict. I’ll try my best to attend next year.

    1. Haha, it figures you’ll probably be going to FinCon next year – I’m guessing I’ll be out for next year since that will be right after our move to Panama. 🙂

      — Jim

  13. For this introvert it has been a challenge networking. I worked my way up the career ladder by working hard, producing great work, along with a little networking. A recent job reorganization left me in a position to re-establish my network and grow my network. One key to this is to maintain your network – especially when you do not necessarily need it. Also, when networking, even if you need help, offer something up front that may help your network – the members will be more willing to help.

    1. Those are great points, R2E! I like the part about maintaining your network – it takes a long time to build up a good network, but not that long to lose those connections.

      — Jim

  14. I’m pretty introverted, and when you’re standing on that side of the fence, you see that this is true, but it can be extremely irritating. At this point in life I’ve mostly accepted that when I go to conferences, I’m not the guy that would strike up a conversation randomly. It’s just not something I can usually do. So, those opportunites you have are great, but I know I’ll never get them.

    My challenge to people like you that have that natural ability to connect with others, is to try to make that connection with those that might be standing on the sidelines. I’m sure it was easy to connect with John because you’re both outgoing and social people, but that might have left someone else standing in the sidelines that, if an outgoing person had approached them, could have been brought into the fold in a way that they probably couldn’t do themselves. If John does that too, maybe he’ll find the next great curator from the group of people that don’t have that natural ability to strike up that proverbial conversation.

    1. I can see how that can be hard to make connections in all occasions when you’re introverted (I used to be very shy!). But I bet there are still opportunities that you can take advantage of at the conferences. In smaller groups, I would think it might be a little easier to talk to people. I notice at the conferences I go to that when I’m sitting at lunch with people I don’t know, it starts out real quiet with everyone staring at their plates and cell phones. Then one person gets the nerve to ask where someone else is from and before you know it, the whole table’s talking. It’s like a chain reaction.

      Even so, networking doesn’t just have to take place with people you don’t know. A work place is probably one of the best places to make connections and this is with people you likely already know and talk to every day. Some of my best connections are coworkers that I’ve become closer with over time.

      I get it though – it’s tougher to network when it’s hard to talk to people. I wish I had something better I can add. 🙁

      — Jim

  15. It took me a long time to learn that just keeping your head down and doing a good job is not enough. I used to think that your work should speak for itself and considered “networking” a dirty word. Maybe it was just my defense mechanism as an introvert to downplay the importance of a skill I wasn’t very good at. Anyway, over the last few years I’ve learned that I can speak up and get to know people even if it doesn’t come naturally to me. And in that time I’ve gotten promoted twice and formed some really great relationships. Who you know isn’t everything, but it is certainly a big piece of the puzzle.

  16. I tend to get along with people easly and I’d willingly and happily help if I can without expecting any return.
    However keeping up (or keeping on touch) with others is a nightmare and really feels like energy concuming. I am not sure if I get the networking thing correcte!!

    1. I’m with you on that – it’s almost like a full-time job staying in touch with people. I think the key is to just occasionally check in on others without any motive except to see how they’re doing, even it’s it just a quick email or phone call. Still a difficult thing to do and not something I’ve mastered by far. 🙂

      — Jim

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