01/07/2010 06:36 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Networking Story #2: Vague Discomfort Can Lead to Great Triumph

One of the best things I have done for myself in years was to create a working writers group with my friends Gretchen Rubin and Marci Alboher. We meet to discuss whatever is on our minds every six weeks or so. It's been an incredibly creative, fun, productive and nurturing mini-club for me.

I wrote before about how I met Marci, who's played a big role in my professional and personal life for several years. But perhaps you'd like to know how I came to know Gretchen. Well, I'll tell you, because it illustrates a very useful idea regarding networking and developing social ties.

About three and a half years ago, I received an email from someone named Gretchen Rubin. A mutual friend had forwarded a blog post I had written on "great books about careers that are not career books," in which I made comments about various topics, including Flow and The Enneagram. It turns out that we had both been summer associates at the same law firm but had never met each other. She was exploring happiness-related books, including some of the authors I'd mentioned, and suggested we meet each other.

The mutual friend was Jina, someone I had worked with at Davis Polk a decade before. Jina and I had the kind of friendship/colleagueship where we'd see each other in the elevators and shout, "OMG, I need to see you more often!" "I need to see you more often." "You're so great!" "No, you're so great!" And then we'd go back to our respective offices to draft prospectuses and indentures.

I had no idea that Jina was even aware of my blog, as I had not seen her since a party in San Francisco in 2000, during which event I was distracted by the impending collapse of my internet company, and also I had the vague idea she'd moved to Texas. Plus, I assumed no one ever really read my blog.

Gretchen and I met at Le Pain Quotidien in East 19th Street shortly after this e-introduction, and the rest is history.

Here is what is interesting: when I was going off to meet Gretchen, I didn't think, "How exciting, I'm going to have a great networking meeting with an interesting person!" Nope.

It was more like, "Hey, I feel slightly awkward and don't know if this will amount anything, but I am trying to be a better person and to be more professionally successful by meeting new people."

It turned out Gretchen had felt pretty much the same thing. We were both trying to be better networkers. We were both meeting out of a sense of duty for self-improvement. But, gosh, did it work.

Hence, my lesson: networking doesn't have to be fun to be incredibly valuable.

Indeed, I hold that networking is usually uncomfortable for most people because we are reaching out of the comfort zones that define what we normally do. But when we do so, we can connect with some pretty great people and possibilities.