Business networking experts recommend that you spend your social time building “social capital” by developing relationships with useful people (aka, contacts). While these experts constantly invoke the financial value of social capital, they neglect the cost.
We all have a finite amount of time in which to pursue relationships with other people. Wealthy, jobless people might have as much as 16 hours a day for this, but most of us have closer to 3 hours a day.
This time constraint limits the number of meaningful relationships we can have with other people. If a meaningful relationship requires an investment of at least an hour per week, and you only have three hours per day for socializing (i.e., 21 hours per week), then you obviously cannot maintain more than 21 meaningful relationships.
You have to choose which relationships in your life to develop because you do not have time for them all. And that leads us to the fundamental relationship decision you face: Should you socialize with people you enjoy, or with people you find useful? To put the question differently, should you allocate your scarce social time toward networking or toward purely enjoyable socializing?
People you enjoy have two fundamental characteristics: They share your values and are pleasant to be with. It is natural for you to pursue relationships with them because you see these relationships as ends in themselves.
People you find useful might not share your values and might be unpleasant to be around, but they have one fundamental charcteristic: You believe them to be a means to one of your financial objectives.
The only reason you would ever intentionally sacrifice a relationship with someone you enjoy for a relationship with someone who is merely useful is that you believe the money that will result from the useful relationship will bring you more happiness than the enjoyable relationship.
The prophets of networking (i.e., the school of thought that says you should cultivate useful relationships) implicitly advocate the idea that money (and the things it can buy) will create more happiness than loving relationships with other people. This belief, if explicitly stated, would seem false to almost everyone. It is contrary to my experience and, I suspect, to yours.
It is unreasonable to expect business networking to lead to the same level of personal happines as a non-networking lifestyle in which you simply socialize with people you care about. Forget social capital, and spend time with people you love.