Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks
By Alicia Navarro
December 13, 2015

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?” is by Alicia Navarro, CEO of Skimlinks.

In the early days of starting Skimlinks I didn’t have customers, investors, or employees. Instead, I had a huge amount of work to do and no one else to do it but me. It was tempting to focus completely on my workload and ignore the rest of the world, but I forced myself out (with moderation) to attend events, meetups, award shows, conferences, and more.

The fact is that “getting out there,” is an essential part of being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs do not operate in a void, and a company’s success depends on more than just a functional product. The connections you have with the outside world are critical: potential and current customers, fellow entrepreneurs, investors, advisors, etc. Not just because of the business opportunities that can be forged through these encounters, but also a broad diversity of perspectives can only strengthen you and your company. You can’t do it alone, and the most important lesson I’ve learned in my career is the value of networking.

Nevertheless, sometimes, I thought the events were a waste of time. I felt guilty spending time socializing and having a glass of wine rather than tackling the items on my to-do list. Other times, I enjoyed the experiences as they offered a release from the pressure and loneliness of starting a company. And finally, on some occasions, I found myself meeting people and being exposed to ideas that were immediately helpful to my business. The thing is, there is no way of knowing ahead of time which of these three categories an event would fall in.

See also: Never Do This When You’re Starting a New Business

My expectations were often inverted. A happy hour I thought would be futile, turned out to be unexpectedly fun and insightful; or a conference that I spent a lot of money on — anticipating it would be valuable — turned out to be a dud. It is impossible (and distracting) to attend every event and shortsighted to attend none. As an entrepreneur, you have to navigate this uncertainty and figure out how to integrate socializing into your work life.

I found that the only way to navigate this chaos was to have no expectations, and allow myself to be pleasantly surprised if the event turned out great, but also appreciative of a simple night out (even if the event was underwhelming.) I tried to approach each event with an open mind, and to balance my commitments so I wasn’t going to every event purely due to fear of missing out.

Pushing myself to regularly go out and network also taught me the power of never saying “never.” I found that opportunities that may not seem beneficial in the moment often prove so down the road. For example, that random person you met while getting a drink at an event turns out to be friends with a VC and helps you get a meeting. Or the junior person who approaches you after a startup pitch event ends up getting a higher-level job with a key customer of yours, and helps you win a deal you wouldn’t have otherwise won. You never know who will end up being valuable or helpful, so invest in all relationships.

Read all responses to the Leadership Insider question: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

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