Items Needed: Ability to listen, possibly some creativity, $0
Challenge: Meet 1 new person per day for a full month and reflect on each person/conversation
Comfort zones. We all have them. And usually these are something that we don’t realize we are in until we take the time to reflect on where we are at in life. I have talked to many people who, after college, struggle meeting people with similar interests, career aspirations, religious views, or general hobbies. Some people find ways around this such as traveling to meet established friends in places around the world. But many people may not have this luxury. Moving to a new place and trying to meet new people is a daunting task. It requires an extroverted personality or the ability to get out of your comfort zone that you have had with some of your closest friends over the past 4-5 years. If you are stuck in this position, or if you just want a new perspective on how diversity plays a role in the area you are currently living in, dedicate the next thirty days to meeting somebody new on a daily basis.
For the past thirty days, I had set out to meet somebody new every day. These conversations and interactions happened in bars, restaurants, airports, coffee shops, the workplace, and established events. The challenge required a little bit of commitment on my end of leaving my apartment on days I didn’t feel like engaging in conversation, as well as the acceptance that I was going to spend money on drinks, coffee, food, etc. to have these interactions. This is something that can easily be steered around if you are the financially-conscious person who worries about spending $1.50 a day on coffee, but if you allow yourself to do just that, it may contribute to fully engaging and having the most positive outcome possible. Before starting, make a list of several bars and coffee shops in your area. Look around (apps such as Meetups) for new events and conventions that may peak your interest. Take 15-20 minutes every night to write down the experience you had. Remember the person’s name. Their occupation. Stories that you engaged in. At the end of thirty days you’ll look back and realize that you met a variety of people from all different backgrounds. You will also realize that it isn’t that hard to truly engage in a conversation with a random person, find common ground, and make connections for the future that you may want to leverage for a social evening, job opportunity, future wife, etc.
Over the past thirty days, I have met a plethora of people: Lawyers, students, dancers (yes, her name was Candy), engineers from Italy, landscapers, CPA financial accountants, an owner of a cab company in NJ, Flux Pavilion’s managers, bartenders, Chicago young professionals, single mothers on a budget, an executive director from U of R, government officials, and a guy who owned two veterinary hospitals in Nebraska (conversation started after his 5th double vodka cranberry in an hour).
These conversations were all started by me. All it took was the polite initiative to jump into a conversation at a pausing point commenting on the topic at hand, or a simple “Hi, I’m Justyn. What’s your name?” I hit a few people that were over ecstatic to have a conversation, while others were up in the air. Each conversation went in a different direction. Each one contributed more and more towards my knowledge of certain areas of the world and the personalities attributed to the areas that each person was from. Let’s be honest, the Jersey cab company owner did most of the talking that night.
One main thing to remember is that many people have a front until a conversation actually starts. While traveling, I had the luxury of sitting in first class from ORD to ROC. A family of 4 was sitting behind me and asked to switch seats with the guy that eventually sat next to me. As he sat down, he seemed like he was going to be that pretentious guy flying first class that didn’t want anything to do with the person next to him. After an initial conversation starter and 7-8 drinks each, I learned more about hospital/university fundraising than I ever thought possible. He was returning from a 15 day trip from Southeast Asia, Norway, Finland, and South Korea, ready to relax for Thanksgiving after attending and running events directed towards alumni and donors of the university and hospital that he worked at. He was originally in law, and after realizing he wanted to take a different career path, ended up going this route. Of course the pet conversation had to come up, and the convincing started about feeding his cat Purina.
On the other hand, I met a guy who went by “Boody” while in Chicago visiting my brother. Not all conversations were business oriented, and this one ended in trying to help Boody back into the bar, as he stood on the fence, although he kept asking for help getting out of the bar. He was already outside the bar, and I believe that night ended up with him passed out in a bush outside of that very same area. One hospital trip later and with two staples in my head, I still don’t believe in the fact that everything is better “in moderation.” In moderation, would he have the ability to tell his kids that story when they hit their teenage years?
All of these conversations led me to a few conclusions:
-There is no possible way to judge somebody’s career/profession/character based solely on their looks
-The few blocks around your home/apartment contain the knowledge and connections of a 70-year old CEO of a global, billion dollar company
-The majority of people are highly receptive to conversation if you have the ability to start it
-If you think you know something, find somebody who disagrees and truly listen. You’ll usually be surprised.
At the end of the day, this experience helped me realize that people often stereotype the areas that they are in as a “one personality” type place. In actuality, most areas in the world contain contrast personalities of all sorts. When you listen and meet somebody new, you can easily get down to a fundamental level and realize that a) you have more in common with regular, everyday people than you think, and c) (because the damn b ) changes to a smiley face on this computer) everybody has their own quirks and challenges that make them an individual. Take the hour or two out of your day to listen and meet new people. Each experience will help alter or further concrete your view on the world and the people around you.