As we become more involved with technology and social media, it can often seem like the gap between human connections is widening—but Rob Lawless has dedicated countless hours to proving the opposite.
Every day for the last four years, Lawless has made a point of sitting down to have a hour-long face-to-face conversation with at least one stranger. Since he generally tends to meet with as many as four strangers every day, the 28 year-old extrovert from Philadelphia has talked with over 2,800 strangers since 2015.
When asked why, he simply says that he believes that “connecting with other individuals is the most valuable way that I can spend my time.”
When Lawless first got out of college, he landed a corporate job where his sense of connection to humanity quickly dwindled. “When I graduated with my Finance degree in 2013 and became a Business Analyst at Deloitte Consulting, I missed the feeling of familiarity I used to have with [the people] around me,” he told Good News Network.
He was hungry to meet people organically, not in the rigid, corporate environment where there was always an agenda. So, in November of 2015, he decided to launch his 10KFriends project with the lofty goal of using it to meet 10,000 new people—and in July of 2016, after being laid off from his job, he began running the project full-time.
A typical day for Lawless begins with an early morning at the gym, followed by meetings with 4 strangers lasting one hour each. He says that he has “found that number to be the right balance of feeling accomplished while also moving at a sustainable pace.” These meetings happen anywhere—from coffee shops to the beach, or, as was the case with Tyson McDowell, inside a hand-built airplane flying over the coast of San Diego.
Lawless says he feels that, even in just one hour with someone, they can reach a deep, satisfying place in their exchange. Sometimes, the conversations are more superficial, such as simply talking about the Philadelphia Eagles—but they can also be a place to become more vulnerable.
“I’m interested in simply connecting and opening the door to the relationship. I feel no desire to dive into the depths of people’s lives, but if they want to take me there, I’m all ears,” he told GNN. “My conversations are more like two old friends catching up who just haven’t met yet.”
When asked what patterns he sees in meeting thousands of people, he said, very insightfully, “The biggest thing I’ve learned through my project, from meeting people of all ages and levels of success, is that none of us really know what we’re doing with our lives. We’re all just doing the best we can with the resources that we have. I believe that most people walk around thinking that everyone but them has their life together when the reality is that no one, including you, has their life together. Therefore, I think we should all take a little bit of the pressure we put on ourselves off of our shoulders.”
Fortunately, Marsha Sinetar’s quote, “Do what you love; The money will follow,” eventually worked in Lawless’s favor after he lost his job. He hoped he could satisfy not only his interest in people, but his desire to live an entrepreneurial life—and as he has gained momentum with his project, he was right.
“Though I’ve come close to having $0 to my name a couple of times over the last 3 years, I’m now at a place where things seem to be clicking and doors seem to be opening at a faster rate,” mused Lawless. “This summer, I signed on to a 3-month partnership with the co-working space, WeWork, and just signed on to an additional 6 months with them going forward.” He also has plans to speak at various companies and universities.
Since this is more of an extrovert’s activity, I asked Lawless what advice he had for introverts who may want to follow in his footsteps and meet more people.
“I would recommend introverts set a goal for a number of people to meet in a specific time period and then share that goal with their friends so they have assistance in completing it. (I wrote an article on this concept: How to Meet 12 New People in 2019). From there, I think they should build in the expectation that they’ll be nervous or uncomfortable for the first handful of meetings. If they allow themselves space to grow, they won’t be as focused on being perfect conversationalists immediately and can meet new people with less pressure!”
In the offing, Lawless sees a road trip where he meets 10 strangers in all 50 states. It’s taken a little more planning than expected, but 2020 will likely see Lawless behind the wheel. Maybe he’ll even pick up a stranger or two hitchhiking on the highway.
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