Man Encourages Human Connection by Meeting with 10K Strangers
When he experienced a lack of personal connection after college, he made it his mission to meet as many new people as possible.
The desire for human connection is very real, it's literally in our DNA. One UCLA researcher said that being socially connected is our brain's lifelong passion.
Rob Lawless knows this firsthand. He started a project to meet 10,000 different people for one hour each, for no other reason than to have 10,000 meaningful conversations with strangers.
How #Robs10KFriends Came to Be...
Lawless came up with the idea for #Robs10KFriends after college, when he was working as a sales rep for a tech company. He was making cold calls and getting rejected on a daily basis, so he thought the project would balance out the dissatisfaction he was feeling at work and bring back the feelings of friendship and community from college that he sorely missed.
He started by reaching out to people on social media to see if they wanted to get together for a 60-minute conversation. He lives in Philadelphia, so he linked up with local artists and musicians whose work he admired, and the project took off from there.
When Lawless was laid off from his sales job in June 2016, he decided to work on his project fulltime. He's partnered with organizations like WeWork to help make ends meet, and since he started the project he's traveled to over 20 cities in the U.S. and Canada and met with over 2,800 people.
Sparkt Chats with Rob...
Sparkt caught up with Lawless while he was in New York City he'd just finished conversation #2,897.
When I asked him how the project was going and how people were reacting to it, he said the experience has been overly positive.
"There's a lack of listening ears in the world. When people have an opportunity to have someone invest in their story, they feel supported." - Rob Lawless
He talked about the influence of technology and how, while it's great in some ways, it has made our culture much more isolated.
"The only thing you have to do to capture the ultimate value of human connection is by opening up your mouth and saying hello to the person next to you," he said. "But we live in an environment where that is not the normal anymore."
I asked him what his most memorable conversation has been so far, and he told me about a flight attendant for Southwest who, after their meeting, hooked him up with a buddy pass so that he could fly for free. That led him to book a trip to Hawaii, where he made some of the most profound connections of his journey so far.
He said he tries to keep the conversations light, and he tries not to get too tied up in personal beliefs. Sometimes he does get short, one-word answers, but he finds that if you start by asking about a person's background, they tend to open up.
"I grew up in a pretty typical suburb, so when I met a girl who grew up in the woods, off the grid basically, I was interested to hear about how she grew up, since it was such a different experience than my own."
How can YOU start meeting more people?
While Lawless says he doesn't have a specific end goal for his project other than to complete it within 10 years, he hopes that it will inspire others to make deeper connections with those around them.
He encourages those who are interested in doing a similar project (likely, on a much smaller scale) to dive right in.
"Just to start is the biggest thing," he said. "We'll make every excuse not to do it. Just know that it's not going to be perfect right away."
He suggests starting with friends and family members and branch out from there. Once you get more comfortable leading conversations, then he recommends reaching out to strangers.
As for Lawless, he's going to keep plugging away toward his goal of meeting 10,000 strangers. His project has been building momentum (he has an upcoming appearance on Kelly Clarkson's new talk show!), and he's excited to see where his newfound fame leads him. Some folks have suggested he make a documentary or write a book when he's finished, but he's not really thinking about the end goal.
"As cliche as it sounds, I always say it's more about the journey than the destination," he said. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
(Source: images and video c/o Rob Lawless)