On November 11th, 2016, I published an article titled, Rethinking Networking: How I spent 1 hour with 500 individuals in 1 year. Now, nearly 6 months later, I’ve met another 500 individuals bringing me to 1,000 people met and 10% of the way to my goal of spending 1 hour with 10,000 different people.
I realize that most people don’t have the time to dedicate their entire days to making friends with strangers, but as someone who’s taken on that challenge through my project, Robs10kFriends, I wanted to share with you why I started this, how I’ve done it and what I’ve learned.
As a fresh Penn State graduate back in January of 2014, I captured one of my many thoughts in my iPhone notes: “Introduce myself to 10,000 people in one year. 200 people/week. 40 people/day (weekends off). 10 min conversation = 7 hrs/day.” This idea was all part of my plan to become an overnight success. I figured, “I’ll do this crazy thing, it’ll get all of this attention, I’ll become rich in my 20s and I’ll never have to work another day in my life! Easy, right?!” Don’t worry, I already know this was a terrible idea, which is why it sat in my iPhone notes until September 2015 when I decided to take action on it with a different approach.
In September of 2015, I set out to flip the idea of becoming an overnight success on its head and meet 10,000 different people, this time spending 1 hour with them to learn about their lives and see what comes of opening doors for no particular reason. I wanted to recreate the sense of familiarity I had with those around me at Penn State. I wanted to escape having to sit behind a computer working in Excel and PowerPoint for the next 40 years of my life. I wanted to very patiently and methodically build something amazing over a long period of time. So I started reaching out to people to take part in this project and as you can see in the chart below, it took me two months to finally meet the first person (Jim Brady of BillyPenn.com) in November 2015.
Over the next 7 months, I added a total of 123 new faces to my project while working full-time as a sales rep until my company was acquired in July 2016, leaving me laid off at the end of June. At that time, I decided to take my project full-time and since then, have dedicated nearly every day of my life to meeting multiple new people, hearing their stories, and sharing them on my Instagram page.
As my following grew, so did the messages of people reaching out to be part of my project, as well as the press coverage and support that I received from those closest to me. This Christmas (a time when my own savings were starting to run dry), my brother, Chuck, and I laid our heads down to bed in the shared room of our cruise when he leaned over and handed me a card. In it was a check for 4 months’ rent to help sustain me financially as I continued progressing towards my goal.
When calculating how much to give me, he asked my college buddy, Pat, how much rent was so he could write out the correct amount. Pat, thinking this was a great idea, took it to a group of my college friends and they all handed me another check at his annual Christmas party, covering another month of rent. Their financial support, for which I am incredibly grateful, helped carry me through to March when I began receiving interest from sponsors like Kris Hunsicker of Fishtown Pharmacy.
As Kris and I chatted over beers, he explained how he’d love to help support me on my journey, and by the end of that night we had reached an agreement and I had my second official sponsor (I did a trial run with my old COO & his new company, Stitch Data, back in November as my first). My sponsorship with Fishtown Pharmacy in March then led to an agreement with Vybe Urgent Care for April and Team Dental for May (I know, I didn’t expect my first three sponsors to be a pharmacy, an urgent care center and a dentist either, but how awesome is that?!).
Now, having been able to continue my journey with the help of those around me and having met over 1,000 people for my project, I feel credible enough to share some of what I’ve learned along the way, beginning with the idea that you never know where your help is going to come from. I didn’t lay this project out with blueprints that included the generosity of my brother and friends, nor did I anticipate the unconventional sponsorship support, but focusing on my goal and keeping an open mind as to who can help has benefited me tremendously.
Similarly, meeting people of all walks of life and diving below the surface of their stories has taught me that perhaps we’re not the best judges of who is and who is not valuable to our lives. I think we often interact with people with some type of agenda, be it looking for a relationship, looking for a job, or looking for a business deal, and if we don’t perceive them to offer a contribution to our agendas, we write them off as worthless.
Too many times in my project, though, I’ve been caught off-guard by how valuable people are to me, whether it’s seeing Times Square from the roof of a music studio because I met a hip-hop artist who started rapping on my subway, getting on the guest list of a show for one of my favorite musicians because I met with an artist who happened to be their friend during her 9pm layover in the train station, or being given new perspective because the greeter at our local co-working space shared the story of her battle with brain cancer with me.
In seeing life through so many different people’s eyes, I’ve learned that the world offers an incredible amount of perspective if you’re willing to accept it. I’ve met so many people who’ve gone through hardships in their lives that I’ve realized how especially fortunate I am to have lived the life I’ve been given, which sometimes comes with complications of its own. Last month, I had a surgery to remove skin cancer from under my left eye, leaving me with a currently noticeable (somewhat badass) scar. Before this project, I may have been upset about the surgery and scar, but knowing what others have been through, I understood what a gift it was to leave that hospital as perfectly capable of functioning as I was going into it. If not for people like Lenny Martelli, who overcame being paralyzed from the chest down after a snowboarding accident, I would not have had this comfort.
There are several comforts I wouldn’t have if I didn’t start this project, the biggest one being that though we’re all are out here doing our best in this life, we really have no idea what we’re doing, and that’s ok! We’re all amateurs when it comes to reaching our next level of success. Most of the time, I think we judge ourselves harshly while thinking that everyone else has it figured out, but as someone who’s talked to a small sample of everyone else, I can assure you that we don’t. While my thinking before may have been, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Panic!” I now think, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but chances are you don’t either, so it’s all good!”
Finally, I should admit that I’m no expert as to how this project of mine will turn out, but I do know that opening my mind and heart to others has been inspiring, gratifying, eye-opening and encouraging. As I continue on my journey of meeting people, I’m confident that I’m traveling down the right path for my future and am creating a type of value that I’ll be happy to look back on when I’m older. I’ve gone from updating Excel sheets & PowerPoints to lending an ear to those who wanted to be heard. I’ve shared some deeper stories that have created a sense of community for those who’ve shared similar losses of family members and some lighter ones that have inspired spontaneous gifts like a pack of Starburst.
Because of the value that I see and the happiness that I gain out of meeting others and sharing their stories, I know I’ll continue progressing towards my goal of 10,000 no matter what it takes. I’m now at the point where my determination has taken over my fear of becoming broke and homeless, and for that reason, I anticipate I’ll one day be writing a post (probably about 9 years from now) that includes the number 10,000 in the title. I hope to continue constantly learning from those around me while capturing little bits of knowledge that I can pass along to you because as I said, I realize that most people don’t have the time to dedicate their entire days to making friends with strangers. But hey, maybe if you take the time to meet one new person, you might catch a glimpse into what I’m seeing :)!
Thanks so much for reading!