As I begin 2018 with a fresh set of goals in mind, I’ve noticed that many of those around me have taken the time to reflect on their 2017 aspirations over the last week. Looking at my own, the only objective that I attached importance to during the last few days of the year was to cross the 1,500 mark for my project, Robs10kFriends.
Just over 2 years ago, I began a journey to spend 1 hour, 1:1, with 10,000 individuals to learn about their lives and see what comes of opening doors for no particular reason. Since meeting the first person on November 11, 2015, I’ve taken my project full-time and have sat down with a total of 1,511 people.
Through my meetings, I’ve done everything from learning how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on the violin with Andrea Levine to surfing for the first time in Seal Beach with Jacki Schirmacher. I’ve met both young (Porter Thompson, a 5 year old boy with Down Syndrome) and old (Eva DiAddezzio, a 98 year old woman who joined my family for Christmas dinner this year) and everyone in between! I’ve solo road tripped across the country from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and back, and along the way of this grand journey have gained an incredible amount of perspective and (I like to think) a small amount of wisdom.
Today, I’d like to share with you some of the life lessons that I’ve learned throughout the course of my project as they’re beginning to shape the way I live my life from both daily and long-term perspectives. Most of them are thoughts that I jot down during my day as I run from meeting to meeting, and they’re simply themes that I find valuable, but who knows, maybe you’ll see some value in them as well! So without further ado, here they are:
I actually believe authenticity is the key to success because it allows us to operate freely and confidently in whatever we do. When we try to put on personas that are not true to our core, they become so obvious to those with whom we’re interacting. To me, it feels like our souls have built-in lie detectors that can sense when someone is being real or not; for example, I can always sense when someone wants to meet for my project to promote their self or their business rather than meeting to get to know each other.
I had to learn how to be authentic through my project too, though, by remembering to be myself whether I was meeting with Kid Hazo, a Philly street artist, or Michael Nutter, the former Mayor of the city. I’ve found that doubling down on who I am has allowed me to exude more confidence because people appreciate me for me. Now, when I dress (I hope I rock Kohl’s clothes until the day I die) and act like my true personality rather than try to fit into the style of theirs, people respect me for it, which has only made me feel more comfortable in being myself.
When I first graduated college at Penn State, my main priority was to make a lot of money. All of the clichés say money doesn’t buy happiness, but I disregarded them knowing that it allowed me to travel abroad with friends or go out to fancy dinners for the holidays. As I’ve directed my attention to meeting people full-time, though, money has been one of the areas of life I’ve needed to sacrifice for the time being. In doing so, I shifted my focus from what I don’t have: income, because it only created anxiety and worry, to what I do have: beautiful relationships with my family and friends, an incredible support system, a project that fulfills me on a daily basis and many other blessings.
I attribute part of this appreciation to keeping a positive mindset so I can confidently reach my end goal, but most of it has come from interacting with others. I’m fortunate enough to come from a family where I have great relationships with both my siblings and my parents, but I didn’t fully realize the luxury of this lifestyle until I met with people like Sonja Rivera, who lost both of her parents in her 20s. Now understanding the finiteness of life, I find myself creating simple habits like frequently hugging the ones I love and actively trying to store those moments as memories for the day (hopefully several several years from now) I no longer have them around.
3. Positive Mindset
If I didn’t have a positive mindset, I probably would have given up on this project about a year ago because going down this path presents unending waves of confidence and doubt. I’m endlessly optimistic that I’ll be able to turn my lifestyle into my career, but I’ve noticed that practicing this way of thinking on a daily basis has benefited me incredibly in terms of stress and anxiety. It didn’t really click for me, though, until I met Alexis Doss, a Beachbody coach, who in unfortunate circumstances asks herself, “What are three things I’m grateful about in this situation?”
Admittedly, I don’t ask myself those questions, but in situations like traffic jams or cancellations of meetings, I’ve learned to practice thinking that the grass is greener on my side of the fence. Nowadays, I’ll force myself to think, “Wow, good thing I’m stuck in this traffic because maybe the version of me who wasn’t was going to get in an accident down the road!” I have no idea of knowing that my “unfavorable” situations are saving me from any harm, but thinking that way certainly makes my days a bit easier.
I always wanted to fight the necessity of experience when I was younger because I wanted to be successful straight out of college. I didn’t want to wait until I grew older to see improvements in my life, but I’ve learned from this project that experience is incredibly valuable and is also something that has no shortcut. When I first decided to meet 10,000 people for an hour each, I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I didn’t know that people wanted to read stories about other people’s lives summarized by a headlining quote. I didn’t know that my brother would let me drive his car across the country or that my college roommate would welcome me into his home in LA. I didn’t know how to correctly read LA parking signs when I first arrived or that I’d have to pay a $68 ticket in my first week there as a result (joke’s on them, this ticket is now just a really expensive bookmark of mine!).
What I did know was that I was traveling down a path that made me feel happy and fulfilled, and that as I ventured further into the unknown, I became better equipped to handle the curveballs of life. Now, I realize that there will be many more challenges and surprises ahead that I’ll need to face, but I’ve built them into my expectations because I understand that my life is constantly iterating based on the feedback of experience.
“Happiness is equal to or greater than the difference between the way you see the events of your life and your expectation of how life should behave.” I could not agree more with this quote from Google Executive, Mo Gawdat. People often ask me what the end goal of my project is because they want to wrap their head around why someone would dedicate so much time to something that seemingly has no returns. The answer is actually that I want to look back on my 20s and 30s with the ability to say, “That was a badass way to spend my time!” Outside of that, I have no expectations for how my project should go other than the fact that I’ll spend 1 hour with 10,000 different people.
By approaching my project without a plan of how things are supposed to work, I’ve been able to encounter a wide range of experiences. Sometimes I’m asking questions the entire time and receiving only one-word answers, while other times I barely have the chance to get a word in before 60 minutes go by. Sometimes I’m meeting people over coffee, while other times I’m hiking canyon trails with people like Sara Hartman. Sometimes I meet people once and never see them again, while other times I see them often for events/lunch/etc. and they become part of my life. Because I have no expectations, all of the above are the right answer for how my project is supposed to function, meaning every meeting is a success and every meeting brings happiness.
If you’ve made it this far into my article, you’ve proven that you too have patience, so thank you for that! I’d consider myself to be a pretty patient guy, but my level of tolerance has been tested time and time again and has also grown tremendously through this project. In meeting 1,511 people, I’ve sat and waited countless times for people to show up for our chat (sometimes they never do). Many times they’ll arrive 10-15 minutes late, which serves as a small domino effect of inconvenience for the rest of my day, but on some rare occasions, they’ll show up 45-50 minutes late.
While I mostly sit and avoid the buildup of frustration, I try to remind myself that I don’t know what events have occurred in their day that have caused them to be late. I also attempt to remember that people are helping me to reach a goal of mine, and usually once we’ve met and the hour is over, I’ll forget that they were ever late in the first place!
When I think about patience, I also think about this journey as a whole though. Back when I first started, I thought that people would be so impressed with the milestones of meeting 500 or 1,000 people, and that those achievements would magically lead to financial stability allowing me to safely finish the project. Now, at 1,511 I’ve learned that milestones won’t drive the success of my project. The success of my project will come from me continuing to build relationships, creatively using the perspective that I’ve gained to drive value for others, and being patient with the growth of my impact along the way. Despite the stress of people who worry that my project won’t work out before I run out of money, I’ve taught myself that patience is being so confident in the fact that you’ll succeed that you don’t let the pressure of time get in the way.
That’s it! Those are my 6 life lessons from meeting with 1,511 individuals for an hour each. I feel very fortunate to learn from those around me with whom I’m meeting for my project, but I also try to grow through reflecting on traveling down an unconventional life path. Going forward, I’ll be road tripping back across the country again to spend 6 months in LA beginning in February, I’ll be aiming to monetize my project in a manner that allows me to continue pursuing my goal full-time until completion (it will probably take about 10 more years), and of course, along the way, I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned in case it’s helpful for anyone else trying to chase a dream in their life!
Thanks so much for reading!