Take a second to think about the first time you met your three closest friends. Maybe you were introduced through a mutual acquaintance, or started talking with each other during an event where you were drawn together by a common interest. Maybe it was random, and you had happened to enter into a conversation at a cafe, workspace, or shopping center. In today’s internet age, it may have even been on a social media platform or through another online service.
In all of these cases, these people were at one time strangers. Whether instigated by a third party, due to fate, or stemming from one person’s social courage, a bridge was formed. Two strangers became – well – no longer strangers.
There is an old adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” In a humorous yet inspiring TED Talk, career counselor and author Barbara Sher fleshes this idea out further. The people we know, she explains, provide critical resources for fulfilling our aspirations. Isolation, she says, is the real dream killer. To put it another way, upwards of 90% of jobs are secured via social connections. The ability to meet people can be of critical importance for both personal and professional growth.
There are, of course, other benefits of being able to reach out to strangers.
One day when I was 18 years old, I was walking out of a grocery store when I spotted an amazing looking girl. It wasn’t just her body or face. She had a certain style and aire about her that was different. I was awe-struck. After a few nerve-wracking seconds, I mustered up the courage to approach her. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m certain it wasn’t extremely smooth. Luckily for me, she gave me a shot and we later had an eight-year romance. Although we split up before I moved to Vietnam, we’re still friends to this day.
While there is nothing wrong with meeting romantic partners through social circles and existing acquaintances, it is limiting. Had I not taken the leap, I would have never met my ex. I would have been deprived of the significant experiences we shared.
But there is another compelling reason to talk to strangers. The ability or inability to do something as simple as starting a conversation has a spill-over effect in all areas of one’s life.
Are you someone who is comfortable in discomfort, in breaking social norms, and in pressing upon your own boundaries? Or are you someone who fearfully clings to the familiar. Do you get excited about opportunities, or do you stay within your own self-imposed limitations to protect yourself from the potential of rejection? What type of person are you? More importantly, what type of person do you want to be?
These are the questions I frantically asked myself in the moments before introducing myself to this particular girl and countless others.
The next time you see someone who you want to talk to, do it. At best, you change the course of your life. At worse, you help develop your ability to push through fear and hesitancy. At the very least, you run the significant risk of brightening both of your days. The only real failure is letting the opportunity pass by without taking action.
Everyone you know was once a stranger. Every stranger is a potential friend, business partner, client, or lover.
By talking to strangers, you are opening yourself up to amazing opportunities. By succumbing to the fear of talking to strangers, you are letting amazing opportunities pass by.
You are actively creating your future self through your daily actions.