One Valuable Lesson of My 30s

In my thirties, I’ve come to greatly appreciate my interaction with strangers. When I say ‘strangers,’ I mean people you meet out in your community, in your daily life – at the grocery store for instance, or on the bus or train.

I think we sometimes discount these moments as just part of the fabric and niceties of life, but I’ve come to discover these interactions can affect one’s day in a big way.

Thirty seconds or a minute of interaction between strangers can be day-altering. You can feel appreciated and ‘seen’ by people you’ve never met before. That’s powerful and has the ability to change the course and mood of someone’s day.

I did a comedy show last week, and while it wasn’t a disaster, it also wasn’t the best I could do. Right after I had begun my set, the mic fell out of the cord connecting it to power, and for a few seconds, my voice went from crisp and loud to inaudible. I started making corny jokes that no one could hear and looked like a crazy woman mumbling to herself. The host had to come on stage during my set and fix the situation. But I was off my game at that point. I kept on going, but I had lost some of my initial momentum.

I walked off the stage and into the crowd feeling disappointed in my performance. I spent the rest of the show watching the other comics, but beating myself up internally. I thought about possibly giving up on stand-up. Maybe this wasn’t a medium for me.

When the night was over, a man came up to me to talk about the show. He told me that I was one of his favorites because I seemed so real and authentic, that I wasn’t putting on a persona. He seemed genuine and thoughtful. He told me to keep going with this whole stand-up thing.

That minute of interaction with the man pushed me to continue on with stand-up. So for one minute of stranger interaction, I will end up spending hours and hours continuing to pursue stand-up.

This article by Elizabeth Crisci speaks to the benefits of talking to strangers quite beautifully. I love what she wrote below:

Giving the gift of our attention to people that we know, and those we don’t, is not only generous, it empowers us as well as the person we are talking with.

 

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My Roommate Talks to Strangers on Subways

When we’re both in our kitchen together, my roommate and I tend to have very in depth, funny, and deep conversations. I’m extremely lucky to have her as a roommate- we were strangers who met through Craigslist and we get along extremely well.

We’ve known each other only three months but we talk about everything from meditation to relationships to street harassment to retirement accounts with an equal degree of ease. Our roommate relationship can only be described as a rare personality click.

The other day she described the conversations she has with random people on the subway. I was surprised to hear this- she doesn’t seem like the sort to have impromptu conversations with strangers on public transportation. She’s a fairly quiet and unassuming girl, tiny and thoughtful- a 29 year old english professor and writer who listens to calming music and chills in her room a lot.

She thinks that people probably open up to her because she enjoys hearing their stories; they may sense her friendliness and feel a green light. It’s true that she always gets me opening up, so I guess her energy works with subway people as well.

I recounted to her that as of late I rarely talk to anyone in transit- even though I travel all the time. I used to have lots of conversations with new people at airports and on planes- in fact that’s actually how I met my ex-boyfriend. But lately I’d been using the old ‘kindle and headphone’ trick to stop people from talking to me before they started. My job involves a ton of talking and lately the last thing I wanted to do on a flight to or from work was to talk.

Sometimes while I'm traveling I'll look up from my Kindle to take a funny photo of fellow travelers, but I've rarely talked to them anymore.

Sometimes while I’m traveling I’ll look up from my Kindle to take a funny photo of fellow travelers, but I’ve rarely talked to them anymore.

But after my roommate told me her subway stories, I began to crave conversation with fellow travelers again. “Just be open,” she said. “They’ll sense it.”

And they did.

Once I felt open to listening again, people began to talk. It was like magic. I turned off my kindle and took off my headphones and I met the LA shuttle driver I talked about in my last post. And on my flight from LA, I met an accountant who used to sell time shares and lived in Cancun. There was a young mom chaperoning a crew of girl scouts on the way back from Dallas, various folk from New Orleans, Vancouver, and Hungary at a recent hostel, and a really cool travel blogger named Jo (Indiana Jo) who apparently travels 9 months out of the year and lived in a cave for awhile.

Both being an open listener and a closed privacy-craver have their pros and cons. I heartily enjoy hearing stories and learning about other places and lives, and travel conversation is a great way to do so. But I haven’t yet talked to strangers on the subway…maybe I’m just not open to that yet.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just sit quietly while in transit. Like now, I’m actually sitting and writing this on a bus to Philadelphia, while the man next to me sleeps soundly against the window. We never said hi to each other. By the time I got to my seat he was already tuned out and closed off with his kindle and his headphones.

I understood.

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