Conventional wisdom and the mediocracy teach every child not to talk to strangers. For many valid reasons.
You are no longer a child. You may have internalized what well-meaning adults ingrained in you before the age of reason, and it may be holding you back.
Everyone you know and love was once a stranger. There have been some people you lived to regret trusting. But all the genes passed on by your ancestors and all the judgment you have you accumulated have refined your ability to choose people wisely. The risk of not talking to strangers is infinitely greater than talking to them.
Author Thomas Corley has dedicated himself to studying the habits that differentiate the rich from the poor. Seventy-nine percent of the rich network five hours or more a month compared to 16% of the poor. Talking to strangers pays. In more than hugs.
Your education, income, beliefs, accomplishments, and relationships are likely to be very similar to those of the five people closest to you. If you want to change your reality, you need to change your beliefs and your context. If you keep company with people living in perpetual lack and want, and you remain in lack and want, you may never be able to help them. Achieving success puts you in a much stronger position to help those in need.
In his book, “The Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell writes about how weak ties are some of the most powerful connections we have. Those closest to us are likely to be very similar to us. Bringing about changes in your life will require associating with people different from you. To paraphrase Tony Robbins among others, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had. New outcomes require new actions.
I try to talk to new people any time I go out in public. Waiting in line. Public transport. Airplanes. There is essentially no marginal cost to that effort—I’m there anyway. But it’s even better to target talking to strangers in contexts where you’d like to build relationships.
I recently went to speak at a real estate investing conference. In large part to get free admission to the conference, so I could talk to strangers. But not just any strangers. The kind of strangers whom I might help, and who might be able to help me.
I overheard someone talking. About how he was a journalist. For the Wall Street Journal. His name was Ben. I broke through discomfort to talk to a stranger. He was looking for things to write about. I wanted to share a message with more than just the people at the conference. Ben wrote this story that I’m proud to be a part of.
Last year, I went to a mountaineering event. I love climbing mountains—in part to be around people who also love the great outdoors, are committed to achievement, and enjoy eating freeze-dried food in tents. The kind of people I want to be friends with. And among those, the kind of person I’d like to spend my life with.
At the event, there was a young woman who looked a little like she might need someone to sweep her off her feet. I broke through fear to find out whether we’d be the loves of each other’s lives. And we were.
I have talked to thousands of other strangers on purpose. Most of the conversations came to nothing but pleasant chats and improved skills at talking with strangers. Success usually takes multiple tries.
I hope you live your life without waiting for someone else’s permission to do what you feel in your heart is right for you. But if you’re waiting for permission, you have mine. Go ahead. Talk to strangers.