UNLV grad meets a stranger a day for a year — and loved it

Me: “So I have a New Year’s resolution for 2016.”

My wife: “What is it?”

Me: “To meet someone new every day this year.”

My wife: “That’s a lot. Why don’t you meet someone new every week?”

Me: “If I do this, I’m doing it every single day this year.”

And from that moment, in my mind — it was done, and Daily Hello was born.

What was I thinking? Why did I do this?

The answer, which never seemed to satisfy anyone: I did it to see what could happen.

(And guess who else thinks this is a good idea? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says his personal challenge for 2017 is to travel across America and talk to more people.)

We all want a life guide of when I do X, Y happens. We want clarity, we want control, but little in life is clear, and I’d argue the best things that happen to us are unpredictable.

Doing this would be (and was) completely unpredictable, but I felt strongly that if I met 366 people in 366 days (it was a leap year), there’d bound to be good things that’d come from it. (Spoiler: The experience did not disappoint.)

So what happened? Let’s get into it.

Part 1: Dealing with nerves and rejection

At the beginning of the year, before approaching someone, my heart would start pounding and I’d have this internal dialogue of, “I don’t want to do this … this is uncomfortable … how’s this going to play out?”

But I was committed. I was determined to push through any fear to see what could happen.

Lesson learned: The fear of rejection is way overrated.

Fearing a lion makes sense. Fearing a situation that you could face rejection in doesn’t, yet so many of us do.

Why?

We care too much about our egos. We care too much about what people think of us (people we’ll never see again). It’s ridiculous and irrational, but it’s reality.

The fear of rejection does nothing but limit us. It does nothing but put self-imposed handcuffs on us that affect our decisions and limit our potential, when there is nothing but upside. It’s all about perspective.

For example, if you ask someone something and they say “no,” then great, that just gave you an experience interacting with someone that you can adjust in the future for a better outcome. It gave you an experience that, compiled with others, will help you overcome any negative feeling that you now feel from rejection. If the person says, “yes” — fantastic, a door is open to something you’d never have otherwise experienced.

After this sunk in for me, approaching people became a completely different world. The nervousness fell away, and I no longer felt a sting of rejection when someone said “no” or walked away.

To really discover your full potential, you have to accept rejection, not fear it, but learn from it. To get comfortable with it, you have to dive in head first and experience it because like a virtuous circle, the more you experience it, the more it loses its power, and the more it loses its power, the more free you become to accomplish whatever you want.

If you remember nothing else from reading this, please remember that. It will change your life.

Part 2: Approaching people

The thing about doing something every day is that it gives you a lot of experience, and in this case experience in reading situations and people. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to initiate a conversation, in all sorts of contexts. All in an effort to learn what works well, and what doesn’t. It’s been a daily routine of trying, learning, adjusting, trying again. When you do that for hundreds of days in a row, your success increases. In this case, I developed a higher success rate (fewer rejections) with the people I approached, and the ability to ignite more interesting conversations.

It’s difficult to put into words how I read a situation to select which person to approach, but the best way I can put it is, I was always aware of my surroundings, and when a natural moment to speak with someone presented itself, I tried to seize it. For example, shopping next to someone in a grocery store aisle, using an elevator, walking out of the gym at the same time, standing in line to buy something, etc. Just daily moments.

The specific approach that proved to work best in initiating conversations was saying, “Excuse me. Could I ask you a question?” That got 90 percent of people’s attention.

I would then say, “My New Year’s resolution is to meet someone new every day this year. Would you be the person I meet today?” in as friendly a way as I can. What happened next varied.

Some said “no” and walked away. Some stuck out their hand and said their name. Some stood there not saying anything, so I’d move forward, stick out my hand and say, “My name is Steinar.” Most would then shake my hand and tell me their names. Then I’d show them how I’ve been documenting everyone I meet on an Instagram account called Daily Hello and ask them, “Would you be OK if I took a quick picture?” Getting to this point, most would say “yes.” If the person said “no,” then I’d need to also meet someone else that day.

After taking a picture, I’d ask them to tell me an interesting fact about themselves, which often would open up a conversation about their travels, what they like to do for fun, what they do for a living, etc. Most of the time I would have a conversation with the individual for a couple minutes, but there were times that our conversations lasted 10 to 20 minutes. I met one individual and we ended up chatting and then having lunch together after meeting, which lasted over an hour.

Lesson learned: Context is everything, and I mean everything.

Circumstances and surroundings mattered so much. If you’re looking to get someone’s attention for whatever reason, you have to be aware of the context of how you’re approaching the situation.

Your dress, your tone of voice, the words you’re saying, the location, what the other person is doing at the time, etc. It all matters — a lot.

You have to be conscious of all these things. It’s not just, “I tried doing something or reaching out to someone, and I didn’t have success. The end.” Take an inventory of how you come across and how to improve that, adjust your approach and keep trying, learning, adjusting, and your success rate at whatever you’re doing will increase.

For example, I would never walk up to someone walking towards me on a street to initiate a conversation. That felt too confrontational, no matter what I may say. So instead, if someone was walking towards me on the street, I’d wait until they just passed me and then I’d turn around and say, “Excuse me, could I ask you a question?” It’s a subtle difference, but it made all the difference. It removed that feeling of confrontation, and made it feel more comfortable for the individual to open up the conversation.

I can’t stress enough, how creating the right environment, or recognizing the right environment when it presents itself, will make all the difference in meeting and/or persuading people.

Part 3: Memorable meetings

I had so many great conversations and met so many remarkable people over the past year. Here are 10 that stand out, in no particular order:

Justin

Justin, hitchhiking in Uruguay, was picked up by security for the president of Uruguay, Jose “Pepe” Mujica. They liked him, and ended up taking him to where the president was to land in a helicopter to give a speech about a solar energy deal that Uruguay and Japan had struck. Justin was able to meet him and get a picture.

Arman

Arman competes in Rubik’s Cube-solving competitions (he can solve one in 10 seconds, blindfolded in under a minute). He also made an introduction that led me to a new job.

Eric

Eric is the president of CRM Northwest. Our first conversation led to other conversations that ultimately led to Eric investing in Kudoroo, a company I recently started.

Lindzi

Lindzi was a runner-up on the show “The Bachelor” (season 16). She’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He played in the NBA for 20 years.

Dan

Dan is an astrophysicist who’s discovered 50 planets. He works for an organization funded by NASA.

Tai

Tai came to the U.S. by boat with his family as a Vietnamese refugee when he was 6.

Don

Don played on the first UNLV basketball team in 1958. He’s in the UNLV Hall of Fame. UNLV also happens to be my alma mater.

John

John, a homeless man, told me, “An acknowledgment that I exist means a lot.”

David

David is an Alaska Airlines pilot, and his mom was one of the first female pilots in WWII.

And a bonus…

Mary

Mary, a homeless woman, approached me as I walked to my car in a grocery store parking lot. She gave me a huge hug. …

It’s amazing to think back on my meetings with these people, and every other person. As I browse through all the photos from the year, it blows my mind that it’s been a year.

While I’ve made some new friends with whom I’m staying in touch, many people I’ll likely never talk to again, but their impact on me will stay with me and hopefully, in a small way, mine with them.

It hasn’t been easy to do this every day, but for all the pain, for all the hassle, for all the rejections, and for everything else, it’s an experience that I would never trade.

Steinar Skipsnes first published this essay on medium.com.

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