A guest post on making 10,000 new friends. By: Jon Santiago.
Rob Lawless has an ambitious life goal. Here's why he's doing it, and what he's learned so far.
Rob Lawless is unassuming and modest. But dive beneath the surface, and you’ll find that there’s more to him than meets the eye.
A few years ago, Rob felt like most people do as they navigate their twenties. Working in his first few jobs after college, he had this gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach. There had to be more to life than spending most of it inside an office.
Rob also felt a disconnect after graduating college and entering the professional world. Working as a young professional at a large company was fun, but not as communal as his time at Penn State. He longed to recapture, somehow, that spirit of familiarity.
So, he came up with an idea. An ambitious idea, but one rooted in the power of human connection.
Rob decided he would meet 10,000 people, one-on-one, for an hour each. Yes, that isn’t a typo. And so that we’re clear, I’ll repeat it again:
10,000 people. One-on-one. For an hour each.
For the next decade, Rob committed himself to spending a handful of hours each week on his project. He made an Instagram account, which has become his platform to detail the stories of the people he meets. The project started slow since he continued working full-time. But when he lost his second job after college, Rob decided to make it his top priority.
“I’ve always just been in awe of other people,” Rob told me when we first met. “And it’s cool to see how much depth humans have to their lives. Because you often times interact with them either through seeing them or in a brief moment.
“Even this — I consider meeting with people for an hour just to be scratching the surface,” he continued. “Because there’s so much more to people than what they’re able to share in an hour. But I think for me, an hour is just my feasible way of getting below, I guess, the very, very surface level.”
Rob and I connected in Los Angeles, meeting at Echo Park Lake back in 2017. The hour we spent talking was far removed from the monotonous corporate life that Rob once lived.
When we met after he moved his project west, I became friend No. 1,212. An old college buddy of his had been living in Long Beach and invited Rob to join him in Southern California.
Rob’s unassuming nature is a strength when it comes to pursuing his project. He’s a self-described “reserved extrovert,” who knows how to choose his spots in a conversation. Spend an hour with Rob, and you’ll notice his listen-first approach.
“I have no problem meeting new friends or talking to new people – whether it be in groups or one-on-one,” Rob said. “But it’s funny because if it were like me, you and three of your friends, I wouldn’t really talk in the conversation. I would just observe.”
These days, Rob splits his time, making new connections in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Since we first met two years ago, he’s reached 25% of his goal.
Along the way, he's learned a handful of life lessons about what it means to be human. There are five in particular that stand out:
Lesson #1: There’s Always Someone Out There Who Can Relate.
Often times, life feels like a solitary journey. But through his project, Rob’s learned that there’s more that binds us than divides us. That stranger walking down the street has more in common with you than you think.
For example, the subject of anxiety is a topic that’s brought up in many of his meetings. Rob’s talked about it so much with the people he's met that he no longer feels ashamed if he's anxious himself.
Lesson #2: Nobody Has Life Figured Out.
Whether old or young, Rob’s observed that people are all trying their best to navigate life. No one actually knows if what they're doing will turn out in their favor. That includes the people who look like they do.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a mother trying to parent your kids correctly,” Rob said. “Or, if you’re starting your own business. Or, if you’re a musician trying to make sure your songs connect with an audience.
“All of us are just amateurs when it comes to getting to the next level,” he added.
Lessons #3: There’s Strength in Vulnerability.
People spend a lot of time in their lives constructing an invisible armor. It serves them well throughout, especially during times of pain and trauma. But to build meaningful bonds with others requires that people let their guards down, too.
Rob’s found that true connection happens when people are vulnerable. When people share stories that leave them in powerless positions, relationships can deepen. Vulnerability creates a space for people to speak of how they feel without fear of any judgment.
Lesson #4: Listen First, Speak Last.
Meeting hundreds of people has taught Rob about the importance of listening. He’s made a multitude of friends with different beliefs and views. He’s found that he’s able to get along with everyone, because he seeks to understand before being understood.
“Be a consumer of opinions rather than a provider,” Rob said.
And while consuming those opinions, listen with an open mind. To do this, Rob notes that it helps to practice curiosity. Asking questions doesn’t make you a nosy person. Instead, it shows your genuine interest in that other human being.
Lesson #5: Relationships Breed Opportunity.
In good times and in bad, the people that Rob has met are what make his project worth pursuing. Countless times, friends have tipped him off to fresh faces and new experiences. They've even led him to sponsorship opportunities to help fund his mission.
Rob doesn’t believe you need an audacious goal like his to enjoy similar results. In fact, remembering to cultivate your existing relationships is often enough. It's the people in our lives that can open us up to a world of possibility.
Rob isn’t seeking immense fame or fortune through his ambitious project. His approach is the opposite to the one many people use on social media these days. Instead, Rob judges his success through the intangible, not the material metrics.
At the end of our lives, we’ll all have a one big story to tell. And Rob knows what he wants his to be.
“When I’m 60 years old, I want to be able to look back on this 10- or 15-year period of my life, however long this takes,” Rob said to me during that sunny SoCal afternoon. “And be like ‘That was a baller way to spend my time.’ That’s all I want to do. Just be able to look back at spending a Monday on a bench on a lake rather than in a office.”
If you would like to meet with Rob, direct message him on Instagram or email him at Robs10kfriends[at]gmail.com.
GUEST BLOGGER: Jon Santiago is a son, friend, traveler, writer, and marketer. He's always curious about the world and how it works.