As a kid, adults always told me never to talk to strangers, under any circumstance. Perhaps decent advice for a small child that doesn’t yet know the difference between right and wrong. What I was never taught, however, is that there are a lot of genuinely kindhearted, fascinating people in the world who can teach you different outlooks on life. And yes, in fact many of them are strangers.
I’m an adult now and to this day I am not a people person. Traditionally I’ve always been skeptical of anyone’s motives and I usually prefer to keep to myself when I’m alone in public places. I will attribute that characteristic in part to the way I was brought up. But I’ve learned something recently: there are a lot of really interesting people out there; you just have to keep an open heart and be willing to listen to what they have to say.
The other day I made my bi-monthly trek to the laundromat down the street to do my laundry. As I waited for the wash cycle to finish, I immersed myself in an article on my phone and listened to music to pass the time.
An older guy who was sitting in the chair next to me peered over and asked me what I was reading. He had an odd, raspy voice and unkempt gray hair. He looked like he had seen a lot in his day. Half-paying attention, I politely but quickly told him I was reading an article on psychology. I put my headphones back in and continued reading in solitude. He turned to me once more:
“Do you have a particular interest in psychology?” He asked.
“Not really,” I responded. “I’m a writer so I just read a lot of articles for inspiration.”
The conversation progressed. He told me he was also currently a writer and formerly a professor at a very prestigious university, and that he was working on a screenplay that could potentially be groundbreaking; he just had to figure out how to properly piece it together. Being a young person in the beginnings of a career, I asked him a few questions about how he got his start in writing and if he had any suggestions for me.
“You love writing, right?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s therapeutic to me. It’s something I’ll always love.”
“Well, if you love it and that’s what you want to do with it, then you’ve got to spend the majority of your time doing that. You don’t want to work in a restaurant forever, right?” He said. Of course my answer to that question was an enthusiastic “no.”
“You’ve got to get your name out there and you’ve got to have confidence in your work. You know it’s great work, now let everyone else know that.”
You know what? He was damn right. This stranger, whose name I didn’t even know, had just struck a chord in me.
Obviously I’ve condensed the conversation quite a bit here; I also learned that this guy was passionate about social justice and started his own non-profit for victims of domestic violence – seriously, how cool is that? And if I had kept to my skeptical self like I normally do, I never would’ve learned any of this or had this interesting conversation.
The message here is that you can learn a lot from a seemingly unlikely person; you just have to keep an open mind. Strike up a conversation with your Uber driver, that girl who always rides the same bus as you, or even your local barista. Sometimes it’s better to give someone the benefit of the doubt; you never know who will give you a different outlook on life.