I have always been a people person. While I cherish my alone time and am happy to amuse myself and relax, I usually thrive in an environment that requires me to meet new people, ask questions, and get personal. Perhaps that’s why being a writer was always top of mind for me; I recognized early on that everyone has a story to tell. Choosing journalism in college was a no brainer: it gave me a chance to pound the pavement and then write about what I learned.
Making conversation with the person in line next to me at the coffee shop or grocery store? No problem. Showing up at a wedding/party/event and knowing only the host? Perhaps intimidating at first, but nothing that can’t be handled. While I’m never going into the telemarketing business (I have my limits), I give a lot of credit to the act of simply starting a conversation with someone that’s near you, whether physically or virtually. In fact, many of my relationships and experiences have been started with something as little as saying “Hello” to the person next to me. I have countless examples of how my life was influenced or impacted in this way; you never know where it will lead you.
At least once a week, I visit a coffee shop that’s near the library where I volunteer. At one point, I realized an elderly man and a younger man were there working behind laptops every time I went in. It seemed like the younger guy (probably around my age) was helping the older man with a project. I was immediately curious. Who were these guys? Why were they always at the coffee shop, no matter when I stopped in? I was determined to find out, and while some people might think it brash, it’s what I do. So one day about a month ago, I went over to them and said, “Hello, I may sound a little nosy, but I see you here all the time. What are you up to?” The older man, whom I learned is Mo, smiled and told me about an online platform they were creating to help communities connect with each other in times of emergency. Then he said, “What are you doing here?” Now, every time I go to the coffee shop, I get an update from Mo on his project; I get the sense he looks forward to our little mini meetings as much as I do. Who knows where it will lead?
In the same coffee shop, I observed a woman’s laptop background was all Elvis. I asked her about it, and next thing you know, we had a half hour discussion about the book she was writing on the King of Rock and Roll, and how you don’t hear singers like Sinatra and Presley anymore. Next time I see her there, I’m going to get an update from her, too. And the same goes for another elderly man who sat down next to me one day when I was writing and started telling me about the book he’d published and some of the jobs he’d held in his lifetime. He, too, said that he can’t help but talk to people when he sees them; it’s just what he likes to do. I was happy to oblige him for a few minutes.
So I got to thinking about some of the other people that have played a role in my own story because of a chance meeting or what started as a simple introduction. Here are a few that are top of mind, and I’ve also included a few from friends who shared their own experiences.
- A nice lady started talking to me on the plane on one of my many trips down to Louisiana as a child. Mrs. Mercedes and I became pen pals for years until she passed away.
- When I posted this question on Facebook, my friend of 18 years, Molly, said of our own friendship, “Gym class!” As I told her, “And the rest was history!”
- A sweet young woman named Brooke started chatting with me in the bathroom of my residence hall sophomore year at college. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding, and although we haven’t seen each other in years, we talk on the phone every couple of months.
- Another friend named Molly came across a crowded DC bar at a networking happy hour and introduced herself after seeing my nametag. I’ve since attended her wedding and celebrated the birth of her baby.
- I followed up with a guy who spoke at a college journalism conference when I moved to DC and he connected me with the person that would become my first boss.
- Two people that I admire very much and look to as mentors and inspirations are in my life because I met one at a conference happy hour (Matt) and because I emailed the other after reading her blog (Sloane).
- I exchanged polite background information and email addresses with a woman next to me at the library volunteer orientation last summer. Now, Linda and I see each other weekly and text like high school girls.
- My friend Michael says he met a good friend in 2005 at a conference when he had to “rescue her from a creepy old guy that was half drunk.” She’s in NYC, he’s in Portland now, but they still remain in touch today.
- Former coworker Karin says “False fire alert at the university residence. Both in our PJs outside at 20 degrees. Hubby and I, 15 years ago.”
I could go on and on of course. There are also many instances of starting conversations with someone on Twitter and those interactions leading to in-person meetings and friendships or pen pals (Leslie, I’m looking at you!). But you get the idea. Say “hello” to someone today and they may become a part of your story forever.
Got an example to add? I’d love to hear how a “Hello” turned into a significant relationship or opportunity – how did your story combine with someone else’s?