‘Never talk to strangers’ they said.
How deep does that behaviour sit? How strong is that sentiment? When do seeds like that change once you leave your childhood and make your way through this thing called ‘growed-upness’.
One of the latest developments in my life over the last few years has been the conscious embracing of strangers. Not literally of course. I have absolutely no restraining orders against me, as far as I know.
Actively making the decision to reach out and make connections has helped gain the validation and positive feedback I didn’t know I needed to progress to the next level of whatever I was doing at whatever time I was doing it.
The absence of a ‘traditional mentor model’ in my life meant I would run in circles around my mind without a pre-determined destination. The easiest option was always to keep running in loops, whilst knowing I had the safety of my day job to retreat back into. Back in my 9 to 5 days as an employee of a big publishing company I was assigned defined tasks by my editor. If I didn’t fulfil them to the best of my ability, I wouldn’t stick around very long. It was simple, basic maths. Do the work, keep your job.
Being safe is appealing. Having a salary coming in every month guaranteed is appealing. Knowing a consistent group of people, socialising with them, developing friendships with them, is also appealing. These people have your back – as long as you’re in your job.
It’s about genuine connection – not the social media induced friend culture we’ve had thrust upon us over the last 15 years
So what happens if your bubble disintegrates – perhaps by leaving your job or being made redundant? Where is the safety net of support? Your work friends and colleagues? Probably with their own heads down trying to stay safe in their own jobs.
Seeking out strangers
While I was working in the magazine industry I was also following my passion for film. I would host independent film events, with DJs, as well as running a mobile film festival which travelled to Cannes every year showing short from the back of a van.
I inevitably met new strangers without really trying. In a way I was building a community around me of creators in film and animation.
This was the first taste of meeting strangers randomly for the first time. People would approach me while I was behind the DJ booth and we would shout across to each other above the hum of the night.
There was a unity between similar souls, all out for the same goal – to get their films out there, films they had spent so much time and passion creating. It was then I realised I enjoyed meeting people in all their shapes and sizes. Strangers one and all.
The world is full of beautiful people, each one uniquely different for so many reasons
Recognising the need and desire to meet new people from outside my business or friendship group hatched an idea a few years ago – if I lacked mentors then maybe other people did too. I didn’t have cash to spend on private coaching sessions – nor did many other people I knew.
The concept of the ‘mastermind’ group is not a familiar one in the UK. Our perception of ‘mastermind’ is one of a spot-lit big black chair – the centrepiece of a seemingly highbrow quiz for general knowledge show-offs. High brow comes into question when contestants’ specialist subjects range from geeking out to Kevin Smith movies to ‘Kim Kardashian’.
But the US mastermind model has been used by the greatest leaders throughout history. A group of peers getting together and sorting through each others’ professional issues. Power in numbers. Power in strangers. It’s proven to work.
As I analyse my experience with developing relationships with strangers I realise it is deeper than I thought.
The desire to meet as many different people as possible in my life is a passion. It’s about genuine connection – not the social media induced friend culture we’ve had thrust upon us over the last 15 years.
In 2019 I met several people at a conference in San Diego, which I made the expensive decision to attend. It was one of my better life-choices because it forced me into a networking situation which I had paid 1000s to be part of. I wasn’t about to let that investment fail so I talked to strangers. As many as possible. Just talked. No agenda, no sales.
Two of those people became the core of my own mastermind group. Two very different guys from different parts of the US. Each with their own exceptional expertise. Almost a year on, we’ve got each other’s backs.
Following on from the positive results – the accountability, the desire to progress, I’ve taken the concept further.
My latest initiative in this world of connecting with people is an idea which has been plaguing me for some years. A mutual mentor relationship called The Mentor Exchange – between people, with no hierarchy.
What was a simple idea in my head of people coming together simply to talk, has proven to have positive effects on those people who decided to take the leap and join the call.
To see this group having an effect after only a few weeks has been phenomenal. One member of the group felt so inspired by the support in one of the sessions that she flipped her mindset from ‘I’m quitting’ to ‘I’m feeling very inspired and back full of energy’.
People arrive on the call not knowing what to expect and soon realise that it is an inclusive, relaxed conversation aimed at sharing advice and thoughts about how our combined experience can mutually benefit each other.
‘Strangers are brilliant’ was the title of a post from one of the talented people who took part in a session. It was the catalyst for my own sparked thoughts about the subject.
The advice we’re all given as kids should perhaps be adapted a little.
‘Never talk to strangers until you’re 18 when you should absolutely seek out as many strangers as possible to garner diverse experiences, cultures and perspectives to develop an open understanding of how differently people perceive the world’
Kids are more clever these days.
The Mentor Exchange Sessions take place every Wednesday @4pm (BST) during lockdown.
All are welcome.