When I was a child, I remember always hearing parents tell their kids, “when you are out, don’t talk to strangers. It is dangerous.” I can appreciate that point of view as I am a mother of three daughters, and I am always concerned with their safety. However, now that I am older and I hope a little wiser, I am in awe of how much I learn and grow from strangers I meet.
Let’s take, for example, my most recent business trip to Nashville. Some of the highlights of my trip included not only reconnecting with a former boss from 25 years ago, but also involved making new “friends.” The first woman I connected with was my row mate on my United flight to Nashville. When Jacque first slid into her window seat, she commented on how tired she was having just flown into San Francisco from Hawaii. She was thrilled to get a chance to sleep. Best laid plans…we talked non-stop for three hours before she finally said with a smile, “perhaps we should shut our eyes for a bit?”
Our connection was so strong that we talked about business, our daughters and life’s ups and downs. What is clear to me is that bonds of a lifetime can be formed on a simple flight. We were both present in the moment. I had every intention of getting work done, but I felt that this opportunity was far more meaningful and my work could wait. We exchanged contact information, and I know that we will connect on land one day.
Days later, on my return from Nashville to San Francisco, I met a young woman by the name of Jody who was in her late 30’s and was a saleswoman like me. I sat down next to her at the airport restaurant counter, and we struck up a lively conversation. Again, we immediately found things in common and my energy, which had waned after a full week, was lifted by our engaging conversation. It is miraculous how quickly someone can go from being a stranger to being familiar. Our heads are often buried in our phones, and we don’t explore new engagements that are right in front of our faces.
Finally, once I sat down in my airplane seat to return home, I encountered my third new friend of my journey. Debbra, a CEO of a start-up software company, and I hit it off immediately. We opened our dialogue over a glass of champagne before take-off and talked non-stop for a few hours. Simply by asking a few questions, we revealed that we had similar backgrounds, knew some of the same people and even were researching the same retirement destination. We exchanged LinkedIn connections as well as business cards and will get together when we are back in the Bay Area.
I will always take my parents’ warnings to heart, but there is magic hidden just beneath the space between the unfamiliar and the familiar. As William James once said, “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”