Philly Man on Quest to Meet 10,000 Strangers

10K Friends Collage
AP

In a tech-savvy world where it's easy to avoid face-to-face interaction, one man has undertaken the ambitious task of meeting 10,000 people and spending one hour with each of them.

His name is Rob Lawless, and he’s a 25-year-old Northern Liberties resident who clearly wants to get to know people.

“The concept of meeting up with someone for absolutely no reason other than just to get to know them is so foreign to people that they think there must be some agenda. In reality, I’m just here to sit with you and talk about anything,” he said.

Lawless initiated this project to get to know Philadelphia better and its people. He also wants to recapture the feeling of being in a familiar social environment— something he experienced while in college.

“I was very involved in college; I was tour guide, in a fraternity, and in [several] committees. I could walk around campus and say hi to people because in one way or another, we knew each other,” the Penn State graduate said. “Going from college to the professional world, I completely lost that. So when I moved to Philly, I told myself, ‘This is my campus now. This is my city to make it what I want.’ I want to create a space where I recognize people as I walk down the street.”

Dedicating 10,000 hours of your life to making friends is no small feat. To reach that amount, Lawless would have to meet with one person every hour for about 416 days straight. In lieu of that , he developed a 10-year plan where he meets with three to five people per day.

At first, Lawless would reach out to people on his own and schedule a time to meet with them. As time went by, people began noticing the project through social media and word-of-mouth.

“I think it’s much cooler when people find out about the project from others. That just means that it’s cool enough that others want to pass it on,” he said.

So how many people has he connected with so far through his experiment?

Since November 2015, Lawless has met with over 370 people in Philly, New York City, and Los Angeles. He’s chatted with students, entrepreneurs, musicians, muralists, and artists, including Philly Magic Gardens creator Isaiah Zagar and former Philly Mayor Michael Nutter. Recently, Lawless turned the campaign into his full-time endeavor and aims to meet with five people per day.

As the project’s first anniversary nears, Lawless feels that his campaign has reached the point where Philadelphia reflects the campus vibe he experienced at college.

“A successful meeting to me is when we can run into each other in the street afterwards and be able to say hi as friends; and from time to time, that’s happened. It’s also a cool feeling when people stop me in the street and recognize me from Instagram’” Lawless recalled.

The one hour Lawless spends with each person is not only used to get to know the individual, but also break down the barrier of unfamiliarity.

“The people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard have given me perspective. When you meet people one-on-one, you start to understand what [different lives] are really like, and what things you take for granted,” Lawless said.

Of the hundreds of people Lawless has met, he feels particularly moved by those whose lives are completely different from his.

Of the hundreds of people Lawless has met, he feels particularly moved by those whose lives are completely different from his. One of his most memorable interactions is with Jacob Conteh, a Sierra Leone native who didn’t have a pair of shoes until he was 8 years old. Conteh’s father had 65 children between 12 marriages, making Conteh the 63rd sibling. Conteh built a school in his hometown village, which he hopes to turn into a city one day, Lawless said. Conteh’s story inspired Lawless to expand his mission worldwide.

“Conteh’s had such a different lifestyle than mine. Listening to his story made me realize how privileged I am, and encouraged me to slowly take this project abroad,” he said. “I think it’d be cool to go to other countries like Iraq and meet a 25-year-old and see what kind of life they want to live compared to mine.”

While he hopes to get sponsored and pursue his project in other countries, Lawless feels there’s a lot of exploration left to be done in the city, particularly North and West Philly.

The former sales rep doesn’t have a particular end-goal. Once he reaches 10,000 people— whether he does so in 10, 20, or 50 years— Lawless is excited to share his experience and the different stories with family and friends.

“This might be cliché, but it’s more about the journey than the destination. When I’m 90 years old, I want to be able to sit back and tell my kids about all the interesting people I met and where it took me,” he said.

Mo Manklang, a community manager at generocity.org, was Lawless’s 362nd connection. As someone who enjoys meeting new people, Manklang felt motivated to reach out to Lawless after learning about his project from several of her co-workers who participated in it.

During their meeting, the two learned that they’ll both be part of LEADERSHIP Philadelphia’s Connectors and Keepers Program. Lawless’s interest combined with Manklang’s bubbly personality resulted in a comfortable interaction. She feels honored to take part in Rob’s mission.

“Some people make it their job to not look at people in the eye while in the street. So It’s encouraging to come across nice people who want to get to know others,” Manklang said. “It would heal a lot of hurts in the world if more people did that.”

362. One of Mo Manklang's favorite things about improv comedy is the "Yes, and" concept. She competes on the team, Skeletons Etc., and explained that no matter what your teammate says, you support them and add to them. This has worked out pretty well for her as she's marrying her teammate & fiancé, Brendan, next month. Speaking of their wedding, they had their engagement photos done at the @acadnatsci Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit after one of their friends asked if they wanted to see a fuzzy T-Rex there. Mo said they're always looking for weird places and introduced me to @atlasobscura, which discovers hidden wonders of different cities! Thanks for the chat, @momanklang! #10kfriends #philly #improv #comedy #dinosaurs #exploration #meetingpeople • How we met: Mo and I were initially introduced when I stopped by the @technicallym office to meet @christopherwink (#111). She then contacted me after receiving an email by Liz Dow (#79) and @mobdobber (#89) as we'll both be part of LEADERSHIP Philadelphia's upcoming class of Connectors & Keepers!

A photo posted by 🌎 Rob Lawless (@robs10kfriends) on Sep 29, 2016 at 10:57am PDT

If you would like to take part in Rob Lawless’s “10k Friends” campaign, you can schedule your hour with Lawless via email at robs10kfriends@gmail.com, send a message to his Facebook page, or direct message him on Instagram at @robs10kfriends.

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