I started a new “thing” while I was on vacation. I decided that if I was in a big crowd of people I didn’t know, I’d purposely just start talking to strangers and see what happened. I had many fascinating conversations with people and a few people made my day… and even a few more made my dialogue collection. It was a rewarding experience, even when people were a bit taken aback or a little rude to me. The experiment went so well, I decided to keep it up when I had the opportunity.
If you know me, you know I have the capability to talk and talk… and talk. In fact, for five years, I had a part time job where all I did was talk all day long. If I know you, I will feel comfortable talking to you and telling you stories and laughing with you. I love finding out new things about my friends and I’m usually in the thick of the conversation…if I know you.
If I don’t know a person or I am in a crowded room, however, I’m usually found on the sidelines listening. Most of the time I listen on the fringes of other’s conversations, never joining in, never participating.
I love to listen. I am fascinated by what people have to say, especially people I don’t know… but I would never ask a stranger anything. I would wait for someone else to do it and listen in.
As I’ve spent the last few years reinventing myself and overcoming the Sharon that Was, one of the things about myself I wanted to see change was actually participating in the conversation – with strangers.
If you know me, you know that talking to strangers is not only out of my comfort zone, it’s out of my zip code…but I’m really trying to overcome that fear (or inhibition).
Last night at the Astros game, I continued my quest to talk to strangers. In less than an hour after I was surrounded by hundreds of strangers, I had more than surpassed my 10 stranger goal. I talked to kids, young folks, parents, older folks, security guards, a few ushers (hi, Alfred), and the nice young woman at the nacho stand who told me she loves the smell of jalepenos.
The more I walked around the concourse, the more fascinating people I found. One toddler with squeaky shoes that could be heard over the din of the crowd stomped past me as I was talking to the security guard. We both laughed. When I saw the security guard later, she smiled at me.
I had so much fun talking to dozens of people I didn’t know. Even if it was, “how are you doing tonight?” and they smiled, it gave me a sense of satisfaction. Something about engaging all these strangers in conversation, or at least a hello felt right. It felt… natural. I can’t explain why, it just did.
When I was in first and second grade, teachers designated me the “new person” guide. I was chatty, bubbly and I would take new students around, be their new buddy, and show them where everything was. I was the student the teachers would send on errands to other classes. I sang solos. I had no problems talking to adults or strangers, at least that’s what I remember. Vaguely.
Then when I was 8, some traumatic events began to unfold in my life, and I remember becoming afraid. I remember that’s when I started to listen and retreat. That’s when my participation in life became very limited. While I desperately wanted to be outside my shell, I hid within myself instead… and I was dying in there.
I don’t know if my new quest feels right because I’m reclaiming something I lost (or was stolen) or if I’m becoming who I was meant to be… finally… 30 years down the road. What I do know is I felt confidence and curiosity surge through me and I didn’t give a flip about what people thought about me. It was liberating and very, very faintly familiar.
I will continue my quest and I eagerly await the results as God continues to lead me down this road of self-rediscovery. While experiencing new things or experiencing old things new is injecting new life into me, what I rejoice over is finally experiencing life firsthand. I had a blast last night and I owe it to Candie, Renee and Sam, and a few dozen strangers.