A lot of people ask me what books I read. To be honest, I don’t read very many books. I have never been a prolific reader, although I spent 7 seven years reading this book – not exactly what you would call “light reading” – 2000-plus pages of fine print. Maybe that sucked the reading life out of me.
While I don’t read a lot of books, I do “read” a lot of people. In the last 4 years, I have networked with over 1000 people. That is, I have sat down and had lunch or coffee with over 1000 different people. This has become one of the most enriching and gratifying aspects of being self-employed – having the flexibility and autonomy to carve out time to get to know other human beings.
Let Me Read You
I love meeting new people, hearing their stories and sharing my own.
People are the best books.
They are living, breathing life-forms and 100% non-fiction. I can shake their hand, hug them and meet them again to see how their story has evolved. They give me perspective, inspiration and joy.
At first, my networking activities were motivated by economics. But after a while, I started meeting people for the pure joy of connecting.
Sure, we talk about the usual stuff – professional background, where we come from, etc. But often times, the conversation goes deeper and I end up learning a lot about the struggles and triumphs of ordinary, everyday citizens.
What I have discovered is that ordinary people are extraordinary.
I have met people who
– were at the March on Washington
– hitchhiked across America
– drove from the Czech Republic to India and back, via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan
– quit their high-flying corporate job to be a caddy on the PGA tour
Meeting new people is like being in a flowing river of amazement. Just when I think I have met the most amazing ordinary person of my life, a new one appears that seems even more miraculous. I am in awe of the people I meet.
We give awards and recognize people with special achievements. I feel like I have met at least 100 people that either deserve the Nobel Peace Prize or something like a Congressional Medal of Honor.
What is undoubtedly apparent in many of these rich conversations is that pain – intense, excruciating emotional pain is a central experience of humans everywhere. When you explore people’s stories, you are bound to uncover some heart-wrenching tragedy.
Just to give you a taste, I have met people whose kids died in infancy or who lost a sibling when they were 10, 15 or 30 years old. I have met people who lost their middle-age spouse to cancer in 30 days. I’ve met couples who have faced and overcome infidelity. I know people who have endured incest and rape.
Accidents, betrayals, abandonment, rejection, abuse and devastating loss – these are as common as sand, affecting people in your neighborhood or in the next cube over. Without question, you or someone you know has had to face one or many of these traumatic trials.
In all this, what is unbelievably remarkable is how the human Spirit continues even in the face of these harrowing blows. Some of the most graceful and grounded people I have met in the last few years are people that have been dealt the hardest struggles and the scariest of circumstances.
How do they do it? How do they manage to survive? How do they come out stronger and more resilient?
We know that resilience isn’t always the outcome of horrifying pain. Many fall off the tracks and go down long, arduous paths of darkness…sometimes to a point of no return.
Life is full of pain. We are vulnerable to it all the time. What makes the difference in how people respond?
Not only has all this networking greatly expanded my friend circle and professional reach, it has profoundly impressed upon me the importance of compassion. It is so easy to meet someone in one brief sitting, or exchange, and pass judgement on them. If a co-worker is being difficult, it is easy to write them off as a jerk or worse. Do you have any idea what they have been through? If someone is crabby or looking sad, it’s not necessarily because they woke up on the wrong side of the bed. They might be processing some major life event that many of us could not even possibly fathom.
Walk a few steps in their shoes and then see how it feels.
Sometimes it is hard getting to know people at a deeper level. The pain can be overwhelming. While it hurts to hear of others suffering, the stories of resilience and victory far outweigh and out-inspire the feelings of pain and sadness. To me, it reaffirms the truth that love is more powerful than hate. Reconciliation more potent than resentment.
They say truth is stranger than fiction. I say, people are far more interesting and magical than books.
Meet new, three-dimensional people and see for yourself. A person a day, keeps the sadness away. You can’t find them on Amazon, and Facebook / Twitter are not adequate substitutes.
To all those I have networked with in the last four years – thank you for enriching my life to no end. Thank you for giving me perspective and hope. I am looking forward to staying connected and meeting the next 1000.
Vikas Narula (@NarulaTweets) is Creator and Co-Founder of Keyhubs (@Keyhubs) – a software and services company specializing in workplace social analytics. He is also Founder of Neighborhood Forest – a social venture dedicated to giving free trees to kids every Earth Day.
Illustration by Vivek Narula.
Other Recent Blog Posts: