The subway system is genius. I do not know who designed the system, but it is a piece of city planning masterpiece. There are underground tunnels beneath your feet everywhere you go. How are there such tall buildings if there is hollow ground for foundation? I do not know.
What I do know is taking the subway is essential in New York unless you are William Forrester from Finding Forrester or you are rich enough to have Jeeves, your chauffer, drive you. But the subway generally seems to be the great equalizer among New Yorkers.
Today while on the subway, I saw an advertisement for a New York City networking company. The advertisement suggested that the reader network by talking to people on the subway. When I saw that, I thought to myself, “That is a great idea, but how are they going to make money by asking subway riders to talk amongst themselves?”
Then I saw the other half of the advertisement: “Or stay in your pajamas and network from bed.”
Network from bed? The point of networking is to meet people, not to lie in bed. I rarely meet important people while on my laptop snuggled in my bed. After all, pajamas can hardly be considered networking attire.
I began looking around the subway. I was riding the train at rush hour and there were at least 50 people in the car. Of those 50 passengers, about two people were talking to one another; the rest were staring down at their phones or at their shoes. Above them, an advertisement mocked their inability to practice basic communication with one another.
For those of you who have seen WALL·E, it was like the humans reclining in their chairs staring at their screens, unable to focus on anything else. What a prophetic film.
How sad is it that we are so absorbed in our little electronic bricks that we are unable to talk or even make eye contact with those around us? If we are left by ourselves, the first thing we do is whip out our devices. Are we afraid of human interaction? Is our greatest fear exchanging pleasantries?
I understand wanting some alone time while traveling, I really do. The subway can be a great time to get work done or read a book, but it has the potential to be so much more.
Two years ago, I took an early morning flight to Seattle and had planned to take a nap during the hour flight. Much to my dismay, the lady sitting beside me struck up a conversation. I was bothered. Did she understand she was stealing precious nap time from me? I soon realized I was not going to get my nap in and begrudgingly invested myself in the conversation with airplane lady. As it turns out, airplane lady had traveled all over the world and was more than willing to share her stories with me.
Before I knew it, we landed. The one hour flight had passed by faster than expected. It was that day I made a deal with myself to attempt conversation with my fellow plane passengers in the future.
Since making this resolution, I have hardly had to do a thing to strike up a conversation on planes. I merely make eye contact with the person next to me and they start gushing about their lives. Eye contact seems to be the key to success here, folks. And you would not imagine the stories I have heard on planes. I have been known to hold a conversation for three and a half hours with a dad who owned a plastic bag factory. Obviously, my conversation skills have increased as a result of my pact.
But the most interesting thing about my resolution is that it ended up not being about me at all. While I have learned how to ask better questions, I have also learned people yearn for a good conversation. People want to share their stories, their feelings, and their experiences. People want someone to be interested in their lives and it is a privilege to listen.
Walking off a plane feeling groggy from multiple interrupted plane naps is not nearly as rewarding as hearing stories from a man who road races motorcycles (that he built) across the country.
Being selfish with your time is not rewarding and it is not healthy.
The next time you find yourself alone in public, I challenge you to not take out your phone. Make eye contact and smile at those around you. If you are feeling particularly wild, strike up a short conversation. Avoid talking about yourself and ask questions of others. Connect with others and make them feel heard.
You cannot network in pajamas on your bed over the internet. Networking is connecting face-to-face with the people around you. Try it sometime.
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