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5 Lessons I Learned From Random Encounters in 2021

As you continue to head into the new year, think about opportunities for expanding your circle.

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Denys Rudyi — stock.adobe.com

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

As children, we are taught not to speak to strangers and not to take wild leaps into the unknown. As an adult, I’ve discovered that can be a truly misinformed strategy.

Some of the best learning and perspective- and mood-altering experiences I’ve had in business and in life have come from talking to strangers, taking risks and keeping an open mind to new places and people.

As 2021 ended, I reflected back on the things I learned last year and the people who contributed to my wisdom and growth. What’s most interesting is that they span in age from 20-year-olds to 70-year-olds and represent a wide range of professions, perspectives and lifestyles. Here’s what I learned from five chance encounters that changed my life in 2021.

1. Seek opportunities that expand your mindset and network.

I was told by my orthopedist after I broke my ankle that I shouldn’t travel to Nashville for a client’s conference. I reserved wheelchairs at the airport, rented a knee scooter and went anyway (albeit cautiously). I heard some very provocative talks, including:

• One from Master P on how he’s remained relevant over the years and channeled his brand into a noodle business. (Full disclosure: Author has interviewed Master P.) During the talk, he emphasized the importance of generational wealth and leaving a legacy for your family and your community.

• A storytelling workshop from country singer (and Grammy winner) Jimmy Yeary, which I’ll think of now whenever I craft content for my clients or my own blog. He crowdsourced moments from the audience’s lives and strung them together into a song.

• A fascinating talk on neuroplasticity, which opened my mind (pun intended) to the possibilities of brain expansion and change.

Take every opportunity to explore new concepts and perspectives, even if the conversation, course or talk is outside your discipline.

2. Take a risk — push yourself to reach out.

Last year I reached out to a local woman whose content I’d been following on LinkedIn (see No. 5). She ultimately not only had me as a guest on her podcast, but also introduced me to a recent college grad who helped me fine-tune my Instagram skills.

Your connections have connections — if you’re offering value to others, they may just return the favor.

3. Talent is everywhere.

One of my neighbors listened to me complain (during one of our early morning walks) about what a tough time I was having finding great marketing talent. She introduced me to her friend’s daughter who has now become a member of our graphic design team.

Talent can come from the most unthought-of places — you just have to have an open mind.

The Rolling Stone Culture Council is an invitation-only community for Influencers, Innovators and Creatives. Do I qualify?

4. Find your community.

I participated regularly in Zooms held by membership organizations like the Society of Saleswomen and the Rolling Stone Culture Council. I not only met new people, but I also learned important aspects of how to host a truly dynamic virtual meet-up. The best online gatherings include:

• Wacky icebreakers

• Provocative discussion topics

• Random breakout rooms

• Fun mobile phone games

I was amazed at how much I could learn about people through these virtual gatherings. While we’re still contending with the pandemic, virtual meetings make it easy to grow your network and truly find your community.

5. Actively grow your network while also leaning on your past connections.

Setting aside “social media time” each morning, I attempted to connect with at least one new and interesting person each week. Sometimes just writing a selfless comment on someone else’s post can make their day.

Keeping in touch with colleagues and connections from the past can also be insightful and inspirational. Hearing perspectives from people who “knew you when” (whenever that was) will give you a new view into how far you’ve come, what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.

In 2021, I pushed myself to learn new skills and attend events I really wasn’t in the mood to go to. Although the pandemic has (rightfully) made us all more cautious about interactions with strangers, I chose my outings carefully and, even when I was not feeling my personal best, made the effort to engage, ask questions and open my eyes and ears.

The pandemic may have dampened our confidence and our appetites for random interactions and risk-taking. Or, you may have always been a more cautious and reserved person. But even after 40-plus years of working, I’ve come to realize that some of my best learning moments and personal growth experiences have come from those strange and unexpected encounters.

As you continue to head into the new year, think about opportunities for expanding your circle, overcoming preconceptions about people and groups.

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