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Penn State Alum On Way To Goal Of Meeting 10,000 People

Penn State alumnus Rob Lawless’s first job out of a college required him to email strangers and follow up with 30-minute phone calls to discuss his company’s products.

Needless to say, everyone knows that telemarketing phone calls and emails are frustrating for those on the receiving end, so you can probably imagine the responses Lawless received for simply doing his job as a sales rep.

After a few years of constant rejection from callers, Lawless’s company was bought out, and he was left without a job.

However, that negativity and rejection sparked an idea. Instead of approaching strangers trying to make a sale, what if he spent that time trying to learn their stories? As a result, Lawless decided to try to meet 10,000 people as a way to cultivate “the untapped value of human connection.”

The idea is actually quite simple: Lawless meets strangers for an hour and tries to learn a little bit about each one’s story during their limited time together.

After beginning the ambitious project in November of 2015, Lawless is about a quarter of the way done and has met 2,481 people to date.

Every time he meets a new person as part of this project, he posts a picture with a detailed story on his Instagram account.

View this post on Instagram

1300. "I always said in my college essays, 'That was the day a half empty bottle was chosen over my life.'" Chris Gellenbeck grew up traveling all over the world. He's lived in Nigeria, South Africa, Germany and Romania, and when he was 16 years old, he traveled to the U.S. to visit a friend in NYC. During the trip, they were boating on the Hudson when Chris fell overboard, was run over by the boat, and was sucked up by his legs into its engines. After pulling him back onboard the other guys left him to run and hide a bottle of alcohol before the ambulance came. When help did arrive, Chris had lost 5 of his 6 liters of blood and technically died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital. He was told he'd never walk again, but made a full recovery (we went on a walk during our hour together) and moved to the U.S. to study Music Business and Communications after high school. Since then, he's grown a love for the art community of Philadelphia and last year started his own project, @unrulydiplomats, to capture the city and bring together creatives of all different backgrounds. Through his travels, Chris has spent time with everyone from homeless children to children of Prime Ministers and now wants to continue to weave the community together through his renewed time here on earth. Also, there's much more to this man than I could write so if you ever have the chance, sit down with him for an hour (or two)! So great to meet you, Chris! #10kfriends #philly #germany #southafrica #travel #newlife #music #family #unrulydiplomats #community #meetingpeople • How we met: Chris first came across my account via his friend, @nicrichgfx (#771), but was recently introduced to me to meet by @the_brittjames (#63)!

A post shared by 🌎 Rob Lawless (@robs10kfriends) on

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1891. “It’s amateur built so you don’t have to fly in it if you don’t want.” When Tyson McDowell and I first connected, I immediately said yes when he invited me to fly in his plane. I didn’t know, however, until meeting him today that he and his friend built the plane on their own! After investing 4,400 hours over 15 years, Tyson constructed this bad boy which now provides him with what he calls the ultimate form of freedom. I knew I was in safe hands, though, when he explained (after we were already cruising over the California coast) that he began taking flying lessons at just 12 years old. At that same age, Tyson began building websites after going through a @microsoft pilot program to teach young kids how to code. He funded his flight lessons through building sites for local businesses and enjoyed entrepreneurship so much that he chose to build his own company a month after graduating high school. He organized all of the software and began packaging it for healthcare companies, helping them make revenue collections more efficiently. Then, 2.5 years ago, Tyson sold his company, around the same time he finished building the plane. Now, he runs a venture portfolio full of companies that use technology to create positive behaviors in people. A lover of both aviation and entrepreneurship, Tyson has quite literally built his dreams into reality and now looks forward to helping others do the same! Thanks so much for an incredible hour of freedom, @leadwingman! #10kfriends #sandiego #gillespiefield #pilot #airplane #flight #entrepreneur #software #tech #venturecapitalist #meetingpeople • How we met: Tyson and I were introduced via email by my cousin, @sfjilly (thanks Jill 🤗)!

A post shared by 🌎 Rob Lawless (@robs10kfriends) on

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1763. “And I was like, ‘Damn, I have this person who actually believes in me.’” While cooking breakfast with his mom and brother one day, Matt Dajer made a casual joke about the difference between his struggling college grades and his brother’s thriving grades, saying, “At least one of us is going to be someone someday.” Immediately, his mom corrected him saying that he was going to be someone, inspiring him to take his life a bit more seriously and giving him the confidence to try building his own ventures. Matt first attempted to create an app for sports fans. Next he tried to build energy-generating staircases. He then started his own street art based T-shirt company before finally landing on the idea which has served the last 3 years of his life – @yestheory. What began as a 30 day project with friends to do something new each day quickly grew into a lifestyle of spontaneity and adventure that caught the attention of companies like Snapchat. Snapchat emailed Matt and his friends, inviting them to move from Montreal to Venice to film a show together, but they simply thought it was a joke at first. “And then 3 days later, Thomas was like, ‘Yo, do you guys think we should answer that email?’” The guys did answer the email, moved to Venice about 2 years ago, and have since then been traveling the world creating videos around the idea of putting themselves out there and seeking discomfort! With a smile on his face, Matt reflected, “Life is dope!” Awesome hanging with you, @mattdajer! #10kfriends #losangeles #venice #besomebody #yestheory #montreal #paris #youtube #adventure #spontaneity #seekdiscomfort #meetingpeople • How we met: Matt and I were introduced via text by @serengetee’s @ryanwestberg (#1067)!

A post shared by 🌎 Rob Lawless (@robs10kfriends) on

This project has become Lawless’ full-time job. He tries to meet approximately four new people every day of the week, meaning he has about seven years to go before he reaches his goal.

He has more than 21,000 followers on Instagram and more than 1,200 likes on Facebook. Lawless has developed such a following that most of the people he links up with now actually reach out to him via Instagram or email.

Sadly, Lawless can’t meet everyone that reaches out right away, but he’ll typically meet people at various times throughout the day if he’s in the same place as them.

Lawless has met thousands of people and heard thousands of unique stories over the past few years, and you can follow along on his interesting journey on his Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.

You can also find more information about Lawless and his project here.

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About the Author

Patrick Arnold

Patrick Arnold is a freshman studying broadcast journalism. He's oddly obsessed with comedy, music, and high school recruiting, among other things. He can usually be found watching sports or miscellaneous things on YouTube. Feel free to contact Patrick on Twitter: @parnold10, or via Email: [email protected]


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