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It’s Easier to Talk to Strangers

I walked along the Sydney Harbor, enjoying the nice weather and beautiful views. As I sat on a concrete block with headphones on, a young man approached and asked me for directions. I ended up getting to know all about him and have stayed in touch with him. Talking with strangers is easier than talking with people we know because they don't hold our past mistakes against us.

Day 450 (part 2)

Bondi Beach was overcrowded and put me in a bad mood, but a few people in a restaurant brightened my spirits when I ordered a takeaway coffee. I was so caught up in conversation with them that I didn’t realize the time. 

I was now running late to the Pylon lookout. My bridge climb ticket the day prior included the tower lookout, and the last entry was 4:45 pm. I drove for 30 minutes to the tower, and after paying for parking, I had four minutes to get there. I ran around the base up a hill but realized that the entry was farther away because you have to climb up the bridge first. I was below the bridge. 

I knew I wouldn’t make it, so I decided to enjoy the park at the bottom of the bridge. A few cannons and ruins described the history of the area. The sun was starting to set, and it was beautiful. I had paid for parking until 6:20 pm, so I walked around the area enjoying the nice weather.

I saw climbers on different bridge sections, making me realize just how high up I was when I climbed it. The area was beautiful. I walked along the shoreline and had views of the Opera House, boats, and the skyscrapers towering above. 

I walked around the harbor, passing restaurants with live music and people enjoying their Sunday evening. There was even a group of people learning how to dance. After a while, I sat down on a concrete ledge near the water. I put my headphones in my ears and started to update the map of my trip to Australia on my phone. 

All of a sudden, a guy approached me and asked me if I knew where something was. I thought maybe I could help, so I listened. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where he was talking about. He asked if I was from Sydney, and I explained that I was from the U.S. and had only been in Sydney for two days. 

The guy was looking around, desperate for help with directions. Then he showed me the text message from his friend, telling him where to meet. There were two different places listed. One was a restaurant right behind me, but the other was a few kilometers away. 

In his early 20s, Ashish was wearing a suit, had black-framed glasses, and was from India. While he waited for more instructions from his friend, he told me that he was meeting for drinks with the friend and an assistant to a Minister of Australia. 

Ashish told me that he was studying communications and public relations at a University, but he was also interested in politics. He was networking with some political figures in Australia. That explained the suit. 

Ashish sat down, and we continued to talk as if we had known each other for years. He asked how long I was traveling, so I explained my situation (sold my house, quit my job, and traveled for the last 15 months). Ashish talked about politics and said he is a progressive and thinks he can learn from Australia’s politics. 

After talking about politics for a while, Ashish asked what I previously did for work. I explained that I worked in corporate America as an Operations Manager and a Recruiting Manager. He said, “That makes sense. You have a lot of GK.” I asked what that was, and he explained, “General knowledge. We abbreviate it in India.” 

Ashish opened up to me about his studies, life path, and life in India. He attended a boarding school in India, and the principal was from Scotland. She only directly taught three students in the whole high school, and Ashish was one of them.

He explained how she mentored him, corrected his English, and saw potential in him. Ashish tended to exaggerate (like saying his family had all sorts of nice cars), and she called him out on it. A couple of times, he was too tired and said he wasn’t going to class. The principal came to his dorm room and made him go to class. He appreciated all her efforts, and they still email each other to this day. 

Ashish told me that he wanted to be the Prime Minister one day. At one point, he met the CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi. Ashish admired her because she was the first female CEO of Pepsi, is from India, and was also the longest-running CEO.

When Ashish told Indra that he wanted to be the Prime Minister one day, she told him never to say such big goals. Indra never said she was going to become a CEO. She just focused on her work and what was in front of her. I thought it was an interesting perspective.

Ashish and I talked about having a goal and needing something to strive for. Maybe it’s not so bad to be bold and say you want to become the Prime Minister? But I advised him to work hard and be open to other paths. People often think the path to success is a straight line, but it never is. It’s also different for everyone. I explained to him that his path might lead him somewhere that he thinks is going astray (and it could be for years), only to prove beneficial to him later. 

Ashish comes from a middle-class family, so he has to work hard for what he has. I explained to him that I worked all through college (and two years in high school) and worked extremely hard for over 15 years after college before doing what I was doing – traveling full-time. Sometimes you need to put in the work. I don’t regret my time in corporate America at all. I worked with some of the most intelligent people in the world. I learned more than I can adequately summarize. 

Ashish attended a University in India for one year, but he wasn’t happy there. His English teacher would mispronounce English words, which frustrated him. He eventually started to correct her. Ashish laughed, “Kids looked at me like, You can’t correct a teacher.” He was proud of his boldness.

Ashish’s dad is an Engineer and wanted him to become the same. Eventually, Ashish asked his dad about communications and going to Australia. There was an entrance test, and he wanted to take it. His dad allowed him to take the test just once, and if he passed, he could attend. Ashish passed the test and had been in Sydney for just over a year. He sighed, “I know it’s easy to get visas if I study IT, which most people do, but I just don’t feel in my heart that’s what I should do.”

Ashish told me about a female coworker he recently had. They didn’t get along, and when it was brought up to his boss, they sided with the female. He was frustrated, saying, “I value women. I care about women’s issues. I have a sister and a mother. But it seems lately that workplaces side with women no matter what.” I explained to him that the #metoo movement had caused some “over-swinging,” unfortunately. What started as something good (uncovering a lot of criminal abuse against women) has turned into hearsay. He sighed in sadness.

We continued talking and Ashish mentioned the pro-life protest that was in the city that afternoon. He attended and asked if I knew about the new bill being proposed. I told him I knew about it. I had actually thought about attending to oppose the new bill but forgot about it. He explained, “The bill will allow abortion for any reason up until birth. That’s just wrong. It’s for New South Wales, and the Prime Minister needs to step up. I’m all for women’s rights, but I can’t get behind taking a life. I understand some women might be in a tough situation, but I still can’t justify taking a life.”

The controversial bill was eventually passed after 8 weeks of protests, but with some restrictions after 22 weeks gestation.

I was enjoying the conversation with Ashish. He reminded me of recent graduates that I used to hire and mentor when I was the Recruiting Manager. At the time, some of them told me that they accepted the job because of how helpful I was during the interview and offer stage. Talking with Ashish could have easily been one of my recent graduate hires. He was smart, motivated, articulate, and passionate. 

Ashish laughed about how much he was telling me, “I usually don’t tell anybody any of this. But I guess it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know.” 

That’s just it – it is easier to talk with strangers. Strangers don’t have any preconceived opinions about us. Strangers focus on who we are now. When we have a history with someone, it’s difficult for them not to consider their past experiences with us. When we meet a stranger, we are free of any past mistakes we’ve made. It’s always a fresh start. 

Ashish’s friend messaged him, and he had to go. We spent about 30 minutes talking to each other and shook hands goodbye. We connected on Facebook and went our separate ways. The sun had set while we were talking. I walked back to my car, passing newlyweds posing for pictures with the Opera House in the background. 

I was so thrilled about the day. I had been pretty angry earlier and disgusted with humanity and their self-absorption. God knew that, and I believe he purposely put those people in my life – Maris, his nephew, the woman, and Ashish. They reminded me of the goodness in humanity. Hearing their stories ignited me. It reminded me of what motivates me in this world – people. 

Ashish and I have remained in contact over the last 17 months. He did research work for a political office in Sydney. Once that one finished, he accepted similar work with a different political office. I am always thrilled to hear about how it’s going and happy to offer any advice that might help.

Even though I am no longer a manager at my old job, I get fulfillment by mentoring Ashish and following his success. It reminds me of the parts of my job that I loved and that I was pretty good at. Who knows, maybe one day he’ll become the Prime Minister.

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2 Responses

  1. Great post. I am enjoying meeting people, hearing their stories and sharing mine while traveling as well. 😊

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Throughout her wild 3-week journey backpacking 220+ miles in the California Sierra Mountains, Christy encountered freezing temperatures, pelting hail storms, and losing her way, but found trail family, incredible views, and experiences that would change her life forever. Hiking up and over ten different mountain passes gave Christy a lot of time to think about why her nine-year marriage was falling apart, gave her the chance to truly embody her individualism, time to make new friends, and the strength she would need on and off the trail. Her life could never again be the same.
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