In this episode, we get in the holiday spirit as we speak with Rob Lawless who is on a journey to meet 10,000 strangers. He is almost halfway to his goal and his project has already allowed him to meet individuals from 85 different countries. Rob discusses the importance of meeting new people to have a sense of belonging, a shift in perspective, and to open doors for the future.
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A LOOK INSIDE THE EPISODE:
TM: How was your experience with Tough Mudder?
R: It was good. I did it the first time with my fraternity brothers. I went to Penn State University and I was in a fraternity there amongst other involvements, but I’m still very close with those guys. Some of us juniors were doing it with some of the seniors and then we all did it with a bigger group the next year. I think it was the second time, my friend, Steve, and I were like, “Be careful,” and I think you talked about being careful. He rolled his ankle in like the first 100 yards. But he still did the whole thing and he completed it. Then, at the end, it looked like he had a baseball on the side of his ankle, but he did it.
I like the camaraderie and I think that I saw that back then and then I saw that this most recent time. You’re helping these total strangers over these obstacles and in that moment, it’s no longer like, this is a stranger to me, it’s more like, this is a person who needs to get over this wall, and I have an arm that I can offer, and I’m going to help pull them up. I think you guys preach that in a big way.
A lot of the reason I enjoy doing Tough Mudders is one of the reasons I enjoy doing this project. It makes me feel like a kid again. The obstacles are my favorite part. The running is not so much my favorite part, but it pushes you and makes you get back in shape a little bit. Climbing over the walls and going under the things and it just makes me feel like I’m running through the woods, like in my hometown and I really enjoy that. Doing this project has been one big adventure. I never knew that I was going to be chatting on the Tough Mudder podcast when I started this, but here we are, because one thing led to another and then people make introductions and end up in this space that you never would have thought of.
TM: Tell us about your project.
R: I run a project called Rob’s 10k Friends, and it’s my mission to spend one hour, one on one with 10,000 different people. I started it in November of 2015, a few years after I graduated from college. I went to Penn State,I studied finance and minored in accounting and entrepreneurship. I had my fraternity, I was a tour guide for prospective students, I built houses with Habitat for Humanity, and I was part of a philanthropy effort called Penn State Dance Marathon. Every year we raised money for the fight against pediatric cancer and it’s an awesome thing. When I was there, I think we raised like $13 million every year and it culminates in this 46 hour, no sitting, no sleeping Dance Marathon and I say dance in quotes, because it’s really just the idea that you’re taking on the pain of the kids with cancer, and they get to go and have a weekend forgetting that they have cancer. So all of those things were really important to me as a student, and then I graduated, I started doing consulting. I have this expense budget going around to different cities in the US, I spent time in Kentucky, New York City, Jersey City, Philadelphia. But I’m kind of confined within the walls of this cubicle and where I used to be running into friends all the time at Penn State, now I’m formatting PowerPoint slides, and I’m overwhelmed with emails, and taking notes on calls. Going from such a place of impact to where I felt like I was doing tedious tasks, that for me was a hard transition. I understand those tasks have to be done and when you’re new to a company, you work your way up the ladder. But the entrepreneurial side of me was like, why don’t you try your own thing?
Eventually I left Deloitte to go to a tech startup. They had 24 million in funding and I was like the 80th employee there. When I got to that place, I moved out of my parents house into the city of Philadelphia, I’m originally from 40 minutes outside. I moved into Philly and it felt like a new campus to me. I felt like this was Penn State all over again and you can just go and create the relationships the same way you did in school. I’ve been thinking of this concept to meet 10,000 people because I thought it would be a fun journey to go on and once I was there, I was like we are doing it. We’re doing an hour with each person.
At the time I thought it was going to take me four years to complete. I severely underestimated how long it was going to take because it’s been over six years and I’m less than halfway through. But I started meeting people and I started an Instagram account. I would sit with each person, one on one for an hour, and there’s no agenda to the conversation. We’re just here to get to know each other, I want to know who they are, I want them to know who I am, so the next time we pass each other, we pass each other as friends as opposed to strangers. I’ve had that happen several times throughout my life, and there’s a lot to the story that we can get into. But I think the most recent person I met was around 4,710.