101 Days Later…

It’s (already!) been exactly 101 days since I finished the “101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories” project.

I’ve been asked countless times since then about how the project has shaped me, whether or not I still talk to strangers, if I’m writing a book about it, if I have plans for future projects, etc. I’ll do my best to do those questions justice here.

The day after the project came to a close (day 102, if you will), I ended up talking to not one, not two, but three strangers — each fairly spontaneously. One, I met on the bus — he was carrying ski poles on a route nowhere near a mountain, so I just had to inquire. Another, I met while watching a rainbow take shape over the ocean around sunset. Its beauty was far too remarkable to remain silent, so we naturally turned to one another. The third was a 70-something year old man who was dancing free-spiritedly so I joined him and we salsa danced together. It seemed like strangers would continue to be an actively significant part of my life.

The day after that was the first time in 103 days that I didn’t leave the house. And it was lovely. The introverted side of me had been challenged during the project to reach further outside myself, and it was nice to be able to spend an entire day alone, delving further within.

Each day after that, life resumed to normal, for the most part. But I noticed 3 main things about myself that have perhaps permanently shifted:

1) I have a deepened awareness of the people around me and a renewed understanding of what I’m missing out on when I’m not engaging with them. Put simply, for example, if I’m on the bus and I’m not engaging in a conversation with a stranger, I understand that there’s something potentially really valuable I’m giving up to savour my silence. Knowing this, I do still initiate the occasional conversation — in elevators, buses, while walking down the street, you name it. And it comes far more naturally to me than it had before. But, truthfully speaking, I certainly don’t initiate these interactions nearly as often as I used to. That’s okay. And to be fair, I’m still percolating and sifting through all the words of wisdom from the first 101. They guide me through my every day.

2) I’m more perceptive of my surroundings. I am, as though by default, more in tune with what’s going on around me and as a result I’m more in tune with myself. It’s as though the project was like taking a leap, thrusting me into the very real sense in which my existence is deeply interwoven within the lives of others. There are parts of ourselves that can only be realized through other people and for 101 days, 101 different people helped bring that lesson to life for me. To speak a little less abstractly, this reveals itself in different ways on different days but in general, I am better able to gauge the emotions of the people around me. If someone is upset, for example, I can usually sense it, because, in a sense, it manifests itself within me, too. And I’m more intuitive. Sometimes, I can guess what people are going to say before they say it. Perhaps listening to the stories of a diverse group of folks does that to a person. All I know is that it’s been incredibly valuable and interesting to navigate.

3) I feel more connected to my community, and I feel safer because of it. The places I visit around the city are no longer just places, but places with stories and familiar faces that make them come to life. One of the most exciting parts about this is that many people who had been following along this project have told me that they feel safer in their communities, too! Knowing that my adventures were able to help in this regard is invaluable, and understanding through stories that we are all fundamentally human is a pretty special thing.

Back in October, right after I finished the project, I had a chance to share my story on the TEDx stage. I’m excited (and slightly terrified) to announce that the audio version of my talk is available here, and that the video version will be out shortly!

As for future projects, well, I’m going to try to focus my attention on school for a while (which is, although a privilege, especially difficult when I know how much more I can learn from people than from textbooks!) But the project has, perhaps surprisingly, managed to inform even my economics and philosophy degree, which is pretty neat in and of itself. That said, if anyone has ideas for future shenanigans or collaboration opportunities, do keep me in the loop. And I’ll do my best to keep writing.

Until next time, here’s another big thank you to everyone who followed along with words of encouragement. It’s pretty clear that the experience has changed me and having people to share these stories with made it easier in the seeking and the telling.

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