2015 began with a New Year’s potluck dinner party among a group of strangers, and ended with going to a New Year’s Eve dance party at an old movie theatre with a hippie jam band playing covers. In between were 110 other episodes that I called “Social Risks”--things I did, people I spoke with that went beyond my comfort zone. My New Year’s resolution for 2015 was to undertake 100 Social Risks and see what would happen.
Why I Did This
There’s a longer explanation with lots of tortuous reasoning and precise guidance about why I chose this course of action. Here’s the short version. I was lonely. I despaired of not having much of a community around me. I felt like a stranger. I decided to put myself “out there” at least 100 times instead of waiting for others to take the initiative. Yes, I hoped for new friends, for intimates to share my thoughts, journeys, days and nights. But I was sufficiently detached from results so I could focus on the experience of what it meant and felt like to be far more proactive about my social life.
A social risk could be a lot of things but it could not be a commercial transaction. No chatting up the barrista or checkout clerk. At the minimum, it had to involve talking to someone I didn’t know and there had to be at least three conversation volleys. Face-to-face talking. Eye contact. No screens whatsoever. And not part of my job. I had to make an effort when I would rather not. It had to make me at least a little bit nervous. Sweaty palms meant I was on the right track. This was the minimum, some risks went a great deal further.
I undertook 112 social risks during the 2015 calendar year. I kept a spreadsheet to keep count and to remember what I did, when, where, and anything special about it. I started out the month of January like gangbusters with 13 social risks, the most in any one month. August was a slow month with only 6. I tried to average 2 a week, through there were a few times I did 2 a day. The most time that ever elapsed between social risks was 8 days. The spreadsheet helped keep me motivated.
What I Learned
Social isolation is the new normal and our personal technology use legitimizes it. So much of our lives keeps us in our own little devices or exhausts us into passivity—I came to believe that taking a social risk is a radical act. Also, any sort of marginalization we might feel is no excuse for not seeking and claiming our community—and humanity. I was a bad ass when I stepped out of line to take a social risk. And I noticed that if I was tired, I cared less and did less.
What Did It Mean?
I ended up 2015 with about as many close relationships as I had when I started, which is to say, not enough and still longing for more. But I have more acquaintances, and who knows where yet some of those may go. I have a little more social confidence. I can strike up a conversation with a stranger rather than wait and hope a stranger does likewise with me. I have a couple new skills and networks. I definitely stretched myself. I liked what I did and I liked myself better. And I should get more sleep. The bottom line is that it was worth doing, and although I ended up the year with about the same number of relationships in my life as when I started, the process was fuel for my engine.
I’ve thought a lot about what the encore should be. It could be another 100 social risks. It could be 100 second steps. 100 Karaoke songs or ask 100 men out for a date. I’m thinking about those last two but I am not ready for those yet—maybe 2017. So I’ve decided—it’s going to be 1000 big, cheesy smiles. I’ve decided to smile more and see where that takes me. Numbers 1-19 are in the bag and 20-23 are coming up tomorrow. There’s a lot more to say about my 100 social risks experiment and I’ll write more about it—this is the short version to get to the point, but the journey is interesting too. And the new experiment—1000 cheesy smiles—has already yielded a few stunning insights.
That was the short version — follow me and read more. This anti-loneliness experiment is about all of us.