A couple of weekends ago, I took a much-needed beach trip with a couple of friends. After a wonderful day laying out in the sun and frolicking in the chilly California water, one of my friends glanced down at the backs of my legs and said, “Dude, your legs look kind of red.” I groaned and glanced down, unsurprised to see the bright red kiss of the sun streaking up the backs of both legs. I get sunburned a lot (unfortunately). I’m very familiar with the sunburn routine – aloe, aloe aloe, peel, peel peel.
But what was surprising this time was the Rorschach-like white splotches that broke up the angry red burn – the few places I had successfully placed sunscreen on my skin. The placement of the splotches was so odd-looking that when I got back to my dorm, classmates stopped me to try to figure out what it looked like. I got asked if I burned my legs in that pattern “on purpose” and what I had intended the burn to look like. While I found these queries amusing (I had most definitely not burned my legs on purpose) it was also entertaining to me that my sunburn seemed to have broken down walls between me and the dorm-mates with whom hadn’t talked much this year.
Several days later, I was walking around Lake Lag with a friend talking about something that had been on my mind a lot recently when we heard a girl crying on one of the benches. We decided we should probably stop and talk to her, and it turned out that she was experiencing a lot of what I had been going through as well. The two of us talked for about half an hour, and it was incredible to have coincidentally found somebody with whom I connected so well. We exchanged numbers, and I left feeling a lot better about my situation. These two events happening so close together made me think about how we make connections with others, and the power of reaching out to people in person in our immediate surroundings.
I understand the importance of networking and “making connections,” and I’m grateful for how easy that is in our modern technological society. If you are interested in a certain field, odds are you can find somebody you know who has a connection to that industry. And that’s incredibly powerful. But I think there’s something to be said for old-fashioned networking.
My intriguing sunburn turned into an odd form of making connections with people that I don’t know that well. Dorm-mates and people in classes would comment on the burn, and that conversation sometimes evolved into something more deep. Stopping to talk to a complete stranger at Lake Lag led to a truly meaningful conversation. I’m not advocating for people to go out and get sunburns (please wear sunscreen; my legs are still peeling two weeks later) but I do think there’s value in recognizing that sometimes we don’t need LinkedIn or Handshake to make the most valuable connections in life. Next time you see somebody wearing a cool hat or sporting an awesome nose ring, compliment them! Not only will you make their day, but you just might find a cool new friend.
Contact Julie Plummer at jplummer ‘at’ stanford.edu.