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Talking to Strangers

After interviewing more than one thousand guests on his podcast, The Unmistakable Creative, Srinivas Rao (MBA ’09) has received an unlikely education from both bank robbers and billionaires. Driven by an insatiable curiosity for what makes human beings tick, Rao’s interviews uncover his deep desire to share with his community of thinkers the secrets to living more meaningful, impactful, and joyful lives. Here, he reveals what he’s learned from his most memorable guests.

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The "Smartist"

Something my mentor, Greg Hartle, has said over and over again is that your temporary circumstances don’t have to become your permanent reality. The more you invest in perpetuating the permanence of your current circumstances, the more it becomes your reality. For example, if you run out of money, that’s a circumstance. But when you say you’re poor, that’s an identity. This kind of thinking ultimately limits what is possible in our lives. 

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The Former Presidential Candidate

Andrew Yang gave me a better understanding of the reality of the country we live in. If you live in a major city, you don’t actually see what this country is like. People are angry. Their jobs have been taken away from them because of automation, and we don’t have systems in place to help these people recover. People have lost everything they have and can’t figure out how to get back on their feet. That is a far more real representation of America than anything we get to see from Silicon Valley. 

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The Psychologist

Gillian Sandstrom talked about the idea of belonging to a human collective. She shared a story about having a conversation with someone on the subway, which sparked her research on the psychology behind talking to strangers. The paradox of technology is that it has connected and isolated us at the same time. When we become isolated, we lose empathy. Making connections and building communities are ultimately about empathy and service. It’s about what you can bring to the table for other people.

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The Creator of the Bullet Journal Method

Ryder Carroll explained that our goals are often handed to us by other people. When we allow that to happen, we don’t understand what makes a goal meaningful. We don’t understand why we want something. We just know we want it. We don’t think about what it’s going to do for us. When you don’t understand the essence of your goal, you end up setting ambitions that don’t have meaningful parameters.

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The Former Inmate

Prison is a fascinating underworld that we want to know so much about without ever having to experience it. When you look at the criminal justice system and talk to people who have been incarcerated or have worked as prosecutors, you begin to see the systemic structures in place that have given people major disadvantages in life. Andy Dixon grew up in an environment where he was raised up on his uncle’s shoulders for beating someone up. That reinforces in a child the idea that violence is the key to receiving love. He first shot someone at the age of 12 and spent 27 years in Tennessee prisons after high school. Many people just can’t get out of those circumstances.

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The Coauthor of the Daily Stoic

When we achieve a certain level of success, we think the next level after that will finally make us feel whole and complete. On an individual level, that thinking drives accomplishment. It’s the type of motivation that encourages senators to run for president. But on the aggregate level, it creates false horizons. Such achievers reach the next step and realize it doesn’t lead to the everlasting happiness they thought it would. Ryan Holiday shared that the key is finding the balance between fulfillment and ambition, which is easier said than done in a world that celebrates status.