What is my answer? I'm not sure, but I think if I type for 20 minutes I'll figure something out, like I usually do.
Part of knowing all of these people is a lack of fear or inhibitions. I have been in a room more than once and asked a person a question that in all honestly I do not expect them to answer because it is personal and there are three other people standing around. However, four times out of five they answer. I've seen the statistics for other types of abuse and assault and I think we all know more interesting people that we realize.
And let me be clear, I have lots of fears and inhibitions, but I think they are different than most people. What am I afraid of? Killing myself, by accident of course. Climbing mountains via the hard way or climbing the hard mountains is not a great way to live long. I am also afraid of being alone. Perhaps that is strange for someone that spends as much time alone as I do. I think most people have this fear though. Why else would we try to work through relationship problems? Is it just me or are relationships the most emotionally devastating things?
On the other hand I do things that most people can't conceptualize of. I like wearing short running shorts. I like standing on a one square foot ledge 400 feet off of the ground. How does that relate to my interactions with people? It's a huge confidence booster. Compared to falling 40 feet on the side of a cliff and only three feet away from a ledge that would surely have broken multiple bones, asking someone about their addiction and rehab is small potatoes.
I also position myself in unique situations. Want to have an hour long conversation with someone who climbed Everest? Find the most hardcore (expensive, oldest, well known) local mountain climbing shop, walk in and proceed to look at the biggest down parka or heaviest pair of boots they have. Someone will ask if you need help and tell them that you are planning on doing Denali or Everest and you would like to talk to the most experienced employee they have. Chances are it's some guy that has climbed some really high mountains.
I guess another realization I've had in the last 18 months is that niche famous people are so incredibly normal. They don't have personal assistants blocking their phone calls. They stand in line at the coffee shop too. My advisor from graduate school is one of the very top people in the world for heat treating steel. He knows everyone in the industry. Yet his email and phone number are easy to find on the internet.
A lot of people have very interesting backgrounds. So usually I try to get them to open up a little. Which is funny because I'm not terribly fond of talking about myself. I think that people will label me crazy, which may not be totally untrue, but I do not want people to avoid me because of that. I feel that when people talk about themselves it is a huge opportunity to experience something I have absolutely no experience with. This whole post was prompted by a conversation with a nurse. Her stories were totally mind blowing. She is totally out there helping people and dealing with sickness and death. It just makes everything I do seem unimportant and bland. (That is exactly the type of person I try to surround myself with. People that are so much better at something than myself. It forces me to try harder so that my accomplishments don't pale in comparison to theirs.)
The last, and probably most important, aspect of my strange encounters is due to my impossibly high goals. I had the opportunity to stare at a very steep mountain wall this summer and tell one of the 20 best mountaineers in the world that it looked doable because there was snow clinging to it so it wasn't entirely vertical. Besides it had been done twice already. He laughed at me and said it was inexperience talking. Looking at one of the hardest big walls in the world and trying to draw out lines and imagine possibilities is the start. (Second comes talking about it, out loud. Then eventually you commit to it.)
Wanting to do what has never been done, and knowing that it is possible, makes my day to day life easy. When I first met people that had climbed Mt. Everest I was in awe. As I learned more about them I realized that I had done things in the mountains some of them had not. I also looked at all of these 8000 meter veterans and I realized I could run faster than almost all of them. In the same way I have been in meetings with multiple PhDs and something has come up and I offered a suggestion or theory they had not thought of. Little things that scare people away like titles and accomplishments are just that in their minds, little things. I feel that people are more scared of being alone than they are of talking to strangers. When it comes to niche famous people I think this is especially the case. They have achieved something difficult they set out to do and after they are done realize that they still have to open doors for themselves and go grocery shopping. The task was not as big as they imagined.
The human mind is a fantastic thing. You see walking at 23,000 feet in Pakistan is the same motion as walking at 4,000 feet in New Hampshire which is the same as walking up a hill in June in Kansas. Oh there is more clothing and heavier boots and crampons, and it is on the other side of the world, but it is not magic. It's just the piece of land you are standing on versus the piece that I am standing on. We are created equal, just inhabiting different pieces of land. That is where I find these people.