Career Woman

5 Things I learnt having lunch with 100 total strangers


If you were to meet me today, you’d probably guess I was confident and adventurous. But if you’d met me not that long ago, you would’ve assumed I was shy and anxious. So which perception is true? Well, both of them, as it turns out.

Until recently, I was drifting through life. I was also very low on confidence, especially around people who weren’t Asian. My turning point was a humiliating incident in late 2017. I’d started a new job and my boss had brought me along to my first client meeting. One hour into the meeting, the (non-Asian) client asked me a question – and I was so nervous, I couldn’t reply.

That humiliation was a wake-up call. I knew I had to finally overcome my crippling social anxiety. I knew I had to set a better example for my two young children. So I set myself the goal of having lunch with 100 strangers in 2018, a world away from the COVID-19 reality we currently live in. But those 100 lunches changed my life.

Lesson 1: Magic happens outside your comfort zone

At the start of my journey, I struggled to make small talk and had to talk myself out of quitting. Gradually, though, my social skills and confidence improved. By the end, I’d become a confident communicator and would look forward to meeting new people.

That 100-lunch journey taught me that magic happens outside your comfort zone. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. To improve, you need to force yourself to do scary things.

Lesson 2: Strangers can open doors for us

A funny thing started happening as I met more strangers – more opportunities began falling in my lap. I got recommended to other lunch guests. I had business referred to me. I was offered jobs. I was even asked to give keynote speeches – yes, the girl who had once been a terrible communicator was not only offered speaking gigs but eagerly accepted! The bigger your network, the more favours you receive. That partly explains why I’m still having lunches – I’ve now done 230 and counting.

Lesson 3: Most of us underestimate our potential

Before I started having lunch with strangers, I’d been conditioned to settle for ‘realistic’ goals. But as I met one successful person after another and heard their stories, I began to think: ‘If they can do great things, why can’t I’? That made me realise that I could achieve so much more, provided I cast aside my limiting beliefs.

So I became fearless. I embraced uncomfortable experiences, from public speaking to skydiving. Each time I did something that had seemed impossible, it confirmed that I’d been underestimating my potential my entire life.

Lesson 4: Successful people have better mindsets

The other thing I learned from meeting so many successful people is why so few people achieve success in life.

Initially, I assumed successful people must operate on a higher level, because they acted so differently to me. Later, as I discovered they had similar personal issues and insecurities, I concluded that, actually, we’re all pretty much the same. But as my journey continued, I realised that even though successful people might face similar challenges, they really are on a higher level, because they tackle those challenges with a superior mindset. Successful people are bigger thinkers. Most people see problems; they see solutions.

Lesson 5: Questions help you discover hidden truths

Remember how I used to be drifting through life? My 100 lunches solved that problem.

Getting asked thousands of personal questions forced me to do lots of self-reflection. Each time I discussed my hobbies, strengths and goals, I developed a better understanding of what made me unique and what was important to me.

It was also eye-opening to ask other people questions and peer into their lives. I would then ask myself: ‘Is that the life I want?’ If so, I would wonder how to achieve it. If not, I would wonder how to avoid it.

Most of us don’t like to look inside ourselves, because we’re scared of what we’ll find. I learned that if you really want clarity in life, you must be prepared to answer tough questions.

About Kaley Chu

Kaley Chu is the author of 100 Lunches With Strangers, a fun and brutally honest memoir that charts her inspiring journey from insecure immigrant to master networker. Kaley used to be so nervous around other people that she struggled to have even one-on-one conversations. Now, she's a TEDx speaker who regularly shares her story at conferences. Find out more at

Recommended for you