Stranger 45, Day 45 - Meet Kirubel

Stranger 45, Day 45 – Meet Kirubel, the “Technologist”

I met today’s Stranger at my office. I just walked around one of the other floors in the building looking for someone I didn’t know. Again, in an office of 1,000 people, it’s really not hard. Today’s gentleman was sitting at his computer watching a game or a film, I think. He kindly accepted a chance to meet.

Meet Kirubel, 21

Who are you?

“I mostly do robot design, development… and design robots for real estate agents that takes 360 (degree) pictures. I’ve invited three more people to work with me. Right now, we’re just going to each office of the real estates, and try to implement this little technology that we have going on. It allows agents or apartments to take 360 pictures of buildings and post it on their website.”

How did you get into this?

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been tinkering with technology. My uncles works for Ericsson in Europe, and I used to write him this little VBA script. It was for his work, and every time I would get finished with his project, he would give me Oreos. Ever since then, I was able to discover more that go along… meet new people who have the same interest as me — it’s cool. That kinda stuck with me until now — what I’m doing now.”

How long have you been doing this?

“Ever since I was a kid. I used to tinker with micro-robotics… make gates that automatically open, like toy gates. This was before Legos were cool.” (I always thought Legos was cool, though. Hmm…)

I asked him if he had a robot with him.

“I’m currently doing the designing part. I’m currently designing drones that takes pictures of buildings with a high-range of view.”

Including that, or outside of that, what are your passions?

“My passion is anything having to do with technology. ANYTHING. So Microsoft is the best company that I think is out there promoting open-source projects. They used to be not like that, but in their recent years, they’ve tried to implement open-source projects. I just look forward to working with them in the future. I’m already working as an evangelist… like a software evangelist for Microsoft. That’s what’s going on in my life right now. Trying to land a job at Microsoft.”

Why do you want to land one vs. keep doing what you’re doing and grow that?

“That, too. Everyone needs to have something they can fall back on. So what I’m doing is in case that doesn’t work out, I still have this company that I’m trying to start up. If it works… you know, technology companies nowadays are like a lottery ticket. A lot of people assume that you can just start somewhere. There’s no clear point to get to success. There’s no formula that you follow. It’s always better to have something that you can fall back on, and I learned that in a really hard way. There was a certain time in my life when I was pushing so hard for one specific task. I just like let go with the things that I was supposed to do, and found myself in a really terrible place.”

Who’s been your biggest supporters on this?

“Those people would be my parents. My parents were able to give me a lot of good guidance. They showed me a way of life that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of knowing. And books. I read a lot of books. Could be some little self-help books. Anything written by Richard Dawkins… all those popular people.”

What is your Dream?

“My Dream would be to change the world. Change how most people interact with each other. It feels like nowadays, we’re losing track of… when it comes to technology, it’s consuming too much portion of our lives. We’re losing track of that old communication that we used to have with people. I’m trying to rejuvenate all of that into a way that a lot of people are living like… how humans were supposed to live. I’m not totally against transcendence, but you gotta keep that little natural formula to live life… to maintain your soul. Every person needs to have some sort of… humans are social animals. So we always thrive on relating to others to better ourselves. So I’m trying to crack that little code that make that how people relate to people so we can communicate a lot better.”

What’s a lesson that you’ve learned doing all of this trying to live up to that Dream?

“Consistency,” Kirubel says as he nods.

“So, you can achieve anything if you have a high consistency of what you’re doing. And get prepared of failure. If a person’s trying to succeed at something, if he or she is okay with failing, I think you would increase your chances of being successful… be morally prepared for failure.”

What is the one thing in life you had a chance to do that you didn’t do that you regret? (Thanks to Patrick, Stranger 44)

“That would be a job opportunity that I missed by not asking the right questions.”

“It was a friend that I had… I postponed it [the request that I had for the job interviewer]. I just postponed it because of laziness, I guess. So I was not able to get that really important job. But the good thing I got from that is that, again, consistency. So you failed in something, learn from that, and get to the next level, and grow from there. That’s the first thing I kind of regret.”

Kirubel continues, “…but I’m okay with it now because I learned from it.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What do you think is the best way to succeed?”

He realizes, “I don’t want to be a hypocrite because I said there is no certain formula for success. But what do you think in your opinion is the best way for success. I, myself, believe it is consistency, but what is it for him or her?”

After the handshake.

Kirubel is an example of the young entrepreneur who started his passion many, many years ago as a young kid. He was inspired by his parents and uncle, and has continued that inspiration into building robots today. I’m always fascinated by these individuals, and in many ways, wish I had figured out what I really enjoyed when I was young. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Outliers, the opportunity and repetition would have had great dividends now in my 30s.

I’m also curious of how Kirubel wants to continue his passion with robotics — design and development — at Microsoft. We didn’t go into this detail. However, I hope he continues to follow in his passion with robotics if it’s at Microsoft or otherwise. It’d be a shame to join a big corporate and then pigeon-holed into a role that does not allow him to exercise creativity.

Meet Kirubel. No longer a Stranger.

Rules of Engagement

So who’s a Stranger? Who do I talk to? Where? How do I choose them?

  • Anyone who I don’t know anything about, or I just know a name. Nothing more (other than the obvious if they work somewhere, gender, etc.).
  • I won’t go anywhere so far out to meet a Stranger. We have so many Strangers in our daily lives. I can stick to my typical flow, and meet people I see all the time, but know nothing about other than a face.
  • The Stranger must not have read a Stranger post before — it keeps the conversation spontaneous and fresh.
  • The Stranger must be open to a picture. This helps drive authenticity, and shows that the “everyday” person. Doesn’t matter if by picture time the person does a yoga pose or whatever pose that actually hides the face. The person must be open to the picture from the beginning, and then, the pose can happen any way s/he wants.
  • I “randomly” pick the Stranger. Can be at a coffee shop or the top of a mountain. I can wait hours in the same spot, and will pick whoever I choose. I try to be diverse, and even if the person “looks” like s/he will reject me, I try. I want to trust the Stranger will allow me to ask the question.
  • I have a “bank” of questions that I will draw from that reside largely in my head. I don’t ask the same questions, but hope my meeting with the Stranger will help draw the right questions.
  • There’s just about no rules for the pose for the picture, nor is there a rule for what the Stranger can ask tomorrow’s Stranger. I’ll play moderator, as needed.
  • No real format to how I post details from the meeting, but I hope it’s in a way that reflects our meeting, the Stranger, and what allows readers to best experience the meeting.

Lessons Learned From the First 44 Days

Early lessons from my first 44 days on 100 Strangers, 100 Days… Why 44? Because I’m 23 days late. Whoops!

  • I have been rejected due to…
    • No time/ in a hurry: 4 times
    • Did not want picture taken/ shared: 5
    • Disinterested: 3
  • The project resonates with people in many different ways, especially the stories of the Strangers
  • Starting out, people kept saying this reminded them of Humans of New York. Didn’t know what that was, but after I checked it out, I can definitely see similarities. The team behind HONY is doing great. Just as many people have noticed, my approach is much different and my purpose is, too. I want this to go a little deeper into the Stranger.
  • Several Strangers have reached back out to me days after our initial meeting to share with me
    • How the post was received by others, especially their friends — some responses:
      • “I never knew I had so many friends!”
      • “My family and friends loved it!”
      • Long-lost friends who typically only see social media shares got to re-experience their friends as they are today bringing back lots of emotions and reconnecting with each other
      • Hundreds of social media “Likes” and “Shares”
      • Many comments to the individual’s posts
      • Many Strangers are GLOWING as they tell me how others spoke to them afterwards
    • How they wanted to think more about a few of the questions, and wanted to share their thoughts after much thinking
    • Not many people ask these “deeper” questions, and they feel invigorated and excited to be able to think about them, and share
  • I’ve had three Strangers ask for edits for what they provided (a couple other times because I mis-typed)
  • Four Strangers asked me questions back
  • I have several friends who have shared their answers to some of the questions because they wanted me to know about them
  • Several people (friends and others) have asked me if I would consider asking friends because they’ve realized they don’t know the motivations and passions of some of their friends. Instead, many of their conversations revolve around work, sports, or kids
    • Friends are asking their friends some of these questions to now get to know each other better
    • (My “Rules for Engagement” post will come soon)
  • One coworker said to me, “Daryl, I might steal your idea… not for 100 days, but for a few”. This, because he wants to make more connections with those around him. My response is that it’s not stealing… it’s not a project that I have some crazy keys to. Anyone can do it. That’s the beauty of this
  • Recording the interview vs. taking notes during the interview helps make the conversation flow better
  • I have thoughts and initial “wants” of where I want this conversation to go — namely, talking about passions and motivations. However, I want the meetings to flow more than they did earlier when I felt like it was too much like interviewing. So, I let the Strangers tell the story, and put me on the path they want to go down while I nudge them in the direction of where I think this project resonates with my own purpose. In many ways, this is like actively practicing persuasion and listening skills
  • I catch myself seeing some people all the time, and though, I feel they would be open to talk to me, I wait to. I wait to because I look at them as my “safety” Strangers for when I may be time-crunched or unable to find a Stranger (or get shot down a bunch). I look for more real cold Strangers as much as possible so I can have the “safety” Stranger who has seen me before for later
  • I do try to meet many Strangers in the morning so I do NOT feel the pressure later in the day of “oh, crap, I better find someone! Time’s running out!”
  • I’m still scared to approach Strangers
    • There are days when I’m walking around, and I see so many Strangers about. However, I’m scared to approach any of them because I’m acutely aware of being vulnerable to rejection or being thought of as a “weirdo” for making such a request to talk to me
    • I’m nervous talking to certain people. I’m trying to figure out exactly what and who, but a common “type” of person is the 20-something to 40-something white male. I’m feeling this odd “high school” feeling where I was intimidated by the popular jocks around school. I’m nervous of talking to them, and being ridiculed. That never really happened in high school, mind you; however, I never really put myself in that position. Movies had always had these “cool kids” on a pedestal while making me feel “inferior”. It’s a silly thing to think about now as I do mostly what I want, and I’m doing great. However, it’s a feeling that has been there from so long ago
    • I have caught myself looking at someone thinking, “now, that’s a weirdo”. It’s me judging them. I realize I’m judging them, and instead of judging them by their looks, I should get to know them — this has been great, and I hope to continue to hit home in me to stop judging others
  • 100 is a lot of people and a lot of days
Stranger 44, Day 44 - Meet Patrick

Stranger 44, Day 44 – Meet Patrick, the “Firefighting ‘Regular Guy'”

So I actually struck out today… well, kind of. I asked three Strangers to which the first one gave me a hidden “go away” message, and the other two were not inclined to take the photo. Not going to lie, I wasn’t really feeling like talking to someone today, either, so being shut down three times in a row (hadn’t happened before) was a real bummer. I really thought this was the day that I would give myself a mulligan and just take the day off. I was tired. I wasn’t feeling “open” and “vulnerable”, and I was rejected. Thrice.

I wanted to go to my car and just sit there and maybe even nap before my yoga class at 3PM — that would give me an hour to be on my own. However, I remembered that on my way to the yoga studio there’s a fire station. For whatever reason, I’ve always thought it’d be fun to just stop in to the fire station and talk to the firemen. Perhaps it’s some of the early kid feeling of seeing the Big Red Engines. So, I parked my car near the studio, and sauntered over to the fire station… confident I wouldn’t be shut down a fourth time today.

A couple of the engines just arrived at the station coming back from… something. So as I walked up, I got to meet the driver of the larger rig, and happily, he accepted to be Stranger 44.

Meet Patrick, 39

Who are you?

“Father. Husband. Christian. Fireman. Just your average guy.” I feel he’s anything but average as a fireman.

How’d you become a fireman?

“It’s actually a funny story. I was in construction, and my dad was always telling me — he had a couple buddies who were firemen — ‘you need to go to the fire station to get a job’, and he said, ‘because then you could get benefits, and then you could still have your days doing construction.'”

“I was like, ‘yeah, whatever.’ You know how it is listening to your dad,” he tells me. He was about 24-25 when he did this.

“Ended up getting into wakeboarding because I had plenty of time. Met a guy who worked here, and he talked me into filling out an application, and I got hired here. About the time I came out of the academy, he left and went to Atlanta. I’ve been here ever since. That was 12 years ago.”

I told him that signing up as a fireman probably took more than just “randomly signing up”.

“Honestly, I never dreamed I was going to be hired. It was just kind of… throw it out there and see what happens. A buddy of mine who worked at a different station… he said it better than anyone I’ve ever heard, ‘you’ll know within your first 1-2 fires if it’s in you or not’. I think my first training fire, I was like, ‘oh yeah, I’m all in.'” Patrick tells me the Stations he’s been at before his current station.

“I can drive anything in the county.” He points to the rigs around me including the big one that needs another steerer on the back. “It’s pretty fun.”

What are your passions? Do you have any Dreams? If so, what are they?

“Right now, I have a 6-year-old at home. That’s pretty much everything.”

“I love hanging out with him and my wife. Still like going to the lake — just don’t get to do it as much as I used to,” Patrick shares. “I don’t really know if I have a Dream so to say. You could say I’m livin’ the Dream. I work for 24 hours on, off for 48. Gives me plenty of time to do what I want. Within reason, anything I can afford that I want… that’s the one downside to this. It is what it is. Nobody becomes a fireman to become rich… at least monetarily rich. We’re rich in different ways.”

What is that way for you?

“I’ve got a much larger friends than most people do. Because of the guys here. It’s a completely different atmosphere than anywhere else you could work. It really is a family because you have to depend on everyone to do their jobs so everyone can go home. If one person doesn’t do their job, everybody might not go home.”

What is a lesson you’ve learned over the years being a fireman?

“It all kind of goes back to that whole ‘husband, father, Christian, all around regular guy’… just treat others the way you want to be treated. I think if everybody in the country would treat everybody they came in contact with the way they want to be treated, the world would be a lot better place. At least, that’s always what we’ve been taught. Now, I firmly believe that. There’s too many people who take crap from everybody too often because everybody’s out for number 1. Here. That’s everywhere I’ve been. Everyone’s out for themselves.”

In a lot of ways, Patrick and his fellow “family members” are not looking out for themselves. Instead, they’re out there fighting fires, and looking out for others.

What’s it feel like to rescue someone?

“I’ve only done it once.”

What was that like?

“It was very surreal, and it wasn’t but a month ago.”

“It’s still hasn’t completely sunk in everything that happened. It’s still kind of hard to go back and explain how it feels. It was a very proud moment once I sat down… probably 2-3 days later when it actually hit what had actually happened, that you can actually be proud, I guess.”

Could you share a little bit of it? What happened? What you did?

He starts out telling me about some buildings nearby. “We went over there on a medical alarm. I was driving the engine. Went over there for the medical alarm. We’ve been over there multiple times for medical alarms that turned out to be food on the stove. 99 times out of 100, food on the stove ain’t a big deal. Just smoke in the apartment, no big deal.”

“This time, we showed up… everything about the call was strange. Pull up and there were two maintenance guys standing out front. Maintenance is never there. So we talk to them, and they said, ‘we’ve got alarms on four floors. I’ve already checked 212. Everything’s fine there. Everything’s good to go.’ By the time we made our way to 312, came to a woman who said she had food on the stove, that she thinks that’s what caused the alarms. We went inside. They were going to go to the — the guy riding the seat said, ‘we’re going to the 5th floor’. They had the key to that one. Something told me to go check the third floor, and couldn’t find any cause of it. As I was coming out, our ambulance crew showed up and said there was smoke coming out the second floor window. So I came back down… and I met a guy, and his eyes as big as saucers, and he’s like, ‘there’s smoke pouring out of the second floor’. I went right back up to the second floor, and there was smoke… I opened the door to the apartment, and it was probably door knob height,” Patrick used his arm to indicate the height of the smoke.

“So I went in and put the fire out and grabbed him (the victim).” The man was just asleep on the bed with food on the stove. “Except this time the food on the stove. But this time, the food on the stove went to the cabinets, so it was a little bit more involved.” Patrick was referring to the fire as his arms gestured the flames spreading over the cabinets. “Spent 7-8 hours in the hospital after that.”

“Couple days later, it finally hit what had actually happened.” He recalls the moment now. “It was a surreal experience. Something not a lot of people, I don’t think, get the chance to do, much less would do. Kind of one of those things, I go in and put the fire out, or that dude could possibly die.”

The fact that Patrick and his team were very thorough going through floor to floor and room to room… things appeared just fine, but they stuck around still trying to find the cause.

“It’s weird the way everything happened. I can’t even explain how. Like I said, I still run through it in my head over and over and over.”

What your biggest obstacle that has kept you from reaching your goals? (Thanks to Terry, Stranger 43)

I started out asking him about what goal he’s had given his answer to the Dream question earlier. “Not that I can think of right now. I’m pretty happy with the way everything’s going for me right now. I’m doing what I want to do.”

So I change the question slightly… what is a goal you have for your son?

“Grow up and be successful. Same one everyone has.”

“Be him.”

I ask him how Patrick will continue to motivate his son to be himself given all the other noise we come into contact with.

“Good question… Being six, I haven’t had to deal with a whole lot. Probably raise him right. Raise him the way my parents raised me. I think I turned out pretty alright. Just keep him grounded and realistic, but still have him shooting for the stars.”

What is a question you’d like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What is the one thing in life you had a chance that you didn’t do that you regret?”

He shares with me how at times, he wishes he finished college. However, his current career does not require the degree — “pretty happy with where I’m at.” If he did go back to get the degree, he’d do it for himself.

After the handshake.

Ahh, that’s a good feeling to continue this journey and streak of 44 Strangers. Still 56 to go. However, what a really great feeling to meet one of the fireman. Patrick was a real nice guy, and just as he said to the first question, he was like a “regular guy”. He’s down to earth and… nice. What more could you ask for from a Stranger?

Patrick is doing what he loves with the people he loves and trusts. Further, being a father and husband is absolutely paramount for him. What’s great for his son is that Patrick is a hero… he is as a father, and he is as a community member (as a fireman).

Maybe you can go out and meet your local fireman?

If not, hope you meet Patrick. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 43, Day 43 - Meet Terry

Stranger 43, Day 43 – Meet Terry, the “Entrepreneurial Teacher of Teachers”

Ah, yes, today’s Stranger is yet another oh-so familiar face I see all the time, but know nothing about her. In fact, we courteously smile at one another and wave, but that’s it. It really is a strange thing that we should see someone so often, and yet, say… nothing for so long. How great it was, then, to finally meet today’s Stranger as she waited in line at Starbucks. As they say, “better late than never”.

Meet Terry, 32

Who are you?

“I’m originally from New Jersey. I moved here 10 years ago, and I teach 5th grade.”

Terry tells me how she works best with “direct, exact questions”.

“I’m just a teacher trying to find my way.”

What are your passions?

“I make teaching resources for other teachers, and I sell those online outside of school. That’s something I’m more passionate about right now.” She talks to me about how she’s “teaching the teachers”.

“… more than just education. It’s marketing. It’s advertising. It’s creation. I have fun with that. As hard as a teacher, the more you do, you don’t get any more for it, so it’s nice to have something else – the harder you work… You see results as a teacher, but you see it from students, but not from administration or the district. So this is something more like the harder you work, the more you get. It’s incentive-based.”

Why did you start this?

“It started because I need resources myself. There’s a site where teachers can sell their materials to other teachers. I started buying on it, and I was, ‘they’re just like me’, so I could do this, too. So I started selling.”

She tells me it’s going well. She also shares how she’s hoping to work on resource creation full-time at some point in the future.

She shares how she has a blog, too, but it’s “so hard to keep up with. It’s a lot. As much as I like writing, I’d rather speak in front of a camera than write.” She does do Facebook Live and the like and post on her blog.

Where do you want to take this?

“I would really love to do this full-time, and maybe volunteer in schools, or something like that. The bureaucracy of education brings me down. It just drains you, and you feel like you’re running in a hamster wheel everyday. You can never get ahead. You can never get caught up. So it’s just mentally draining and exhausting. I would love to do that… this full-time. Creating.”

What are a couple challenges you’re facing right now that’s keeping you up at night?

“Financial. Just trying to get to where that’s enough for me to live off of. Right now, it’s not. That’s the tough part. There’s realities of you have to have health insurance. So I’d have to have private insurance… just stability. So I need to keep my day job.”

When you think about going full-time…

“It’s terrifying.” She talks about all the bills of home ownership, bills, etc.

“I think I can do it, but I completely sacrifice my social life which is tough.”

She explains, “I’m the type that when I’m in a creative mode, I’m in it for a week, so I can’t do anything else. I have to work the second I wake up till I go to bed.”

As you’re doing this, who’s been your biggest supporter(s)?

“My mom. She’s definitely THE most supportive. Then, I’ve got some other people that sell on the website that are very collaborative people to work with and get ideas from and marketing tips… business ideas. Most of my family are really awesome about it.”

“Then, I have a coworker that I got to start selling on this, too. So, he and I are always going back and forth talking about business, which is awesome.”

Would you say that’s what gets you out of bed?

“Oh yeah. I love experimenting with Facebook ads. Instagram… social media advertising. Just seeing if it’s growing.

Was there anything part of this journey that you’ve been surprised about that you didn’t think about before?

“I didn’t think about the fact that… when I see people actually using the stuff I make in their classrooms. Like I had a kid who moved to my school from another school in the district. My coworker gave her this pre-assessment for math, and she was like, ‘I’ve already taken this,’ at her other school. That’s pretty cool that there are people around the country doing my stuff… which is fun.”

“You don’t really think about the fact that it’s actually happening somewhere else, you know? You sell stuff, and it’s fun and everything. But when you see a picture someone took and they post it on social media… my creation… that’s fun.”

Anything else you think is going to help you be successful?

“I think just taking a leap of faith, and possibly risking stability and security for the unknown.”

Why do you want to take that leap?

“Just to see if I can do it.”

“I also think being comfortable makes me… I don’t want to say lazy, but just not as hungry. Although, right now, I’m hungry to do all of it so I can try to take the risk.” She admits that she’s not sure it’ll happen, but I hope she does.

“I’ve been at my school for so long, so I’ve established my reputation, my routines, and just my location. So if I get rid of that, the chance that maybe I can go back is scary. Or I have to go back somewhere else, and maybe I won’t like it as much as where I am. It’s a little scary… frightening.”

Why are you where you are today? (Thanks to Mallory, Stranger 42)

“Well… I made a bunch of very rash decisions in my 20s that kind of change the course of my life,” she laughs.

“First, it was changing from advertising to education, and then it was randomly leaving to Atlanta.” She shared with me how she actually wanted to be in musical theatre, but at the suggestion of her father, she should take business (“normal degree”) – why she started in film and then into advertising. But when she moved into education and started teaching, she taught drama before now moving into 5th grade teaching.

It was some family who convinced her to move to Atlanta as a town to get away from New Jersey.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I want to know what someone’s biggest obstacle that has kept them from reaching their goals.”

After the handshake.

Like I said to start, I had seen Terry a lot. She goes to Starbucks often as she continues to focus on her business beyond her “regular job”. So it was that much greater for me to meet her because I got to learn that she was an entrepreneur. After the handshake, we talked a little about what I’ve done in my startups and with my current role at the startup I work at. I would have never known if I continued to just smile and wave at her. It’s really been fascinating how I can connect with so many people for things like entrepreneurship, but indeed, so many other areas.

I hope Terry does take that leap to pursue her business full-time. It’s scary, for sure, but I also hope she finds the plunge invigorating like me. I don’t believe she’ll have to sacrifice her social life in the long-term. Instead, I hope she maintains stability in a couple areas as I wrote in a separate blog piece with Randy Zuckerberg and one with University of California Riverside’s 7 Dimensions of Wellness.

Meet Terry. No longer a Stranger.



Stranger 42, Day 42 - Meet Mallory

Stranger 42, Day 42 – Meet Mallory, the “Planner”

I ran into today’s Stranger at the coffee shop in my office. As I walked around looking for someone, she looked up at me, and asked if I wanted her table. Hmm… In those few seconds, I realized that she was a genuinely nice person. She sat at a four-person table alone, and upon seeing me look at her, she assumed I needed a table (in an other “busy-ish” day at the coffee).

Nope. I just wanted to meet you…

Meet Mallory, 19

Who are you?

“Who am I…?” She starts laughing. “Umm… such a broad question…”

“I am Mallory. I am a student at Kennesaw State University. I’m a sophomore. I’m an accounting major. I work for a babysitting company – an online babysitting company called the Sitter Tree. I do that part-time.”

She laughs again citing she doesn’t know what else to say. Except, she continues, “I’m in college… obviously, I already said that. I love Jesus. I like to hang out with my friends. I… like to cook. I like to go to coffee shops. That’s me basically! In gist!”

What are your passions? Do you have any Dreams? If so, what are they?

“What are my passions… that’s always a hard question for me. I guess my dream is… my passion is my family. So obviously, to have my own family one day. I’ve always dreamed about owning my own business. Don’t really know what it would be. I’m not really a creative person. I’m more of a do-er, so I’ll get behind you. I might not own my own business one day, but I would love to work with someone and be the administrative do-er side to someone’s dreamer-side. So that’s kind of my dream. I feel that’s my end-goal as far as career or job.”

“I love organization. I’m an accounting major, so I like working with numbers. I like organization and budgeting and stuff like that. I want to do that, but for something that I like. Maybe I’ll work in the corporate world, but I like small businesses. I would love to do that.”

How did you pick Accounting as your major?

“I never really knew what I wanted to do. I never had a dream growing up as a kid like, ‘I want to be a doctor’ or ‘I want to be a dentist’ or ‘I want to do this’. I never really had that. I always thought, ‘I have no idea what I want to do’.”

“When I went into college, I obviously had to choose a major, and what I wanted to do. So I started looking at what I’m good at, and realized I’m really good at math. I’ve always been good at that. I’ve always been more of a math person than a writing person. Very type A, organized, planner, stick-to-my-schedule kind of person. I thought business would be good, so I started taking my lower level division business classes, and took accounting and really liked it because it’s just adding numbers, basically, and spreadsheets. I love that, so that’s kind of how I chose!”

What was a challenge for you as you entered college?

“When I first started college, a big challenge I faced was finding friends. I think that’s everyone’s challenge when they first come to college. I’ve always been a kind of home-body, so I really missed home a lot even though I only lived an hour away from where I grew up.”

“I had friends, but I didn’t have that feeling of home. That really took a while. That was probably my biggest challenge.”

“I lived on campus for first year, and after a few months, really started to feel that ‘homey’ feel with the people I was around. Then, this year in August, I moved into an apartment off-campus, and I faced it again even though I was living with people who were like my best friends. It was just this weird transition from such a big environment to a smaller… not-as-involved in school. I wasn’t always on campus, always around people. That’s definitely been a big challenge for me because I’m a small-group person, and I like the feeling of home. This is really a big deal for me. So that was a challenge for sure.”

What’s a good lesson you’d like to share for… anyone? College or otherwise?

“For college, this has to do with me choosing my major. I think the biggest lesson I learned, when I went to college, I felt like people always told me growing up, ‘oh, you’re going to do something so big… you’re going to do something to change the world’. I’ve always had that pressure on me like I had to do something crazy, or I had to do something bigger than some average human-being. And then, I just realized my purpose in life is not tied to whatever career I have. Your career can be super fulfilling, but just because you have an average job, doesn’t mean that you’re not fulfilling your life’s purpose. For a long time, I felt like I had to get some awesome job or do something really big to be successful. Then, I realized I don’t. I just have to focus on the person in front of me and the people around me. Just do what I’m good at, and then, I’m successful. I really learned that when I first went to college. And I feel like that was just a really big stress-reliever for me, and kind of changed my whole mindset on… life.”

What are two truths and one lie about yourself?

“Two truths and one lie…” She takes her time to think about this. She wants to make it good, but simple.

“Okay…. My favorite color is blue.”

“I don’t like dogs.”

“… and I have never broken a bone.”

How do you keep going? How do you get up and do whatever it is that you do that day? What is the thought that comes to mind that says, “this is the reason why I’m getting up”? (Thanks to Diamond, Stranger 41)

“This is honestly the first thing that came to my mind – I have a planner because I’m… a planner… that breaks down my day into 30-minute increments. I have it all filled out and stick to it pretty closely. So whatever I have to do that day determines what time I have to wake up and all that good stuff. It structures my whole day. So I think knowing, ‘okay, I have thing to do today’, let’s do it! Let’s get it going. I guess that’s what gets me up, or else I’ll just lay in bed all day if I didn’t have a plan!”

How does this throw off your plans?

“Actually, it doesn’t much.” She told me how she had a “few hours to kill” before meeting someone later. Instead, she was just sitting and enjoying some free time.

“It’s kind of perfect!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Why are you where you are right now?” I think she’s asking for where the Stranger is presently, physically. However, I’m going to ask just this, and much like the rest of my questions, let the Stranger answer how he/ she wants to.

After the handshake.

Much like our meet started, I came to appreciate Mallory’s general positivity and her always-laughing attitude. She was sincere. She was open. She was the type of Stranger who was/ is never really a Stranger. I thought she might be older than her age, but that was just her own maturity for 19. (Geez, I feel old as I say that being 31.)

There’s really not much more for me to say here other than it was a pleasure to meet her, and it’s great to know she’ll be graduating in a couple years, and will be helping shape tomorrow.

… well, tomorrow + 2 years.

Meet Mallory. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 41, Day 41 - Meet Diamond

Stranger 41, Day 41 – Meet Diamond, the “Future Legend”

I met today’s Stranger at the office. I went around the building after work looking for someone, and I’m so glad I found today’s Stranger. I didn’t realize how much I’d connect and empathize with him. I won’t go into detail; instead, how about you…

Meet Diamond, 23

Who are you?

“Such a simple question,” Diamond says while taking in a big breathe and thinks.

“I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m definitely an entrepreneur. I think I’m more so just trying to figure things out. I’m a wanderer, I feel like. Like a nomad.”

“… I… well, that’s the deeper part of it. Who I am… I guess on paper, 23 years old. I go to Georgia State University. I study political science. I plan on doing nothing with my degree. My passion is what I’m doing now — my business, my app. And I’ve been in Atlanta for about 4-5 years. I’m originally from Jacksonville, FL. I was a Navy baby, so we got to move around a lot. Then yeah, that pretty much sums it up… on paper.”

What are your passions?

“My passion’s definitely helping other people not make the same mistakes I did in entrepreneurship, specifically.”

Diamond continues, “Really, that’s my biggest passion. Reaching out to other people, and trying to figure out what they’re having problems with business-wise, and maybe personal, but really business, and say, ‘hey, these are the mistakes I’ve made. Here’s how I can help you not make those same mistakes.'”

So how do you help them exactly? What do you do?

“It’s really in-the-moment kind of thing. It’s really me getting to know them. It’s random, and it’s this weird thing that always happens. Typically, it’s just the right place, right time kind of thing. We’ll just randomly talk, and then they’ll bring up something, and I’ll say, ‘well tell me more’, and really get to know them as a person. From that conversation, I’ll know whether they need some of my advice, or honestly, maybe I need advice from them. It’s not always a one-sided thing. I’m just trying to figure it out like everyone else is, honestly. Yeah…”

You said you’re a wanderer, and you’re trying to figure things out. However, you do have a focus to help others in entrepreneurship. What have you done in the past?

“Fell on my face and got back up. Try it again. Literally, that’s the best way to describe it.”

“… Goodness! I’ve made so many mistakes with how I thought the entrepreneurship journey would work as far as, oh, you have an amazing idea, and you put it out there in the world, and then you think, ‘it’s not going to be that bad. How hard could it be trying to get it out there?’ It’s really hard!” Diamond laughs.

“For me, it’s been extremely hard, and especially because I don’t have a team. I’m not saying that as an excuse, but I find myself trying to fill the role of marketing, customer service, complaints, developer… all those roles that normally different people… they fill those shoes. I’m trying to be all those people in one. But it’s finally starting to come together now as far as where I’m starting to go and where I’m headed.”

Where are you headed?

“I’m headed to become a Legend, I hope. Yeah, I want to be Legendary. I want to be someone people look and say, ‘wow, he really did it.'”

What were a couple of those mistakes?

“Marketing was definitely one of those. Because I felt that you could just throw the money out there and get instant results like Facebook ads, or putting your company in an editorial. Anything with advertising, really. I was making these huge mistakes because I was putting out money where it didn’t need it. It just needed effort. It didn’t need me to put money into it. So I learned really fast that hey, if I just put forth that effort, something could actually come of this instead of spending $3000 on one section of a magazine that no one ever really looks at. That actually did happen.” Diamond laughs again.

“It was definitely Marketing. And then from a developer/ app standpoint, I didn’t realize one of my biggest mistakes was I didn’t realize how apps seem very easy to a lot of people. They’re not. Especially on the developer-side. I have a developer now that I outsource to, and just the language is completely different. You make a lot of mistakes by not knowing what you want up front. That was my biggest mistake. I had an idea, and I reached out to him and I said, ‘hey, can you do this?’ He’d say, ‘yeah’, but then I kept adding on. ‘Oh wait, I need this’, and he’d say, “… okay… we can do that, too”, and then I’m like, “oh wait, I think we need to do this instead!’. He was like, ‘make up your mind. You’re making my job a lot harder for me and you.’ It was really costly on my end because I was adding in stuff that had I had told him upfront, he could’ve given his input, and we could’ve avoided a lot.”

“HUGE learning curve.”

Thinking about entrepreneurship has a funny way of teaching us through failures and mistakes, things about life… Is there a Life Lesson you’ve learned going through this?

“To keep going. As cliche as that sounds… to keep going and that you’re more powerful than you think.”

How do you keep going?

“I keep going by being present. By putting myself, even if I don’t want to come up here… some days, I really just want to stay in bed, but I’m like, ‘get up. Be present. Put forth the effort.’ My biggest thing I tell myself to keep going, is to prepare myself for tomorrow. Read that book, or reach out to that client, or just do one more thing so when tomorrow comes, you can say, ‘I’m ready to do this.’ And you’ll thank yourself for all the days before that you’ve set yourself up for the moment you’re in now.”

He looks away and thinks… smiles… “yeah… that’s definitely it…”

You don’t have a team working with you. But I’m sure you have a team that’s just Team Diamond.

“I do somewhat. Honestly, I have a lot of people who believe in me, but they just… for one, I’m probably one of the few people they know who has an app. I’m the only one that I know who has it. And two, I have the developers who stand behind me, but they’re in Texas, and they have other clients.”

Diamond starts smiling as he thinks.

“Yeah, I will say I do have a lot of people who are Team Diamond in the sense of like… some of the people that we have on the app, and just the people I meet out in general. Yeah, you’re right. I do have people. I may not realize it, but I actually do.”

As you’re thinking about this now, who is someone who is on Team Diamond?

“Definitely, it’s this guy named DJ Silver. He’s dope! He’s amazing! He’s one of the vendors on the app, and he’s supported me since Day 1. A photographer named Dame (sp?). It’s amazing how now that I think about it all these people who I’ve met through business have supported me a lot more than even outside of there. I don’t realize it till just now. That’s like… pretty amazing!” He’s smiling big as he thinks and makes this realization.

I talk to him about how it’s important about being present is also about stepping out and seeing the grander picture — appreciating the people all around us who really support us that we don’t realize as we focus on our startups.

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s rare that I think about it. But now that I am, I have a lot more people who are supporting me than I thought, or than I normally think.” He’s smiling real big again, and just thinking. It’s like his wheels of gratitude are turning now.

What do you like to eat, and where do you get that in Atlanta? (Thanks to Jake, Stranger 40 — sorry. I forgot to ask this at the beginning!)

“I like to…” Diamond thinks before he comes to the revelation.

“I know the place I like to eat is Flying Biscuit. I eat everything…like salmon. SALMON!” He slaps the table.

“Flying Biscuit has the best salmon scramble ever!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“How do you keep going? How do you get up and do whatever it is that you do that day? What is the thought that comes to mind that says, ‘this is the reason why I’m getting up’?”

After the handshake.

A lot of what Diamond talked about struck chords with me. For one, he mentions so much about failing to which I have once been dubbed, “The Master of Failure” having written a book on Failure (Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success) and I give talks about failure and entrepreneurship often.

I also shared with him after our little meeting about Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly and this notion of “shame”. For Diamond, I could see he felt shame, and he, like I did, identifies himself with his startup. As he’s failed in the past, he ties failure to him… We talk about how he should shift that perspective. It’s not that he’s a failure. Instead, he didn’t do somethings as well. For the marketing side, he did not allocate budget correctly. As he distances himself, the person, away from the decisions and actions he makes, he can move forward knowing that he can correct those. This is important for him as an entrepreneur, but also as a person moving forward. Distance who you are from the actions you make.

So meet Diamond. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 40, Day 40 - Meet Jake

Stranger 40, Day 40 – Meet Jake, the “Transition Enabler”

I met today’s Stranger in the lobby of my office. I thought I might meet my Stranger at the conference (last day today), but I didn’t have much time to do so. No problem as Atlanta Tech Village has lots of opportunities to meet Strangers.

So today, I stood around the building’s lobby waiting for someone to walk by who I didn’t know. I didn’t have to wait long to spot a man waiting for the elevator. So before the doors opened, I asked him the question…

Meet Jake, 28

Who are you?

“My name is Jake. I enjoy fly-fishing. I’m pretty new to this startup and tech world. I run a company called Digital Crafts here on the 5th floor, which is a coding school. Outside of work, fly-fishing and outdoors. At work, all about helping train some of these guys on development.”

Thinking about fly-fishing, training others on development, what are some of your passions/ other passion?

“The passion is what led me to Digital Crafts. I used to work in a corporate job, but I realized my passions… I enjoy helping people. So somebody would send me their resume, I would spend an hour redoing their resume — formatting it correctly, fixing the grammar and the typos. I didn’t mind doing that. So when I was presented the opportunity to start a code school to help people transition their career from one thing to a better thing, that excited me.”

“I’m not a developer. I’m not that passionate about tech. I’m more passionate about helping someone get to the next step of their career.”

Where do you think that comes from?

“One of the companies I used to work for, we had to read a book — we were required to read a book. It was to identify your top five strengths. It was by Gallups. Strength Finder! It was one of these innate strengths that I was born with, that I just enjoy. Relating with people is was one of my strengths. Reading that book and just understanding my five strengths, which I probably couldn’t name right now. Futuristic, innovative, responsibility… relater… restorative. So reading the book and understanding your strengths, you don’t have to make up for your weaknesses. You just focus on your strengths. So it came from that. I took a step back and was said, ‘what do I enjoy doing?’ Well, I really enjoy helping people, so when I was presented with this opportunity, I just jumped on it.

When you think of those five strengths, were any of them shocks to you? Were you expecting another one of the strengths to be higher?

“Not really. It was kind of clear once you saw them and read what each one meant and thought about what you did on a daily basis. How you addressed situations like conflict, for example. Restorative is one of my top five strengths. I don’t like conflict. Or if I am in conflict, I do everything that I can to restore that conflict. Even if it’s probably not the best for my best. If somebody’s not happy, I’m going to do anything I can to make them happy; even if I lose money.”

Have you found any other strengths are your weaknesses?

“Yeah, so case in point: if I have an employee where I have to relay some bad news, it’s tough for me to do that.” I asked him how he deals with that.

“I’ll send an email, or a written communication first, and then I meet with them. So that way, when I get face-to-face, I have to follow-through on discussing the point that I emailed earlier. I’m much better at communicating written vs. verbally, so that helps.”

How has this transition — you like to help others transition — was there anyone who helped you transition from the corporate life to Digital Crafts?

“I definitely don’t have a mentor now, per se, that said, ‘do this’. I guess my one person would be my wife’s grandfather — someone who’s worked in the corporate world forever. He’s 90-years-old. He wants young people to succeed and do what they want to do. So I remember telling him the story about Digital Crafts — ‘hey, should I do it? I got a really good job. Should I quit?’ and then walking into his apartment, two hours after I had told him about the opportunity, he was hands in the air. ‘You gotta do it!'” He raises his arms like his wife’s grandfather likely did.

“So that’s a defining moment actually for me. To actually go, ‘alright, look. This guy with all this wisdom just says go for it.’ So that was a defining moment.”

“I’ve had a lot of supportive people, but not necessarily anyone saying, ‘hey, I’m going to help you do this.’ Transition from that to this.”

I mentioned yesterday’s Stranger, Megan, wanted to know about his Life-Defining Moment to which he pretty much went there already. So I asked him if he had any others.

“Just in general for me?” Jake asks. Yes.

“Not off the top of my head. I just recently got married, so that was my biggest Life-Defining Moment… so no.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I would ask him, just an odd question to get the conversation started.” He wants me to ask to start. Okay, I can do that.

“Yeah, just give them that level-playing field before you jump in. Maybe what’s their favorite thing to eat.”

“… and at what restaurant do they get that at in Atlanta.”

He shares, “that for me at the moment is a bowl of ramen at Shoya Izakaya.”

After the handshake.

Jake mentioned to me later about giving the Stranger a moment to prepare, but I shared with him that I was very interested in the spontaneous and spur-of-the-moment response and connection with Strangers. Makes sense he would feel this way, though, seeing as I stopped him before he went up the elevator.

Again, appreciated meeting Jake as Stranger 40. He was about to get into an elevator, and took about 10 minutes to sit down with me and share a little about himself. As we said at the end of this, it’s great to finally meet another in the building.

Meet Jake. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 39, Day 39 - Meet Megan

Stranger 39, Day 39 – Meet Megan, the “Planner and People Gatherer”

So I’ve spent the last couple days at a trade show/ conference. It’s been fun meeting all sorts of people, especially the vendors around me. One of the people working a booth across from my company’s is a super friendly woman. We’ve been joking back and forth quite a bit between conference sessions and speaking to attendees as they inquire about my company’s product and services.

The woman across the way is great — smart, energetic, and she can dish out the jokes almost as much as I can. Okay, maybe not as much — I’m probably too wound up for really anyone to catch up. In any case, she’s been fantastic to be booth neighbors, so I wanted to get to know her.

Meet Megan, 33

Who are you?

“That’s a complicated question… right off the bat!”

“I am a daughter and a sister first. I am a dog lover. I am a rabid Ohio State fan. I am an event manager — by trade, by character, by everything. So my neuroses and anal retentiveness come in handy — I get paid for it. I am a person who tries to make everyone’s experience better.”

What are your passions? Is it event planning? Making people’s experiences better? What are your passions?

“I would say… not that I am two different people. At my core, my passions are the people I love and care about. They are number one no matter what. I will do just about anything for them. But event management is definitely a passion of mine.”

“I joined [her company] at the time there was a lot of  growth opportunity for them and their event portfolio and how we were approaching events. over the years, I’ve seen it grow in leaps in bounds. I get real totally geeked out by it. I love it. At it’s core, we’re bringing people together; so it’s really cool to be the one to facilitate that. On top of it, to make sure it’s an awesome experience for them. That they leave thinking it was a valuable time. It’s not that they go and buy my product or anything like that… it’s just that they had a really good time, and got what they came for.”

What is the key to running a great event?

“Thinking of the other person. A lot of people plan events and even sessions at conferences with, ‘what do I want to tell people? What do I want out of this?’ If you do that, it’s going to be fairly evident and self-serving. So if you put yourself in the participants’ shoes, why are they coming? What’s going to make it valuable for them? What could you do to go above and beyond so these little things that they’re going to notice that are going to go to advance their experience. You put yourself in their shoes — that’s the first step to success. You do that, you’re using the right guiding principles.”

What’s another guiding principle of yours, or like a Life Lesson?

“Life Lessons… I used to have a saying that I lived by that. It’s definitely not mind, but ‘in the end, it’s okay. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end’ or something probably much more poetic than that, but that’s the gist of it. Having grown up a little bit since I adopted that, I think I’ve realized that there’s not ‘the end’. There’s no finite end to anything… till there is, and then… you’re done.” She laughs.

I ask her what about these books, I’m reading. They seem to have ends. She laughs. “Those have ends.”

“I think my guiding principles, is to just do me. Do my best. Again, try to leave every place or every person a little bit better than when I came. Do what I can.”

So we last spent the last day across from each other [at the conference we’re at], what is that one thing, that one impression you want me to have of you?

Megan mentions how I’ve seen her “adorable dog” from her desktop background (and her foot was in the picture, too) — “your life is instantly better.”

Then, she mentions how she got me a demo and introduction with one of the Principals at her company. So she’s already done what she’s passionate about — bringing people together. “I facilitated a connection.”

Megan continues, “Make you stop the next time you go into an event.” I will definitely ask myself, “WWMD — What Would Megan Do?”

Do you have any Dreams? If so, what are they?

“I don’t know if I have any dreams in the sense of, ‘I want to be an astronaut when I grow up’ or anything like that. I don’t think I’m a grown-up, yet, 100%. I don’t know if you ever ultimately are, but I would just like to (this is real cheesy), I just want to be happy. I don’t need a million dollars. I want to love what I do, and believe in what I do. I want to be with people that I love and cherish. And eating is good, too, so… that one minor detail… above and beyond… doing what I love. My degree is about event management. I’m not going anywhere else! So, I’m fortunate in that regard. I have an amazing family, and not even just my mom, and my brother, and my dad, but… there’s about 100 of us that get together every other year, so I’m very close to 100 of them, and I’m incredibly fortunate because of that. I think I’m in a good place. I just want to keep growing myself, and challenge myself in that way. But I don’t think there’s this utopia that I’m working towards or anything like that.”

So what’s another way that you challenge yourself?

A lot of stuff going on at work is challenging, not that the work in and of itself is challenging, but I’m challenging myself to grow and do different things there. I also, similar to your project you’re doing here, I challenge myself to do what I call ‘the 12 for 12’. So it’s similarity in the name, but one philanthropic something per month for a year. I’ve done this before, and it can be something, ‘I’m on a committee to plan a charity event’, so it can be something as involved as that. Or in Chicago in the winter time, there’s a lot of homeless people. I buy McDonalds gift certificates and hand those out. It can be something big and involved, something very small, and just, again, try to make a difference. Do something that it’s not about me. And having to think and come up with 12 things to do, one let’s you know all of these amazing causes that are out there. But also, it brings you down a little bit. Reminds you that life is good, and that there are other people who could use your help a little bit. It’s important to take time out of your busy work, your busy life, and kind of give back to the greater good, or the greater world out there.”

One of the challenges I think about when giving back is that there’s so much to do. There’s so much help that is needed. Where do you find that line to say today’s enough? Where do you define that line to say this is enough? At what point is handing out McDonald’s gift cards… you just handed out 12. Why not 15 or 10?

“I think part of it is that there is no end, so you just keep doing good. It’s not like at the end of this year, ‘alright, never going to do anything good for anybody else, so I’m good with my life.’ But I just kind of approach it, giving of yourself doesn’t mean giving up yourself. So if it starts to be too much of a sacrifice on me where my work is being neglected. My family and friends are being neglected… and I mean truly neglected, not ‘sorry, I can’t hang out with you because I’m doing something else’. I think that’s when you have to take a look at your priorities, and if you’re okay with that, then maybe you just shift things. And I am that person that I don’t want to win the lottery because I won’t know what to do with the money. I’d be so crippled by who to help, and how much. That would be a burden to me. Spend $50 McDonalds gift cards, I’ll buy 10 $5 ones. Done. So I approach it very tactically just because otherwise, if you purchase too emotionally, there will be no end.”

So this is a great transition and segue into the Stranger’s question from yesterday… You have 10 grand. You can’t keep it. Who or what do you give it to, and why? You’ve got to do it in 24 hours.

“I would give…” She thinks about this for a while.

“I would break it up, and not give it all to one place or one person. I would give some of it to my brother. He is a journalist, and in the days of the inter-webs and everything connected. He held true to his morals and refused to write for anything except for a newspaper. He felt that was the one place he could be truly unbiased and could be a sports journalist and not write op-eds and opinion pieces or things like that. Because of that, journalists don’t make a ton of money, but I’m proud of him because he’s held true to his convictions even though it comes at a price.”

“I would donate money to a breast cancer organization. I have, unfortunately, many people in my life affected by breast cancer, specifically. So that’s why I would choose that instead of the American Cancer Society that is bigger and more generic.”

“I would also donate some money to some sort of animal rescue just because I’m a softy when it comes to stuff like that.”

“I would give money to an Alzheimer’s foundation.” I ask her how she would break out $10K across all the orgs.

“I would break it up. Maybe a $1000 to each of the organizations or something. Some fair split.”

“And the last one would be a domestic violence fund.” I ask her why.

Megan responds, “Alzheimer’s… my grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and it’s one of the saddest things to witness. Some days she would know exactly who she was, where she was, who you were, and other days, she’d be terrified — she had no idea what was around her. And then there were some days where she would say she was going to have lunch with the Clintons. Never happened, but sure why not? If that’s your world right now or not. It was awful. My grandfather… it tore him apart. Watching… you try to separate the disease from the person, but when you walk in and your own mother doesn’t recognize you, that hurts. So it’s an awful, awful thing for everyone involved to go through.” (Thanks to Erik, Stranger 38)

“Domestic violence… I am actually a victim of domestic violence in college. Since then, just working to… it’s a lot of stuff that’s being talked about right now — just rape culture. With the Standford rape case that happened… everyone thinks that rape is forcible sex by some creepy stranger who jumps on you from the alley. Most of the time, it’s not. So educating people, making it okay for victims to come forward. It sounds a little cliche because so many people are saying it. But they’re saying it because it’s true. You can walk around naked, and that does not give people the right to do things. That you did not consent to. So just really educating people on what domestic violence is. What is okay, and what is not okay. As a victim, what your rights are. How to protect yourself. Things like that. I think a lot of people chalk it up to locker room talk, or boys will be boys in college. Or girls were drunk at a sorority party, that’s just what happens. That’s not. And it’s also not only attractive 21-year-olds this happens to… women and men of every age, race, demographic out there. So once people start really start looking at the root cause, and what’s going on there, that’s where you start solving that problem. So there’s a lot of work to do there.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What is the one defining moment in your life?” — Perfect! This is a common question I like to ask Strangers anyways.

After the handshake.

It was great to meet Megan on a deeper level other than play catch with our stress ball give-aways. We’ve gotten along well as booth neighbors, and we’ve been helping each other out with people as they walk by — pulling and pushing people between our booths. Sometimes literally… ha.

Anyways, I got a better understanding of her role at her company, but also why she’s both doing it and successful at it. Her passion is about the people and creating great experiences for people. Her role as an events marketing manager at her company fits her well. Even as she talks about the money she’d give away to the different organizations and people (the answer to Erik’s question, yesterday’s Stranger) highlights the people who influence her and how she wants to support those close to her. Even then, she wants to split the money between entities — to be able to provide EACH person or organization with some value and greater opportunity than before her. I could see why she’s a people person and why she does what she does. It’s all rooted in the people actually closest to her and how they’ve influenced her life.

Meet Megan. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 38, Day 38 - Meet Erik

Stranger 38, Day 38 – Meet Erik, the “Thinker”

I thought today would be really difficult to find a Stranger to talk to while I’m out hustling and bustling at a trade show. Instead, it’s turned out to be wicked easy. Not just because I’m in a conference full of sales people, but because there are just so many people walking around EXPECTING to be talked to. So despite having a full plate of everything to do between setting up my company’s booth, speaking to lots of people throughout the show, setting up side panels, etc., meeting people with no motivation to sell but to connect was quite easy. At least, it was today — the first day of the conference.

So here’s a fellow vendor that was near my company’s booth.

Meet Erik, 47

Who are you?

“Oh, that’s a fascinating question. I like that. I like that opening.”

Erik continues, “I’m at a trade show, so my first answer is Vice President of Product Marketing… but that’s not who I am. That’s a very American-centric perspective where we define ourselves by our jobs.”

“I could go in… I’m a father of two, or I could say I’m a husband of one for 24 years.”

“Or I can say I’m just me.”

“How’s that for a fuzzy answer?” He laughs. I respond that the purpose of this answer is to let the Stranger take me where he/ she wants to take me.

“Yeah, I know! That’s why I was laughing about it… because of the situation we’re in, my initial reaction is to talk about my company. I can talk about the products and stuff. So if I go down the professional path, I’m a dilatant who’s been playing in incentive compensation for two-and-a-half decades. Finally telling people what to do or creating technology to fund it, and take care of it. But on the flip-side, that’s just more because I fell into it. I enjoy science. I enjoy data. I enjoy analytics. I enjoy what motivates people. So I’ve chased down the incentive side of motivation as opposed to any part of motivation, and I find that interesting, but how does that drive things. But again, I wouldn’t say that is WHO I AM. Who I am is a much more complex answer. I do a lot of different things. I am everything from a Scoutmaster to a church leader to a father to a husband to a guy who would like nothing better than to sit in a pair of shorts and kick back on a couch reading a random book!”

What are your passions? Do you have any dreams? If so, what are they?

“My passions right now are probably focused on family. I’ve got one son who is a senior in college, and one son who is in 8th grade. So if I think about the things I really care about, it’s going to be my immediate family more than anything else. After that, in terms of passions, what gets my attention, then it’s the next-next circle of the network if you think of the monkey spheres — you know communities you can reach out and touch… immediate family. Then the best of friends. I just came off my 25th college reunion where I got to see my best friends who truly changed my life at different stage… critical, crucial developmental stage, and that’s huge. So I’m passionate about that. I’m passionate about understanding things… the data side of my work, or even articles in the newspaper. Or for that matter, reading that Today I Learned column and read it. Because I like gathering information and finding out how and where and why things tick and why they happen. We get overly simplistic answers to complicated questions, and overly complicated answers to simplistic questions. The more I can jump in the data is always fascinating.”

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned by understanding data and how things work?

“Most of our assumptions are wrong, and some of them are right. If you start with individuals, I can’t tell you how to motivate a single person, but I can tell you ways to motivate 100 that will work on 70% of them. That’s a key things to realize — we are all individuals, but if you put enough of us in a group, you’ll start to find patterns. Patterns are fascinating! There are so many patterns in the world you can track. Even in the same sets, think of the worst, most negative behavioral patterns you’ve met. If you found 100 people that acted in the same way, I bet you can find some underlying causes and effects and patterns within those 100 people. So instead of saying, ‘Fred over there is a horrible individual’, say, ‘wow, people like Fred got there because of the following reasons…’ The more we can understand that, this is where we are getting the larger picture… can be so fascinating to me. If people were like, ‘oh, I don’t care about that’. No, you might not, but if I get 100 of you, I can get something.”

I started thinking about those who committed a crime (“criminals”), and how easy it is to point the finger at the person, and analyze and judge them on what they did. However, we’re quick to ignore the history and how that person comes to that position. Erik jumps in…

“There’s a documentary on Netflix right now called the Thirteenth that actually covers that subject. Talks about the incarceration of African Americans at a higher rate than any other group. When you did into that, and [my friend who is Senator has pushed on this subject], as well on the issue of they called it the ‘get rid of the box’ where you have to check a box if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony on an employment application. If not, you run into a situation where you mess up at 17, you have no money to defend yourself, so you cop to a felony so you only get a couple years. And for the rest of your life, you cannot get a white collar job. That doesn’t work. So once you can’t get the white collar job, and you have trouble getting the blue collar job, the only jobs left to you are to continue in crime. And now, you’re just another statistic of a repeat criminal.”

“That’s the type of patterns we can talk about. Yeah, you can look at individual occurrences whether it be Black Lives Matter and someone says, ‘well, look at that one person, maybe he deserved to be shot’. Yes, but if 1000 were shot, are you telling me every… single… one of them deserved it, or can you look at the larger group. This is the thing that interest me is the individual cases are there… I want to look for the larger sets of numbers and hold it and maybe we have something here.”

“Criminality is huge. Judging somebody because they slipped once? Even twice? Maybe three times?! Especially many of us, if we led an interesting life, we’ve probably done something that arguably could’ve put us in prison. Maybe a good attorney can get us off, maybe not. But when you look at the numbers and what it costs and availability to get a good attorney, and the threat of pleading down and getting something versus risking 20 years in the pen. What do you do?”

Thinking about that, and being human, we have those quick judgments — good and bad. How do you take all that you’ve learned with patterns, when you meet someone for the first time, or 4th time, how do you continue to have an open-mind?

“First, that’s hard because I want to categorize you within the first 5 minutes of meeting you. I need to know whether or not I wish to continue talking to. There’s also something Mr. Ben Franklin said, ‘Upon your death bed, there will only be five people who matter to you’. It’s an ugly statement but there’s a certain accuracy as you start looking at your own group of friends — the people you truly consider soulmates. The types of friends. And there are good friends, and it keeps going from there.”

“Or if it’s a business, if this is somebody I’m going to be do business with or not. That could be work for, work with, hire… I have to make snap judgement. I have 30 minutes to decide if I want this person to comeback and spend five hours with my team in different interviews before I hired them. I HAVE to make snap judgments. I have two minutes with the resume. 30 minutes on the screening call. Five hours in a review for someone I’m going to spend 40 hours a week with.”

“Part of that, though, I would say is having more than one person. I will tell you one of the best things that’s saved me, in my case, is a strong marriage. We meet somebody, and we will argue with each other — it’s not in a negative way. It’s we basically agreed on rules of engagement — whoever goes negative first, the other one has to look for positive. Sometimes it’s a pain because we both want to despise someone out there. Let’s step back, breathe. Is there anything good here? What are we missing? What part of the equation have we not contemplated? What part of the experience have we not thought about? Because there’s so much you don’t know about people. You have no idea if I have a terminal disease. No clue. You don’t know anything about me other than what I told you in five minutes. But we’ve still been talking off and on for 30 minutes. I can go down the path and you’re like, ‘where in the heck did that come from?’ You don’t know. We don’t know either.”

“But… whatever is in my background can trigger behavioral pattern by me that you might just categorize me as an a$$hole. But if you actually knew more about me, ‘oh, I see where that come from. You still shouldn’t talk or act or behave that way’. But now that I see that source, there might be something interesting to play with there.”

Thinking about that snap judgement — what are you trying to get out of it? How do you try to make that judgment whether or not you want to keep talking to that person?

“You make the judgment automatically until you decide to make the judgement.” I ask him if there’s something he’s looking for.

“No. I just listen. Just curious.”

“… I try to be, at least. Again, unless I’m in a specific or narrow situation where I’m having to… if I’m doing a hiring decision, are they interesting? Are they nerdy? Can they write? I’m in product marketing — I need interesting, nerdy people… who can write. Three characteristics I need. I try to figure that out as quickly as possible.”

“But there’s that whole aspect — can I spend 40 hours a week with this person? Can I go on a road trip with this person? Can I go to a trade show where I’m spending 18-hour days with him? Am I going to want to see this person at 6 o’clock in the morning after setting up the booth? And 9 o’clock at night as we’re leaving a reception? The answer is no, I have to think it. And I don’t have time to test it.”

Who (and why) are two people in your life Giovanni should meet? (Thanks to Giovanni, Stranger 37)

“Ooohh, that’s a fun one!” He appreciates not knowing Giovanni, so he has to really think about two people. He thinks on this for a while.

“I’m trying to think two fun ones randomly to meet knowing nothing…”

“Adrian. Who was an attorney. Left law. And wrote a book on soul food.” I ask him why Adrian — what made him so fun. “Complete change in career to chase something he loved. He went from one thing and went to another.”

“Joe. Decorated marine in the first Gulf War. Ended up with a drug habit, and is now a preacher.” That’s fitting because Giovanni was a former Marine, too.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“You have 10 grand. You can’t keep. Who or what do you give it to and why? And you’ve got to do it in 24 hours.”

After the handshake.

Okay, so transcribing and capturing Erik’s meet was a lot of work and probably not as “clean” as some of the other Strangers. Erik is a real thinker. He’s observing the world, and he doesn’t take what’s in front of them at straight face. He sees what’s in front of him, and he wants to understand the full story behind people. It makes sense then, that despite “falling” into incentive compensation, he’s very much kept himself in incentive compensation. In many ways, the psychological and, perhaps more importantly, the sociological elements of companies and teams are fascinating to him. I use the word “fascinating”, too, because he used the word often and as he said it, each time, I could really sense that he meant it. He was really drawn to understand the whats and the hows and the whys of people and actions.

So meet Erik. No longer a Stranger.