Stranger 35, Day 35 – Meet Mike, the “Loving Father”

Stranger 35, Day 35 - Meet Mike

Today’s Stranger is yet another individual I have seen numerous times at my office (at Atlanta Tech Village). This project is great for me to really get to know the people I see so often. When I saw him this time, I approached him at the coffee shop on the first floor. I walked right up, and asked if he was up for being my Stranger. Happily, he accepted.

Meet Mike, 38

Who are you?

“Oh…” Haha — he laughs.

“The big thing that defines me now is that I’m a dad. My son Duncan is about to turn 22-months-old. That’s kind of the one thing that I am right now — is a dad!” Mike laughs some more. He’s a happy guy.

What have you learned as a dad? What was the big “aha!” when he was first born, and now?

“The big realization is just recognizing what my parents did and how they raised me, and some of the lessons that I probably didn’t acknowledge. All of a sudden, broad-sides you — ‘wow, they sacrificed a lot! They worked hard.’ They really went out of their way to make sure we had what we needed.”

What is something you remember very fondly that your parents did for you that you want to make sure you stick to that for your son?

“I would have to say some coaching. Sports…-type things where they were able to pick me up if I did poorly or show me different techniques. Just the basics of like, ‘this is how you do this’. I was a gymnast so my mom was talking to another mom.” Mike shares how the other mom mentioned she was taking her son to gymnastics. Would Mike like to go? To which Mike’s mom thought it’d be a good idea. “Changed my life.”

Mike continues, “… sort of the same thing with my dad. Showed me the basics of how to throw a baseball, and stuff like that.”

“Just having that knowledge or recognizing that sports can be fun. Something that I definitely want to pass onto Duncan, and at the same time, keep him safe. The crazy thing, I can’t believe my parents were more nervous… they probably are, or were…but HOLY COW, I did some stupid stuff! Dangerous! More dangerous stuff…”

I ask him what was one of those dangerous things he did. Mike replied, “Just doing back-flips and stuff like that. Some more gymnastics moves in or out of the gym.” He laughs more. “I never really got hurt, but… So I guess I’m surprised my parents weren’t nervous wrecks!”

“It was great that I had the opportunity to do that stuff, and hopefully Duncan will have those same opportunities to fall in love with whatever his passions are.”

What are some of your passions?

“With the startup thing, I was at Georgia Tech, and I said, ‘hey, I’ve used these message board forums all the time, but I never sign up. I never contribute. I never get to thank the person, so whatever the topic was (travel, recommendation, you know on advice on how to code or something like that, whatever it was), I never had a chance to thank that person or say, ‘hey, that really helped me’. So I said, ‘hey, I can do better.’ That’s been seven years ago. It’s been a dream to pursue, but it’s also been a lot more difficult than I expected. Less lucrative, but I’m grateful to my wife for having so much patience. It’s a dream. How many people get to follow their dreams? Not everyone.”

“I’m real lucky and grateful to have such… so much support, especially from my wife.”

As a father, thinking about that passion as an entrepreneur and any other passions, how do you balance your time? How do you make sure you have time for those passions when you might get inundated with diapers?

“I think that’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur — you’re your own boss. Except a lot more lucrative to work a regular 9-to-6, but that’d make it so much harder to pitch in around the house. Day care and pick up and have the energy to make dinner and have the energy to try to clean up. So I think the beauty of the startup is that everyone wants to be their own boss. I’m no different in that regard.”

“I think there are a lot of people who work harder than they would if they had a 9-to-5, but they have more flexibility. It’s still a lot of work, but you can’t beat half of the flexibility — leave early, show up late so you can take care of stuff.”

As your son continues to grow, are there any lessons from entrepreneurship that you’d like to bestow upon him?

“Oh, I’m afraid he’s going to do a hostile take-over when he’s 7. I can just see with him and having a great, intelligent mom, I know that’s going to rub off on him, and I know he’s going to be interested in technology, programming, drones, and having the latest Nintendo or whatever. But I’m pretty excited to show him what I know.

If you had unlimited resources, what would you love to do? (Thanks to Reese, Stranger 34)

“I would say to help more people because there are a lot of unfairness. Not that life has to be fair completely all the time. I think one of my dreams to do a startup was to help more people whether that was donations or traveling or just setting an example. There’s just a lot of injustice, and I feel like I need to do more.” He laughs, but he’s thinking. He’s looking down to the right… pensive, almost.

“Because I’m just very lucky, and I wish there was an easier, better way to share some of that prosperity with others.” He continues to look away and stare intently at the floor.

“I was a volunteer for Big Brother/ Big Sister. I was involved with that program for 3.5 years… 4 years… and it was gratifying, but it also underscored, ‘GOD there was a lot of people who need help!’ and there’s a lot I have to give.”

“So it’s probably an area even without having unlimited resources you can still do. Certainly more in that regard. But it would be easier!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

Mike thinks about this one for a while.

“This is a great project… I guess the question to ask would be, ‘what would it take for you to do 100 strangers in 100 days?'” Oh snap! That’s an interesting one.

“It’s an exciting idea! And people have a lot to say that they don’t normally get to talk about. So what would it take more people to do what you’re doing?”

One more question — what is something that you wish or want to talk about but no one ever asks you — something you wish they did. Something that you want to talk about, but you don’t want to just “volunteer”?

Mike thinks about this one for a long time. He’s looking back at the floor thinking. I could see so many gears turning in his head like this would be one of the most important questions I have asked any Stranger. Not because of the question itself, but the opportunity for Mike to share.

Mike starts to ask and clarify… asking me if it’s something to “brag” about. He tells me he’s thinking because he wants to provide a good answer, but I feel like I know what he wants to talk about. The way he’s answered the questions before, how he mentioned talking about things people don’t normally get to talk about… I felt there was something Mike wanted to share because it’s a feeling I’ve had an entrepreneur. However, I wanted Mike to say it… to have that opportunity to be vulnerable… to connect.

He’s silent for a long time. In fact, my phone that’s recording is wondering what’s up with the silence.

“Well, I think with most stuff… if it’s something important you want to… for me, I can get that off my chest. But I could see if you did have a traumatic experience, just how challenging it would be to find someone… just to find a safe space to talk about that stuff. Even comparatively, I’ve still had things that can still haunt you or mess you up or stick with you for a long time. Not saying tragic or terrible, but I can see if you had PTSD for something, I just wish it was easier to know what someone else might be going through.” Mike was right. What he talks about here resonates hugely with me.

“But there’s no easy way to ask that, but it would be… I do wish there was a way to empathize with someone. For me, being an entrepreneur, it can be tough to make ends meet. People might not know, ‘oh, this guy’s not going to lunch’ or he’s hoping his credit card goes through. You know, you go out to lunch and you pray you have enough money in the bank or your credit card won’t get declined. I guess you’d just be embarrassed. For me, it’s a little more embarrassing that you’re holding your breath or praying the charge for groceries or whatever goes through. It’d be tough… tough to unpack that. Tough to know someone else was down on their luck, and they’re a friend… I’d love to take them to lunch. You’re reluctant to admit that, so you never really get the help you need.”

I share some of my story as an entrepreneur and how after my first real startup failed, or actually, during the final months, I was a wreck. I faked so much — mainly my smile. I ostracized myself as I buried myself in more work trying to save the company. I felt like I was letting everyone done. I shared with Mike that was really hard for several months, especially, but upwards of the following years. I didn’t let many people in to know how much I was struggling. I even shared how I went to parties but knowing the restaurant was nice, I would eat something simple at home. Then at the dinner with friends, like one instance at a steak restaurant, I just sat there laughing with friends, but I didn’t order anything while everyone else did. I love steak, but I held onto my wallet tightly having not worked for so long and tried to extend my savings as much as possible. Mike understood.

“You don’t know what someone else is struggling with, and it would be helpful to know.”

Mike chuckles for a moment. “Especially with all the social media and Facebook — you have this public persona that you have to keep up. Everyone else is having a perfect life and a great vacation. You just don’t know if that’s true or you wonder why isn’t my life perfect like that? What did I do wrong? Why don’t I deserve the same as someone else. It can be tough.”

“As I’ve said before, things are tough for me, and things are going well for me! Things are good overall. I mean I have no reason to complain!”

“That’s a tough one because you want to help people. If my friends are struggling, I want to know about it. But then, it’s tough to let your guard down.”

After the handshake.

Real quick, I want to point out how interesting it was for me to watch Mike as he answered these questions. I noted above how he was constantly thinking and looking down as he did as he spoke. I could see that he really did want to help others, and especially for the question about “unlimited resources”, I could see the genuineness in how he felt about fairness and supporting others. I also could see how much love and gratitude he had for his child and his wife. It was great to watch as he lit up talking about his son… and when he references his wife, he speaks and moves… and you can sense the love and feeling of “lucky to have her”.

Okay, to the last question…

The last question after the Stranger question was big for me. Mike started to share a bit of the struggles he faces as an entrepreneur. If he feels what I felt before, it was a real struggle at times, and you want help, but you don’t want to just ask for help. Especially when you want to be confident to pull yourself through, you feel you have to keep pushing and keep having the faith. You can’t be vulnerable, but you know that if someone were to ask you that one question… if someone were to just poke just a little… if the right person felt just an inkling of what you’re going through… you’d crack and the dam would break. Not saying that’s what Mike felt, but that’s how I felt before. I felt like I wanted friends to ask me how things were really going, and I wanted to share, but I was too damn proud to share.

This connection was powerful for me. It reawakened that feeling I had before, but not in a bad way. It pulled me closer to this “Stranger”. In fact, we weren’t Strangers at all. I think I know what he’s going through, and I think he knows what I did and do go through. It’s these little moments when you take just a few minutes to connect with someone, you find that there’s something deeper, and even if that means you just connect and share similar stories, you can allow one another to connect and feel like, “hey, we can do this.”

For Mike, how great is it that he continues to push and pursue and still provide for his growing family. How great is it that not only does he have a wonderful supportive partner in life, but that he also recognizes how wonderful his wife is? And also, how great is it that Mike has the support of a strong entrepreneur network all around him at Atlanta Tech Village. The next step is then, I feel, to be more vulnerable AND to let your guard down — to ask for help when it’s needed. Don’t wait. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I wrote a blog post last year when I struggled GREATLY, and the support I received was amazing, beautiful, and expansive — I’m Tired of Faking It, But I Want This War.

I’ve learned through Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly that vulnerability is not a weakness. It’s a strength. And ultimately, our long term dreams are to be successful to which being vulnerable and asking for help enables us to reach that long term Dream. Shutting everyone out satisfies our short-term “pride”, but at the cost of potentially long-term achievement.

Meet Mike. No longer a Stranger.

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