Stranger 37, Day 37 – Meet Giovanni, the “Mentor and Father”

Stranger 37, Day 37 - Meet Giovanni

This morning, I had to go back to my office to do some work. I had yet another extremely busy weekend day — I wonder when this will stop? Anyways, knowing I was going to be busy, I was curious who was around the coffee shop, and if I could meet my Stranger for the day. I was outside when I noticed a gentleman sitting at a table. He just put down his phone and a little pad of paper. “Well, here goes nothing,” I sigh as tend to do when I make my pitch to a complete stranger. Happily, he accepted and was excited about connecting as strangers.

Meet Giovanni, 42

Who are you?

“Who am I, man…? I’m a former Marine. After giving to the Marine Corps, I ended up in Atlanta doing real estate. That’s what brought me here in 2003, and that’s what I continue to do. So it’s kind of similar thing that you’re doing because you know, being in real estate, if you do it properly, it’s a relationship business. I don’t think I’ve been as bold as what you’re doing right now. But it’s definitely… the last couple minutes have opened my eyes into maybe something I should be doing because I think it’s relatively interesting. Being in the relationship business, that I’m willing to take that step you just took to go ahead and connect with a total Stranger. But in any case, that’s what I do.”

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

“So definitely have passion. Obviously, you catch me here on a Sunday, one of the things I really enjoy doing is working with middle school students here at Buckhead Church. I’m half-way through a three-year commitment with 6, 7, and 8th graders. So this year, I’ve got my boys are in 7th grade. So I spend a couple hours each Sunday here just working with them, and showing up randomly in their lives outside of church here — just to be that one person in their life that is not paid to be in their life. Just help them, you know, walk the path towards a relationship with Jesus Christ, but ultimately to help them find a faith of their own that’s away from their parents who are obviously bringing them here every week. Their parents have their own faith. We believe we help them develop their own faith, and not just vision of Jesus and God that is along the lines of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, so to speak. That’s been really rewarding. That’s been a huge passion. You know, helping people. Every real estate scenario is different. That’s definitely a passion.”

“As far as dreams, having a newborn son has changed a lot. Changed a lot of my focus. A lot of my focus recently has been what’s my legacy. What am I going to leave for him? What do I leave for him if I were to die tomorrow? What is there? It’s a rather emotional journey because when you really start to think about those things, you can’t…” He laughs. “We might think like we’re all the way… like we’ve accomplished a bunch of stuff so far in our life. But man, it kind of hits you hard when you really think about ‘what am I really leaving behind?’ Financially, spiritually… just your imprint on the world. And then you just come to the realization that we’re all going to die, and we probably don’t know when that’s going to happen, but we’re running out of time. You gotta get going. It’s been somethings I’ve been in deep thought about — a few weeks actually.”

“So obviously my passion, my one thing, is to leave behind a legacy that he would be proud of, and he can choose to run with it if he wants to.”

What inspired you to work with middle schoolers?

“Being a part of this church community, one of the things that they encourage us to do is to serve in some capacity. I took a while to figure out where I want to be, but I felt like my life growing up, that stage in my life, that middle school stage, was… I really had a choice to make where I could go the path of being in a not-so-desirable position. I grew up without having a father, not having a mother, so I had a lot of freedom to make choices – either good or bad. That was a stage in my life where I decided to get into sports, and it was only because there was a mentor there. Wasn’t really a mentor, but a next door neighbor who just kind of pushed me in the right direction. I looked at all the different things at the church where we could be more effective at or where not only give us the opportunity to pour into them, but pour back into us. My wife and I do it together. She’s got 7th grade girls. It’s an amazing program.”

What’s a challenge that you learned working with middle schoolers?

“I mean, just understanding that they’re growing up in a completely different world we grew up in. Learning how to relate or just connect… technologically, they’re different. I wasn’t even really interested in Snapchat until I started learning about middle schoolers and seeing how they communicate with each other, and that’s a big part of it. Just understanding how they communicate with each other and how they’re going to want to be communicated to. They’re not so much talking on the phone, or necessarily, writing letters to each other. That’s a been a challenge. Then, just trying to find out how you can show up in their life randomly, and just be that person that they can trust. It’s a process which is why I think the leadership asked us to commit to three years. Last year what kind of like… a big cluster. They were kind of all over the place and unruly, and over time, they’re starting to trust you, and they’re starting to lean on you a little bit more.”

“I think another challenge, I think to answer your question, is patience. To just trust in the process. The process of a 3-year commitment that’s laid out for is going to turn into a life-long relationship with some of these kids. You’ve got to be patient and trust.”

We talked about how to leverage technology to better connections with our audience. We also talk about how commitment underlines the importance of appreciating a process of change. It’s not just a simple switch. Change and connecting is a constant practice.

“You’re walking down the street, and you’re just saying, ‘hi, how are you doing?’ It’s just a standard greeting, but nobody really cares. I thought about it this week, what if I just started stopping everytime somebody said that, and I started engaging with them in conversation. They’d probably be like, ‘how are you doing? why are you talking to me because I don’t really want to know.’ Then why did you just say, ‘how are you doing?’ It’s just a weird part of our culture as Americans that we do this.”

What’s a Life Lesson you’ve learned working with these middle schoolers that you really want to impart on your infant son?

“One of the things that I learned is just watching them, more or less. I guess that they have parents that are comfortable and confident enough to let them go through this process on their own instead of constantly wanting to protect them. For me, I’ll just have to remind myself and remember that when he gets to that age that hey, it’s going to be important for him to connect with other middle schoolers and kids of his age and start to get away from the foundation that we’re laying. Start to learn about himself. There are parents, not necessarily in our group, that are just so protective. They’re so concerned about what language is being used in certain areas. At some point, you have to understand reality that if you attempt to let your child grow up in a bubble, I just feel that it… in itself is holding him back. Things that they’ll eventually be introduced to whether in high school or college or the military or something. Just to keep an open mind and understand that this time we have with them now, we’re just protecting them, and he’s everywhere with us… enjoy it because there’s going to be a time we’re going to have to let go… and we’re going to want to let go.”

We talk briefly about what “normal” means for kids these days. Instead of “normal”, we should inspire for kids to be authentic to themselves.

“To be prepared to have a broad range of experiences. The biggest thing for us, as we see other children who are going through… what things can we pick up that would help us as parents along the way. Be better parents… You’re not going to be perfect, but just to learn things because they’re all sorts of books out there, manuals, people who give you all kinds of advice. Till you do it, you’re just doing what you feel is right and hope that you’re doing the right thing, and not destroying them. I think having a strong foundation with a good community of folks who love God and love each other… it’s really not much more you can ask for. We’re all designed to be in community with each other, and that’s now in this day and age, you really have to seek it. Because we can totally get tunnel vision and stay engrossed in our phones, and everything now obtained at home through the internet. We don’t have to go to the movies because we can download it. We can have groceries delivered to us. We can have food delivered to us. So it’s an interesting paradigm shift that we’re going through as a society.”

“When you travel over seas, you don’t see that. They’re so excited about having a Bible because they’re just like, ‘this is the greatest thing ever’. They have nothing else in the community. They might not even have running water. They see you coming with a Bible and they’re like that’s the greatest thing ever because they’ve got that connection now to God. We could sit here and see 15 different things we can go and consume. Whereas in some other countries, the only thing they can consume is what they can get out of the river that’s a mile away. It’s crazy to think that we have that on this Earth. But this is one of the reasons why we’re perceived to be such a great country, and I love it. But it can catch you by surprise. I think it leads to complacency. Leads to laziness. That’s some things we’ll have to constantly battle and to overcome.”

Giovanni actually answered Jeff’s question (Stranger 36) about what impact to leave behind — the legacy. So I asked him what Mike, Stranger 35, asked from the day before — what would it take for your to talk to 100 strangers in 100 days?

I would likely need an accountability partner to help me… to hold me accountable. In a way, I do talk to a 100 strangers a day, but not at the level you do it. It’s usually about business.” We talk about talking to someone without the motivation of selling.

“I already do it… probably do it in a week, but it’s always in the context of ‘how can I help you with your real estate question’. Yeah, accountability! I think accountability is what a lot of us need. It helps me. Not that I need somebody to hammer me, hammer me. But anytime you’re going on a journey with somebody else whether it’s working out with someone at the gym or learning a new skill or hobby, it’s always having the leverage of having 3 or 4 people together is more powerful then staying it alone. Accountability is the one thing that would help me do that.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I’m always a big fan of ‘who two or three people you know that I should know?'”

Giovanni also provided a second question — “The greatest book that you’ve read this last year?”

After the handshake.

I kinda lied at the beginning when I said he was excited to connect as Strangers. Listening to Giovanni talk, we weren’t really Strangers at all. Instead, we were connected as people living in the community.

It was great to talk to Giovanni about all that he’s passionate about — especially how religion has shaped his life and continues to influence him and those he interacts with. The lessons he’s learned, too, working with middle schoolers really resonated with me. His thoughts about learning Snapchat and how to use it is key as he wants to connect with those he mentors. It’s not about him and what he’s engrained with if he’s trying to help shape these kids’ lives. Instead, it’s learning how best to leverage technology to speak to the kids. It’s about knowing his audience to deliver his message and influence them.

The second point about patience and the process is also very important. In an age of “we need this now!” or rather, “we want this now!”, patience and trust in the process is important to appreciate. Rarely are things ever a quick-fix or a quick-influence. Instead, there’s a process that comes with transformation… especially meaningful ones. It’s about how to sustain those changes so influences can take hold, and to make change requires consistent effort/ practice.

Pleasure to meet Giovanni this morning, and hope you got/ get a chance to meet him, too.

Meet Giovanni. No longer a Stranger.

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