Stranger 97, Day 97 - Meet Alvin

Stranger 97, Day 97 – Meet Alvin, the “Open-Minded”

I walked around Atlanta Tech Village today after work looking for today’s Stranger. I ran into some familiar faces (former Strangers) while perusing the hallways. It was fun to take a moment and talk. One Stranger commented how he didn’t actually read the story I shared of him. He was kind of worried about sounding like he “rambled” on. Well, he finally read it after I ran into him again plus his wife. He laughed and said it did seem like he rambled on. I told him that I didn’t so at all. Instead, his passion about his startup and his family really came through.

He appreciated that, but he added that he was thrilled to be part of my journey. He thought the write-up was great, and he looked visibly happy that about what he shared, and how he shared it (via his Stranger story).

Boosted by this, I went looking for today’s Stranger who I ran into sitting down and about to pull out his computer. I walked up to him, sat down next to him, and asked him to be today’s Stranger. He happily accepted.

Meet Alvin, 30

Who are you?

“My name is Alvin. I’m ethnically from Indian, but I grew up all around the world. I was in the Middle East. In UK-Liverpool. Then, I moved to Philadelphia. Then, I moved to Virginia. New York. And now, I’m in Georgia.”

“I studied Finance, but I’m a web designer and programmer. I run my own company.”

So what brought you to all of those different countries?

“Well, when I was a kid, my parents kept moving. Then after that, it was just work or college or… one of those.”

So now, what brings you to Atlanta?

“My parents told me it was a cool place. Cost. It’s nicer people. Better opportunities, I guess.”

What opportunities are you looking for?

“Pretty much it’s starting to grow up as a startup — or, the startup culture is starting to grow. That, and the fact that it’s much, much cheaper to live here. It’s easier to network.”

How long have you been here?

“About two years now.”

What do you think of it so far?

“It’s nice. People are nice. People are less mean or rude, if you want to put it that way, compared to New York. Yeah!”

“I mean, I love to drive. So, I get to drive. Don’t have to take the metro everyday.”

And depending on what time you drive, you can actually drive.

“Yes! Yes. I try to avoid the rush hours, so…”

Through all of your different moves and stuff, are there certain lessons you’ve taken from all of those places, and bring them with you to where you are today?

“Kind of, yeah. One of the first things I learned is there is a huge diversity in the world. There’s different sorts of people. The same exact point of view would be viewed differently by different kinds of people. There is no right or wrong. The world is not black and white. There’s going to be gray, and there’s going to be all shades of gray –”

Not just 50?

He laughs briefly, “No, not just 50, yeah.”

“There’s going to be all shades of gray in it. Yeah, that was one of the most important lessons I learned. You can’t just take one issue and say, ‘Okay, that is the right thing to do. That’s the wrong thing to do’. There is a whole other side to it. I mean, it really comes down to how people view things. People from different cultures view the same exact thing differently.”

So, thinking about how people might view you. I think it’s always an interesting thing to think about what is a common mis-perception people have about you.

He thinks about this one for a moment. “For me, I would probably say people might look at me and say I’m not open-minded, or I wouldn’t view their opinion as they would like me to, or I wouldn’t understand their point-of-view. At least, I try my best, to strive to actually see their point-of-view from their angle, and not just from how the world or as society views it.”

“I would probably say I have to tell people that I’m actually more open-minded than I appear to be.”

You seem like it.

He laughs, and asks, “I do?”

“Because a lot of times when people look at me, they are like, ‘Okay, you’re of a certain mindset, or of certain views’. I’m like, ‘No, not really. I mean, you could try talking to me. I can understand your point-of-view. You don’t have to, like, guess I’m going to be against you or for you’, or so on and so forth.”

Is there a key to that? I feel like what you’re harping on is that you’re open, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have opinions.

“Oh, yeah. I mean, I might have an opinion. But I like to see all points of view before I may have formed that opinion rather than just seeing one point-of-view.”

“If you give me a stance on anything, on any issue in the world, yeah, there is one point-of-view. And I’ll try to find an opposite point-of-view, and try to form a judgement based on the two rather than just basing it on one. You know what I mean?”

Any other interesting facts about you that you think a lot of people don’t know this about you?

“Well, I used to be a good computer hacker back when I was a kid.”


“Yeah!” He wasn’t sure if I would share this, but there’s no governments to name anyways. Haha

“I broke into a couple of government websites when I was — I guess I was 12 or 13. It wasn’t like top-secret government. Was just the transportation or one of those.”

“So when I got to college, I love computers. I love programming. I love to do all these things. One thing I hate is to mix hobby with money. Then, that’s not a hobby anymore. That just becomes work. Which is why I decided to take on Finance, and decided to do Finance. I guess the whole past of me being good with computers, I don’t think anyone knows about it. Everyone thinks of me as the Finance major who just happened to get into IT and computers.”

You grew up breaking the law! Haha

“Kind of, yeah, yeah. The funny thing, when I graduated, I graduated during the financial crisis. For me to find where they were expecting five years experience for an entry-level experience. Even though I had internships with three years of experience, and they were expecting five years. It was kind of hard. So, I decided, ‘You know what? I’ll do what I do the best, or whatever I was good at’. So I took up computers, and it started earning me a ton more money than I would have ever earned if I worked as a financial analyst. So, I decided to stick with it.”

So, before I forget, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (that’s you), if you could ask anyone anything, what would you ask them? So before you have that opportunity, I want to you what Christian asked the other day. Chrisian wanted to ask you, “Why did you choose to be today’s Stranger? And what does that say about you? What was your impression to being asked to being today’s Stranger?” (Thanks to Christian, Stranger 95)

“I don’t know. It was kind of a surprise. Kind of felt… yeah, I should do it! I should today’s Stranger.”

“Just felt, kind of, cool, or you know, kind of like, ‘Okay — what do you call — okay, you are  the Chosen One’ kind of a thing.'”

You are the Chosen One.

He laughs. “Thanks!”

In a lot of ways, this fits into you being open. Couple other questions, real quick… what are your thoughts now pretty much done this?

“It’s exciting! It’s interesting. I would have never thought of this idea before. It sounds like a pretty cool project.”

Alright, so what is a question you’d like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Okay, if they get to choose between living in a perfect world where everyone is happy, and everyone is right, but there’s no fun in it… and choosing to live in this world where there’s sadness and misery, but there’s also fun. But there’s also happiness, but it’s not all of it. Which one would they choose?”

After the handshake.

I like how Alvin’s story was all about being open. I was curious if he would’ve touched on that “open piece” and perspective while he shared his experiences of living in so many places. Fortunately, he did. His acceptance to be today’s Stranger in a very “cold” approach (we’ve never seen each other before) fits into that openness he shared.

And to that, I’m happy I remembered to ask Christian’s question from a couple days ago since I forgot yesterday. Again, it was good to hear how being open to opportunities and perspective is woven throughout his life.

Meet Alvin. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 93, Day 93 - Meet Mike

Stranger 93, Day 93 – Meet Mike, the “Man with No Excuses”

Meet another staple at the gym I go to. He’s here often, and I’ve always been impressed with his work ethic — in frequency, quality of his routines, great form, etc. In fact, he’s one of the few people in the gym I “look up to”. Yes, there are plenty of people who are stronger than me, more flexible, etc. However, today’s Stranger has always reflected the type of athleticism I admire, and strive to achieve/ maintain.

It was high time we met, so I walked up to him during our workout to meet, and then ask for time after his workout. He agreed.

Fast-forward a little bit. Our conversation took place pretty quickly, and we really just dove right in. So I’ll insert you in here…

Meet Mike, 27

We just get so caught up with everything else around us. We don’t make time to say hello. And this is great, and I didn’t want to interrupt your workout routine. I plug in my earphones. I have a timer. So, it’s like don’t F$*@ with me.

“Ha! Yeah.”

So it’s nice afterwards to connect.

“Yeah, I definitely come in here… it’s almost like therapeutic for me in here. It’s like you said — getting so busy and caught up. For me, just come in, and do my thing. Get my endorphins going. Get my sweat going. And I usually come in in the mornings just because it starts my day off so much better.”

“If I’m working late, then I don’t have to be like worrying about 7 o’clock. Am I going to get to the gym? I got two dogs. So, am I going to get home and let them out, or am I going to get to the gym? So doing it in the morning is much easier.”

Exactly. At least between sets or whatever, I can nod to you or say hi, and then go about doing our own thing.

“Yeah, I’ve seen you in here for at least the last year or two.”

*We talk about my workout routine a bit in the gym as well as my running and soccer regimen + yoga.*

“I go… usually, I lift Monday-Friday. I try to get five lifts-a-week. Then, do a couple days of something outdoors — whether it’s taking the dogs up to Kennesaw Mountain, or trail running with them, or I’ll go over to Marist and run stadiums over there. Just something to keep myself going.”

“I played Lacrosse in college at Bucknell. It’s Division I. And then, it was probably two years after school — so, I lived in Baltimore for a year. Then, came down here in 2012. Then, maybe two years after that, I started getting terrible, terrible pains in my hips. And so they tried this thing called dry-needling. You ever heard of dry-needling?”


“They basically try to shock your muscle tissue because they think it’s some sort of mobility issue. And my third session of dry-needling, they tried to address this pain that I had. The physical therapist was like, ‘You gotta go get an MRI’ because he thought it was hardened muscle. But it was actually just my bone. It turns out I had, it’s call FAI — femoroacetabular impingement. You ever heard of that?”


“It’s the top of your femur. You know the ball-in-socket? I guess my entire life, it’s almost like a bone deformity, but it’s an impingement. So, it’s a mechanical limitation to movement. I had excess bone on the outside of the top of my femur. So instead of, like, rotating nicely in that socket, if there’s more bone on the top of the femur…”

You can’t go that far.

“Right. It would kink out. So, over time, it just started to wear away at the cartilage and soft tissue, which is called degenerative joint disease. So I had torn labrums in both hips, and degenerative joint disease in both hips. So they repaired that as much as they could. They put anchors and medical stitching, or whatever. Then, they shaved off the bone that was causing the impingement. I guess not only on the top of the femur, but was also on my pelvis, too.” He laughs, “… chopped off bone on both sides of the femur and the pelvis.”

“So that was like — I’m 27, so that was… I think started at 24. I’ve had my last surgery a year ago. A year and a half ago. Last summer. So summer 2015. So long story short, I don’t know if you saw me, but I was in here with my brace on and a cane.”

I did remember once or a few times, but…

“You were probably like, ‘What the hell is that kid doing in here?!’ But I was like, I can’t. I’ll go stir crazy, so I was like, ‘I gotta do something.’ I had my buddy that was in here. We started, and we probably lifted together for like a year or so. He and I started lifting together at that time. So, it was motivation to do something instead of just laying on my back all day. I only did upper body stuff. So that’s kind of been, for me, made the last couple years kind of suck. Even more for me, never wanting to not do something physical. Flag football, or like, I said, trail running, or just lifting weights… it’s nice for me. I think it’s as much mental as it is physical as far as stress decompression. Saying I’m not going to use anything as an excuse to just do something to make myself feel better.”

“Yeah, it’s been good, though. I refuse to go back to the doctor right now!” he laughs. “I talked to my mom, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not feeling so good’. She’s like, ‘Go to make an appointment!’ After two and a half years of all that, I’m just going to try to see what I can do. I don’t know if that’s healthy or not, but…”

*I tell him about physical therapy, and how yoga has been great for me, and for many people around me. Several Strangers over this journey have also found yoga to be hugely helpful for different physical, mental, and emotional elements. I share with him, also, how yoga helps complement my lifts and running/ soccer.*

“Yeah, I’ve been to Infinity on Dresden.” (Infinity is the studio I go to, and where I’ve met lots of Strangers.)

“My sister’s a certified instructor. She’s always telling me to get into it. I’ve enjoyed it.” He mentions how he did the teaser classes, and also how the cost has prevented him from signing up longer-term. “I’ve done on-demand stuff at my house. I agree with you, and she’s always trying to push me into it as far as restorative and flexibility.”

This place has some yoga (referring to the gym we’re at). I started out doing yoga here, and then I switched over after 15 months or whatever, I went over to Infinity. *Mike then asks me about my background, and if I still play club league soccer today*

“I also played club league hockey down here for a year. But the rinks… I’m from upstate New York, and there’s four or five rinks within 10 minutes of me. Yeah, down here…” he laughs. “Either Cumming, or sometimes you go up to Marietta. Or there’s a little rink in Buckhead, but they didn’t schedule our games that much. So after a couple years of driving to Cumming for a 10PM men’s league game, getting home at 12:30AM, I was like, ‘Meh, it’s not worth it.'”

Yeah, we have games at like 10:15PM and stuff. It’s like a shorter game. It’s like half.

“And then lacrosse, I pretty much have played every year since I’ve been here. But two years ago, and it was actually kind of when I was finishing up with surgery, the league disbanded. My buddies started up again last year. So lacrosse is growing down here. It’s good to see. I actually used to coach over at Marist. They had some raw, raw talent over there.” He laughs. “Lots to learn, but it’s good to see. I love the sport. The kids that don’t go out for football, or whatever, want to concentrate on a different sport since football’s so big down here.”

So, aside from working out and lacrosse, any other passions?

Mike thinks for a moment. “Other than work?”

Is work a passion?

“Yeah, I think so. I’ve been working for this company for five years. Actually, a friend of mine from college, recruited me to work down here. I work in operations management now. The company was very fragile, and so I think I’ve grown a lot in learning how to motivate people. It’s been very helpful, and very… it’s been a good learning experience for me.”

He shares with me a little bit about the challenges of the company, and how he’s appreciated the opportunities to learn. “I mean, I guess I don’t have a really good explanation for it, but it definitely keeps me going.”

So I’ll start to wrap it up, but what is a key to motivating someone?

“Knowing that everyone is different. You can’t be a hard-ass on somebody and think that being a hard-ass on everybody will work. You can’t be, you know, motivating and being a servant leader to everybody, and think that’s going to work. Everyone has different motivations, and you can’t just work with people from afar. You have to, I think, dig in and understand everybody in order to know what drives them. If you do that, they’re going to feel like you have that personal relationship with them rather than ‘Oh, here’s just this guy that’s just trying to manage or make money for the business or whatever’. It’s more like, ‘This guy actually cares about my personal progress as a professional or as a human-being.'”

“So I think that’s a big key is understanding the people.”

I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (congratulations, you’re Stranger 93), if you could ask anyone anything, what would you ask them? Before you have that opportunity, there were two people yesterday (they combined into one, they were a couple). Two questions they wanted to ask. Andrea wanted to ask you, “Without any boundaries, what would you go do right now?” (Thanks to Andrea, Stranger 92)

“Without any boundaries? I’d probably go visit my good buddy out in San Francisco. He’s been out there for like three years. He’s my best friend growing up. He’s never visited Atlanta, and I’ve never been to San Francisco. I think we owe it to one another to see what each other’s life is like. Since 3rd grade, we were inseparable. If I could just go and hang out with him for a few weeks, and see what he’s up to… It’s kind of been like a relationship we haven’t kept as strong over the years.”

Mike asks me if he’s just passing a question to tomorrow’s Stranger (Stranger 94). Yup!

So David, her husband, wants to ask, “What’s the motto or otherwise a saying that you live by?”

He answers quickly, “No excuses.”

“I don’t want to become complacent in anything, really. I don’t think you should ever let some sort of impediment to your progress keep you down. I think everyone — from time to time, it’s happened to me. You get down, and then you gotta snap yourself out of it. Keep moving forward whether it’s your mental psyche or physical ability or capability to do something in your work-life. Don’t become complacent, and don’t let it rule you. No excuses.”

“So I gotta come up with a question for the next person?”


“What’s the most down, or the lowest, you’ve been in your life? And what did you use or how did you get out of that rut… and keep moving forward? That’s what I would like to know.”

After the handshake.

After asking his question for tomorrow’s Stranger, he made the comment that he was sorry to ask a question that was “down in the dumps”, but I saw it totally differently. I saw his question as more as a question on how to not only connect with others, but also to learn and inspire others with ways to move on. Mike recognizes this, too, knowing everyone goes through something challenging. It was clear that the last several years were very difficult dealing with his hip pain and how it bottlenecked his desire to be active.

Like I said earlier, I noticed Mike because of his athletic abilities in the gym. He does some power lift, but does a fair bit of Olympic-style lifting, too. His form is usually impeccable (like his squat). We talked a moment before we went over to take his picture as he told me he wanted to get his picture doing a squat. I thought that picture was perfect, and I was actually think that before he said it. Him doing a squat is representative of his triumphant return and the ongoing diligence he has for being active and improving himself.

We also talked for a brief moment about his form. Specifically, he’s got great form, but it’s as a result from being hurt. After surgery, he’s spent a lot of time being cognizant of his form. I related to this after a few injuries over the last couple years. It’s funny, and somewhat terribel, that we focus on our lives and the present (and our form) typically only after something bad happens. This is familiar territory for those who suffer some setback. They reassess their lives — purpose, relationships, etc. We should be more present day-to-day and catching ourselves when our form starts to slip before they truly slip and we get hurt. Be proactive (or even active in the moment) rather than reactive.

But when we do have to react, react in a way that keeps us going and moving towards our greater goal. As Mike says, “no excuses.”

Meet Mike. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 92, Day 92 - Meet Andrea and David

Stranger 92, Day 92 – Meet Andrea and David, the “Harmony of Structure and Free Spirit”

I met today’s Strangers (yes, a combo!) sitting next to me at Starbucks. They entered a while before I asked, but the husband sat at a different table while the wife sat next to me and interviewed a couple people. She was interviewing people for childcare service of sorts. Didn’t know what, but as she did so, I made up my mind that I wanted to flip the table a little bit and interview her. I wasn’t sure if I would ask her, though, or her husband. Then, after a no-show interviewee, her husband joined her at her table. Perfect! I’ll ask them both. They happily agreed, so this is how our meet goes…

Meet Andrea, 25, and David, 26

M(e): Starting with you, David, who are you?

D(avid): I’m an open-source developer. Very much to my core. *he laughs* My passion is just enabling people to really get their message across online. That sort of thing. And freely making information flow. Just enabling people that don’t have the ability to get their voice heard. That’s kinda who I am.

M: Okay. Andrea, who are you?

A(ndrea): Oooh. That’s such a tough question. *she thinks about this for a moment* I don’t know. I can’t exactly describe myself the same way because I don’t… I bounced around so many different careers, so many different things just trying to figure out who I am, and where I fit into things. But for now, I’m the hiring manager with a company who provides childcare for children. I’ve worked with, actually, a lot of companies that work with children. So, I do a lot of work with kids, I guess. I enjoy learning a lot of different things.

M: So, I know you’re still trying to figure that out. *I turn towards David* I’m curious, David, if you could describe who she is, how would you do that?

D: Two words — free spirit. Very much. Yup. If something catches her eye that she really wants to try… At one point, I know you did real estate…

A: Oh yeah, I did!

D: … and at another point… She’s done a number of different things over the years. That’s the point I’m trying to get across. She does them well. If something really catches her eye, she will throw her whole being into that. Learn it. Master it. And if that’s something that she wants to keep going, she will. If not, she’ll move on.

A: 9 times out of 10, I tend to move on. *she laughs*

D: Well, you’ve stuck around with David!

A: *she laughs* Yeah, I did. There you go. One constant!

D: How long have you guys been married?

A: Not even a year. Uhh, past six, maybe seven months?

D: Since May.

M: So 7 months.

A: Yeah.

M: That works. He said that when something catches your eye, you kind of pour yourself into it.

A: Yeah!

M: What caught your eye about David?

A: Oohh, I don’t know. I ignored him for a long time. *David smiles and laughs* What was it? *she asks herself, and wonders*

M: Was it the “play hard to get” kind of ignoring?

A: No… When I was in school, I was just so wrapped up in what I wanted to do that I didn’t pay attention to dating and stuff like that. David pursued me first, and I guess it was just — he’s so sweetly innocent. *David makes a funny face at this, and shakes his head. Andrea laughs* He really just has such a passion and a culture for so many different things… Like other cultures, and I’m from Panama. We grew up in Indiana. So, meeting people who knew a lot about other countries and stuff like that, just wasn’t something you run into all the time. So, it was just that kind of worldly wanting to know about other things, and asking questions, and being so into music — and just a lot of the things that I was really into that I couldn’t really find. Not even in friend-groups that I had in Indiana.

M: So finally, when you did stop ignoring — quote ignoring — and start paying attention, what actually made you start noticing? What was that inflection point?

A: Like what made me quit ignoring?

M: Yes.

A: *she thinks* What was it?  Well, David was… he taught a ballroom club class thing in college which I found really interesting. But I think I started paying more attention to him because he started ignoring me a little bit. *she laughs* I guess was just like, “Oh, I guess he’s not interested anymore. I’m now interested.” It was just, like, on one of the first dates, we talked about the “Phantom of the Opera” and the different music there, and how the inflections change the music. Those kinds of discussions I never got to have with anybody else. I have a passion for so many different things, so finding someone who could kind of balance with me, and actually talk to me about those things is really what caught my attention.

M: *I turn to David* So was the whole ignoring her, was that part of the plan? Or did you actually drop it for a while, and then she came back?

D: Umm… it wasn’t part of the plan necessarily. *he sighs* Okay. So… The irony is I was never into a high-maintenance girl.

A: And I’m very high-maintenance.

D: And she’s very high-maintenance right now. *we all laugh* So when we first started dating, it was, “hey, this girl is really cute. Yeah. Great. We go out on dates or what have you.” But oftentimes, she would just want to — I’m quoting you here, Andrea — just be in the same room as me sort of thing, not doting on her constantly.

A: Really? You’re going to tell him this story? *she’s asking in a half-smile, sarcastic way*

D: Yes! So, I would be in my dorm room at the time. I would be in my dorm room just hacking on some project — coding something. Possibly homework, possibly not. I would be just so immersed in it, and I just kinda want to shut out everything else in the world at the time. Meanwhile, she would be coming over. I would hand her my Android tablet with an emulator on it. She’d play Pokemon on this big 10″ —

A: We’re both major geeks.

D: Yeah, yeah. So she would play on this big 10″ tablet that things were blown totally out of resolution, but she really enjoyed it.

A: It was fun.

D: And we would do that for hours.

A: It was because I appeared not high-maintenance.

D: Exactly!

A: … which wasn’t like a ploy.

D: Yeahhhh *he says this with a heavy dose of skepticism* It was a ploy. *we all laugh* I’m trapped now, but I don’t mind.

M: Well, cool. That’s really funny. I’m curious — so you’re an open-source developer. You’ve mentioned that you like to help others to get their voice heard. What is that voice that Andrea has that you want to maybe share, or really appreciate?

D: Hmm. There are so many ideas that flow with her that it’s hard to pin-point just one.

A: Yeah.

D: I guess one of the more recent ones… she has run into organization issues. Issues of organization, rather. And organizing her life, I’ve tried to apply technical solutions to that. It doesn’t sound like communication, per se, but it really is. It’s like a collaboration sort of issue mixed in there. I’m like, “Oh! Here’s this software to help! Let me help you set up this blogging engine at one point. Here are some documents on how to actually — blogs, best that I can find.” Just anything I can do to help her out. Try to help her make that voice heard, whether it’s real estate or working with kids or what have you.

A: I’m just really chaotic. So him helping me is like focusing in and really get ideas ironed out — really help. Otherwise, I’m just kind of like… all over the place.

M: So I’ll start to kind of wrap this up. I like to ask the Stranger of the Day — in this case, there are two of you — what would you like to ask anyone? Like, if you can ask a Stranger anything, what would you ask? You’ll both have that opportunity, but before, I’d like to ask you what Kathryn, who I met yesterday, wanted to ask you. She wanted to ask, “What is your secret talent?” (Thanks to Kathryn, Stranger 91)

A: Ohh! Wow. Umm… A secret talent… What do I keep secret? Hmm…

D: Not sure if it’s secret, but I’ve got an idea for you. *David smiles*

A: I don’t know! Like, what do I not tell people??

M: Well, do you want to say it, or do you want the other one say it for you?

A: I would like to hear your opinion.

D: Okay. Her secret talent is that she tends to be the queen bee. She has a hive of friends — not to say hive mind, everyone of singular mind, but more like she… People end up looking up to her almost like the matriarch of the group-sort of thing. Go up to her for approval. I’m not even sure how this happens. It just happens to occur like that. People just really enjoy her company. It’s not even anything benevolent or anything. They —

A: It’s just a connection.

D: It’s a connection she makes. So that has to be her secret talent.

A: And in that thing, I guess, I’m on an emotional level with people. God, and yours… Hmm… what is yours…? *she’s thinking*

A: I think it’s kind of the way people feel of us. People don’t expect — because David comes off a little aloof *David makes a face at this like he’s thinking, “WHAT??”* and like, he’s not super engaged with people. But when he gets one-on-one time with people, they just — I mean — they just feel like they can tell the world to him, you know? He’s incredibly sincere. He just has this way of reaching people to the point they just automatically trust you. They feel like they can tell you anything, and it’s true. I think the talent is, you make people feel like they can utterly, completely trust you. And they do. I don’t know — does count as a talent?

M: Yeah! I think your secret talent is that you’re, I think, very authentic. And if you’re authentic, right, you don’t look like you’re someone that’s — *I’m thinking about saying, you don’t look like an a-hole, but I cut myself off* you can be relatable as well. People want to trust you, and let their voice be heard. And then, you turn around and also appreciate that, I think, and help share that. Help amplify that person’s abilities, whether it’s helping Andrea’s organizational skills, but that enables her to continue to be that leader with others. I think that’s it.

A: Yeah!

D: I feel like that’s an accurate description, yeah! *he laughs* I mean, that sounds self-serving to say that, but yeah. I would agree with that.

M: Very cool. Alright, so it’s up to you guys. Your turn. What question would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

A: Without any boundaries, what is it that you would go do right now? What is it that you’ve always wanted to do that you never let yourself do?

D: … where money and time is no object, that sort of thing?

A: Yeah, no option! Just, who do you want to be that day?

D: Trying to figure out a good one. What’s the motto or the aphorism, or otherwise, the saying that you live by? Some short term or phrase that encompasses how you live your daily life. What you strive to do — that sort of thing.

M: Alright, cool! That’s it!

After the handshakes.

Last Saturday morning, I met Travis and Briana (the combined Stranger 85) at the Toyota Service Center. It was nice to ask and meet two another couple today who I had never met or seen before. They were both real friendly, and still relatively newly weds.

To speaking with groups, it’s been fun to let each person speak of the other(s). It highlights, out loud, what the other person sees in the other. That, to me, is very fascinating. For David and Andrea, it was nice to hear how they kind of started out dating. Also, I could hear and see how they, in many ways, were in different places at the same time. When they did finally date, they weren’t “truly” themselves until later. This was apparent when they both touched on the high-maintenance part. But given time and that early investment in each other, they appreciated each other more and more. So despite having what would be “on paper” not a good fit, they grew to not only appreciate one another in different respects, but also overlooked/ appreciated the high-maintenance aspect. That’s important to realize here.

As a single guy, I’m caught in this swipe left/ swipe right world where we base our interactions (and the sometimes, the most important ones like who we date, and EEK! marry) on initial judgments. Yet, when you talk to some of the older generations, or yes, even to Strangers sitting next to us, the relationships that matter oftentimes stem from situations where we shed those judgments. That’s perhaps why dating online can be hard, and why we tend to value the “organic” day-to-day interactions or real-life meets. But in any case, allowing ourselves to be open to surprise (the good and the bad) yields a far more substantive life and network of relationships.

Side bar: I’m officiant’ing/ wedding minister’ing a third wedding coming up in early January. So I sometimes ask similar questions about how people meet which fascinates me. Could you not tell via this journey about meeting people? 🙂

Meet Andrea and David. No longer Strangers.

Stranger 91, Day 91 - Meet Kathryn

Stranger 91, Day 91 – Meet Kathryn, the “Always Bettering”

I finally met someone I had seen numerous times on my floor and throughout Atlanta Tech Village’s (ATV) halls for years. I joined my company just this year, but I have been in and out of ATV for years. So, I’ve seen today’s Stranger lots of times, including more recently as her company moved onto our floor. Truth is, I actually met her last week. Though, I only got her name as she left for a meeting. We made plans to finally meet today, and so this is where today’s Stranger story goes…

Meet Kathryn, 33

Who are you?

She’s quiet for a few seconds. “Oh man! What a hard question!!” she laughs.

She wants me to be more direct. “Does it have to be, or can I answer specifically? Or, what do you want?”

It’s up to you.

“My name is Kathryn.” She mentions her maiden name, too, which “aligns nicely” because it means 100 in Dutch. “Very much ties in with this.”

She continues, “My job is the COO at Rigor. And then, I would say who I am. I am enthusiastic. I’m really organized. I like to make things better. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I’m super into triathlons, and nerd out on that.”

I’d like to ask questions about “what does making things better mean”, but also, “what drives you do this crazy thing of triathlons”. So, let’s start out with what does making things better mean?

She thinks about this. “Well, I’ll just turn it right into triathlons. I am taking a little break right now, but over the past seven years, I’ve done five or six Ironmans. So the distances are really long. It’s a race that takes you 11 hours to do, and 9-12 months to train for. So you have this big goal, but every single day, it gives you a reason to exercise. You can’t cheat the process. So you can’t, at the very last minute, say, ‘Oh my God! I’ve gotta get ready! Let me just cram it all in!’ You just have to be methodical about doing it a little bit every day.”

“I, for better or worse, see problems all around me.” She laughs. “Like, ‘Oh! That could be better. That could be better. That could be better!’ So making things better is like, ‘What’s the problem? What’s the pain we can fix either today, or what’s the big thing we need to work on that take a long time, but will move the needle long-term?'”

“Does that answer the question?” Sure!

You said you started doing triathlons for at least the last seven years.

“I think so, yeah.”

How’d you get into it?

“I… played sports growing up, including in college. Not anything special, but I played D3 softball. I was used to being a part of a team, and exercising with a purpose. I graduated, and I was kind of spinning my wheels a little bit because I wanted to be doing something, but I didn’t have a meaningful end goal, right? Like, being skinny only gets you so far,” she laughs.

“Like, you can be healthy without really pushing yourself. You can just, kind of like, check the box, and be like, ‘Yeah, I did cardio for 30 minutes’. So, I started running. That was really fun. I was training for running races. I had some friends that did triathlons, and I got injured running. So, it was a good time to add the cross-training of biking and swimming. And my dad was also a really big cyclist, which made it fun. I learned about riding, cycling with him. So that was fun. And then, started out slow. Did two sprint triathlons my first year. Just trying to finish. It’s funny because the swim is 500 meters. The Ironman swim is 2.5 miles. So it’s like SO much — but it just felt — I was like, ‘I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!’ But then, you know, I just built on that over time. Then all of a sudden, you have this little thing that you’re doing Ironmans all the time.”

You’re working at a startup. You love triathlons. You love making things better. What do you see as the commonalities between doing the triathlons and, I guess, being the COO at a startup?

“It’s funny. So, I really believe that there’s stuff in your life that is always running parallel. Meaning, whatever I’m doing in triathlons, I’ll be learning from that, and be able to apply that to work, and vice versa. Same with relationships, too.”

“So to me, it’s good to remember in a startup, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s always more work that you can do. You can pull an all-nighter every single night, and still not get all the work done. You just have to pace yourself. But, you also have to be consistent. If you work consistently all the time, it starts to build on itself. I feel like we’ve seen that at Rigor this year. There’s been super highs, and special things that have happened. More so, we’ve been working on, you know, finishing five projects per quarter. Now, finish every project. Now, you can build on that project — you’ve laid the framework or foundation. Let’s do the next iteration of that. If you do that consistently, over time, all of a sudden you turn around, and you’re like, ‘Holy shit! We have 40 people?!’ And everything is getting done the way we’re talking about it. I can’t believe a year ago, we didn’t even have team meetings.”

“It’s a lot like triathlon training to me because you don’t even realize it. But all of sudden, you’re like, ‘Holy shit! I’m running a marathon!’ Seems like a year ago, I was just doing a 10K.”

“So, it’s very similar to me.”

Kathryn and I laugh for a moment. As she shifts on the couch, the back cushion falls off causing us to laugh some more. Apparently, her laughing is quite strong.

So you love bettering things — making things better. You’re a triathlete, and grew up playing sports. Have you found, sometimes, it’s difficult to balance that sprint-sprint-sprint mentality? Curious as to what you do keep remembering to slow down. Or honing into that something that says, “Oh, I can’t always make everything better right now, even though I really freakin’ want to?”

“Like the couch breaking. This couch needs to be better!”

Haha, yes, exactly. Do you still sometimes struggle with, I guess, finding that balance?

“Uhh, all the time! But I think having — so for me, having important things, it creates tension, and it forces you to balance it. So, Rigor is important. Ironmans are important. My husband is important. Family is important. They’re all important, so I can’t do 100% of all of them. I have to stop working, so I can go home and see my husband. I have to stop working so I can get a workout in. I have to, sometimes, I have to work instead of workout. I think there’s a natural pull there that forces you to do different things.”

“One of the things I’m always working on is I have very high standards for myself. That translates into other areas. And also, I want to give 100% everytime, but that’s impossible.” She laughs. “So, sometimes, I make conscious decisions of, ‘Okay, for this stretch of time, this is going to be my priority. And for this other stretch of time, this will be my priority.'”

She asks me again, “Does this answer the question?” Sure!

So what is one thing you made better yesterday?

“Hmm,” she thinks.

I’ll allow you to cheat and pick throughout the week.

She laughs. “Well, I have 12 things I made better yesterday. But none of them are big, right?”

But does it have to be big? That is the question.

“It doesn’t have to be big. I guess that’s the point, right? Incremental.”

“So, I worked from home yesterday which is awesome. It was Rigor’s ‘Yoursday’. Thursday ‘Yoursday’. So you work from home — or, you can work from wherever. There are no internal meetings, which is awesome because you can get a lot of shit done. I talked to somebody on my team about doing a churn deep-dive review in January for 2016. That’s all about making it better — what have we learned?”

Kathryn shares with me another — “Small project, but I added leather ties to all of these utensils so we can that hang them on the wall of our house. We have a new house. So, it was a little project. Got it done!” She’s smiling big thinking about how great it was to accomplish this little project.

“And then, OH! I met with an executive coach yesterday who I’ve been working with. Every session is about, ‘how can I be a better leader? Communicate better? Be more patient with myself and others?’ So…”

Cool. I guess since we’re ending the year, I don’t know how you feel about New Year’s resolutions, but what do you feel you want to really get better at next year?

“It’s funny that we’re doing this. One of the things that I want to get better at is public speaking… which I don’t like doing.” She smiles shyly about this. “So that’s one thing.”

“I don’t actually do the New Year’s resolution thing that much. Because for me, the goal setting and achieving is really fluid. Some people are like, ‘here’s the goal, and I’m going to achieve it’. I know it sounds weird. Yes, I do Ironmans, but I don’t work that way. It’s more about every day getting better, and the right things happen. It’s fluid.”

She asks me how I feel about New Year’s resolutions. I mention how I felt for those like she and I, our resolutions are much more fluid. If we want to do something or challenge ourselves, we typically just go for it (this journey being an example of that). I felt that for some people, having a clear date to start and an actionable plan helps them get started. Then, as they progress through whatever resolution or challenge, it becomes more habitual.

She agrees, “Becomes like a habit. There is value, though, in sometimes you get so into it, that it’s easy to get distracted — so knowing what’s important. Those bigger goals help you decide what’s important.”

So, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (that’s you), if you could ask anyone any question, effectively tomorrow’s Stranger, what would you ask? Before you have your turn, John, from yesterday, he wants to ask you —

“So does it pay forward to the next person? Ooh! That’s so fun!”

John wanted ask you if you could do one thing different, what would you do? And why? (Thanks to John, Stranger 90)

“If I could do one thing different…” She thinks about this.

“That’s a really broad question.” More thinking. “Umm…”

“I don’t want to miss my chance. I will say similar to the thing about goals and kind of being fluid, I believe that everybody’s doing the best they can in the moment. Even though I’ve messed some stuff up, I don’t look back and say, ‘Oh, these were mistakes’. And I kind of think if you want to be doing something different, you should just start doing it.” She laughs, “No sympathy!”

“But I would say if I were to do something different, I wish that sometimes I could let things go more. This is broken. I wish this didn’t bother me.” She motions to the couch piece that fell over earlier. But by doing so, she knocked off an adjacent piece. Haha. “Now, I broke another piece of the couch. Like why is the couch broken?!” Hahaha. She thinks it’s maybe actually a daybed.

“So, if I could do one thing differently, I would let go of little stuff more.”

Has that affected you day-to-day on certain things?

“Sometimes, I’m late because I’m like, ‘ah! I gotta get this place clean!’ So yeah.”

You’re turn! If you could ask a Stranger anything… what would you ask?

“This is a reused question. We went to Buttermilk Kitchen on Tuesday. We started this tradition when we have somebody new on the client success team, we go to Buttermilk Kitchen, and we have some really cheesy but fun get-to-know-you questions. So we ask — these aren’t all my questions, but we ask, ‘what’s one of your favorite holiday memories? If you could travel to one country, where would it be and why? And then, what’s your secret talent?'”

“So I think what’s your secret talent? Just to whoever’s next.”

She asks me who is John so she can “thank him for his question.”

After the handshake.

Yesterday, I met John who I’ve seen on my floor countless times. Today, I got a chance to meet Kathryn who I’ve seen throughout the years at ATV. I think, sometimes, that after a while of not meeting someone you see a lot, people tend to think it’d be awkward to finally meet. At least, I’ve noticed that I’ve felt that way in the past. Well, better late than never, as they say, and I’m glad I got a chance to sit down with Kathryn to actually get to know her.

Kathryn’s “always finding ways to do things better” mentality is very similar to my own. I’m always looking for ways to improve something, most especially myself. I love challenges, and Kathryn does, too. I think her thinking about all the stuff she even did yesterday to “do better” was very interesting. I liked how she could point out even the “small” things that she did better. Too often, we think we have to make do something big to make a difference or to talk about. However, even the smallest things can make a big difference. That can be a hello to a Stranger, a smile to a friend, or yes, leather ties on home decor. The details can sometimes affect someone’s entire outlook on the day which can then affect a whole week, and so on. Think: ripple effect.

When Kathryn talked about how she had challenges and goals set and achieved fluidly, it crystallized in my head about this notion of those who are easy to set in motion changes vs. those who need a little more structure. This was a simple, quick revelation, and one that I truly believe is common for people. There’s a spectrum here of those who can just start things at any time, and those who need more motivation. There’s not necessarily a good or bad to this. In fact, sometimes, it may involve extenuating circumstances that affects the abilities of someone to make change — think along the lines of resources, processes, and priorities.

I’m curious to hear more of how Kathryn finds ways to improve things. It could be valuable to think as an entrepreneur.

Meet Kathryn. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 90, Day 90 - Meet John

Stranger 90, Day 90 – Meet John, the “Real Estate and Investment Guru”

I’ve seen today’s Stranger countless times at ATV. We pass by each other, and I admit, we haven’t done the courteous thing often of even smiling or saying hello. What makes this even more strange, is that I’ve seen him before outside of ATV… many times. I don’t recall where or when. Surprisingly, it’s taken this journey up to 90 Days to finally say hello and get to know him.

As we met, initially, he asked me if I knew a couple of his friends. Ahh, that’s where I’ve seen him (and maybe, loosely, met him). I couldn’t recall for the life of me, and he agreed that he didn’t remember me all that well, either. So there you go — a Stranger with an even more familiar face. Now, let me introduce you.

Meet John, 34

Who are you?

“Geez, I guess… you know, we work in the Tech Village.”

He starts out by talking about the company he works for. “What we do here is more traditional commercial real estate. It’s just democratizing the process. It’s essentially real estate crowdfunding. So, it’s just like crowdfunding that’s been around for 4 or so years where we’ll be able to bring potential commercial real estate investments to people that have never been able to seek before, or couldn’t hit those high minimums, and let them get involved with it. Been in real estate the entire time. Always interested in the tech space. Do a lot of startup investing as well. I’m on the board of a fund over at BIP Capital. I’ve been doing stuff with those guys for 5-6 years. That’s kind of it in a nutshell right there.”

So that’s a little bit of what you do, and what you like. You have a ring on your finger?

“Yes! Married. Three girls.”

Three girls?!

“Three girls!”

How old are they?

“6, 4, and 1.” Congrats!

Have any aspirations for more?

“Yeah, we’ll see where this goes. I kind of wear a lot of different hats as well. This is the primary job and stuff. But I’ve got some other things going on. I haven’t really decided what I want to do yet. But, I’m trying to, I guess, work that way.”

So what are some of your passions?

“I… I really like real estate. It’s kind of what I’ve been doing this whole time. Beyond that, hanging out with the kids. Playing golf. Things like that.”

What’s been — you mentioned your kids a couple times — thinking about your kids and raising your girls in this world today, how do you think you’re going to continue to instill the values that you have on them?

“Yeah, I don’t know. It’s kind of hard. They’re still in preschool right now. Just gotta stay involved. As long as you’re just there, and keep pushing them in the right direction. Just making sure they’re good people. There’s probably not much more you can do there. They’re gonna do what they want to do. But, I think, as long as you’re involved, they’re not going to be screw-ups.” Haha. John laughs.

“Keep them on the right path. Keep on supporting them, and encouraging them. Still too early to tell.”

Your kids are young, and I’ve found kids to fascinate me in so many ways. How has your daughters fascinated you? Can you recall one time?

“It’s the memorization. I mean, they don’t forget anything. We’ll be, like, talking about something or doing something, and she’ll bring up, ‘Remember a year ago when we did this?’ It’s just crazy what they can already think of right now. I guess you lose your memory over time, but it’s amazing how fast they grow. I mean, the oldest one wasn’t even reading much at the beginning of the school year — September-something. Now, she can read books.”

He’s astonished and wonders, “Sometimes, I can’t tell if she’s already memorized it, or just memorizes by listening to us reading it to her. Or, she’s actually reading the words, but it’s crazy the kind of switches they take, especially, in kindergarten.”

How did you and your wife meet?

“At the very end of high school, we started dating. I went to Tech. She went to Georgia. So we kind of did that thing for a while. Probably a good thing — give us our own space. And the rest is… We got married in 2007. It’s been a while. We’ve been together 17 years. Something like that.”

Half of your lives!

“Yeah! Trying to do the math… I think… Yes. 17, and I’m 34. Yes.” That’s awesome.

So I guess circling back to your passions in real estate, what about real estate has fascinated you?

“You know, it’s funny how I got into it. We were all sitting around the fraternity house in college. Forgot how we talked about it, but somebody asked another guy, “What do you want to do when you get out of college?’ and said, ‘I want to go into real estate’. So I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to do that, too.'”

“I think I took one class there in the business school about real estate. I couldn’t tell you what it was about. But then I just went along that. Started networking. Got an intern job at a brokerage over here. Did that for a while. Went to another one. Then, went to the banks. Did commercial real estate for the banks. The crowdfunding thing… it’s funny. I was always super interested. It started with like Lending Club, and then, Realty Mogul, and then all the other competitors of ours. And even some venture crowdfunding — like seed investors, Angel List. Did some deals there. Then, I saw that. I did realize I didn’t want to be in the bank anymore. It was just terrible, so I decided to look around. See what they guys can do. I saw they were going to hire someone in Atlanta. We’re based out of LA. There’s 60 of us — 60 employees in LA. Two of us here. Others, in some other cities.

“So then I saw they were going to hire in Atlanta. Took me a few months — talked with my guy at Realty Mogul who I knew just doing investing. They’ve already hired him, and I saw they hired Chuck, who sits right there.” He looks in the general direction of the empty desk across from him. “He’s not in right now. I ended up here. Emailing him, calling him in a week.”

“We talked for like 6 months. I’ve been here a year. When we were in LA last week, we have this thing called Top Hat. You’ve been there a year, and you become a vested partner. You can get your pad. That was just his thing that he was attracted to.”

“… I attracted him. That’s why he decided to bring me on. He saw I super passionate about this space we’re in.”

“Just, you know, go from there.”

“With the real estate background, for the passion for the crowdfunding/ startup area.”

What’s been, I guess, the most fun part about the startup area and being in Atlanta?

“It’s different. I mean, we’re at a startup, but it’s fun really still doing a lot of the traditional stuff. He doesn’t have a tech startup background. I don’t really either. It’s all been traditional real estate. But it’s fun here. We get to sit in this place and do this, but we get to wear a lot of hats. We’re not like… at the bank, I was at Suntrust, we were so silo’ed into what you are going to do. Here, you know, you can do a little bit of whatever you want to do. As long as you make the deals get done.”

“It’s fun. So half the team out in LA are the developers, and seeing what they’re doing. We’re highly technology focused, so we try to keep building up technology — do it better and faster.”

“But, umm, you know… while we are a startup, we’re venture-backed. All that stuff. It still feels like a traditional — it’s like a more fun traditional real estate company.”

Thinking about how you’ve got three young girls at home, have the wife, you’re doing the traditional commercial real estate/ startup part, do you ever struggle with the balance?

“No, it’s not bad. I’ll travel some, but it’s not too bad. I still got here in decent time. Work even after they go to bed. You know, it’s nothing crazy like it was kind of in the old days. Working on the weekends and stuff.”

“They all understand. As long as you can make the time, and do that, it hasn’t really affected that at all. You know, we get busy at times doing a lot of deals. But there are some down times, you can kind of relax, and go home more often.”

Do you have any aspirations for you and your family? Or maybe just yourself in terms of what big dream is?

“I think it’s just to stay with this company as it moves through. We’re getting bigger. We also have our speed bumps and all that stuff. I think just seeing where this company can go. It’s a very, very new industry. The industry’s really, at most, four years old. It could be a big, big industry. Even the amount of dollars crowdfunding has raised since its infancy till now, it’s a big growth plan. It’s just how we can scale this. We’re trying to do a lot of deals. Make it fast, easy for everybody. At the end of the day, we’re still struggling with how to scale it and do more deals. But I’ll hang around here for a while. See how it works out, and just keep trying to do more deals.”

“I think, at the end of the day, I’ve always wanted to kind of run my own small-type investment fund. But you know… That’s about it.”

I’ll start to wrap this up. I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (congrats, you’re Day 90), if you can ask anyone anything, what would you ask? Before you have your opportunity, like I said, I met a couple guys at a store, one of them is named Morgan. The other is Xavier. So Morgan wants to ask you what is your story. You said a little bit about it through your “who are you”, but I’m curious if there’s anything else you’d like to add to your story? (Thanks to Morgan, Stranger 89)

“No, it’s pretty straight forward.” He pauses to think.

“Born in Atlanta. Just know this area so well. Trying to build up the network in this town. Try to hit an area and level in my life where I can make the choices if I want to do something with the family, I can do that. If I want to work hard, I can do that, too. I think that’s how this company bridges that balance of traditional banks and the old jobs, and you know, I kind of enjoy that, too. So we can kind of make our own decisions here, and make our own plans as well.”

Cool. And then Xavier wanted to ask, what can you do to make this world a better place? (Thanks to Xavier, Stranger 89)

“Make sure the girls are raised to be good people. That’s the key right there.”

Now, it’s your turn. What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

His eyes get big for a moment. “Oh geez. I would ask anyone… if you could do one thing different, what would you do?”

John adds on, “… and why?”

After the handshake.

I was relieved to finally meet John. I’m also surprised we haven’t seen each other more often given our common friends. That, and we haven’t met yet since I’ve been at Atlanta Tech Village since the beginning of the year.

John was super friendly, and open to meet + be today’s Stranger. It was great to hear how passionate he was about his industry, and how active he is in supporting other startups. Specifically, he’s an investor in startups. I’m interested to connect with him further to learn more about investment strategies, and understanding the whole venture funding world. Being an entrepreneur who has not gone through funding rounds, I’d like to learn more.

Meet John. No longer a Stranger.


Strangers 89, Day 89 - Meet Morgan and Xavier

Stranger 89, Day 89 – Meet Morgan and Xavier, the “Ambitious Friends”

I met today’s Strangers (yes, there are two!) at a shop near my office. I needed to stay in the area for a holiday party tonight, so decided to go venturing after work to find someone. I haven’t met someone while shopping, per se, on this journey. So I gave myself a challenge to go talk to someone. Well, it didn’t take long as I asked the first people I met while in the store nearby. And instead of asking one of them to be the Stranger of the Day, they both happily accepted to be the combined Stranger 89.

Meet Xavier, 30 and Morgan, 34

Starting out with you, Morgan, who are you?

“Who am I? I am an ambitious person. Very optimistic who believes in anything and everything is possible.”

Xavier, who are you?

“I’m a curious African American male… in a society that is being questioned daily. I have a lot of ambitions. I’m a father. And I’m a business owner.”

So you both said you’re ambitious. I’m curious. What is ambition for you? What does that mean? And how are you living that today?

Xavier starts, “For me, ambition means a drive to achieve something way greater than the norm, or the day-to-day, or your current state, right? I’m trying to achieve that by my business endeavors, and also, by my personal challenges of myself. So like, not actually going out and speaking to 89 Strangers on Days…” Morgan and I are laughing at this. “…but you know, in my own way helping out people, reaching different humans… not of my types. You know, trying to kind of better the world through my efforts… in an attempt.”

Morgan answers, “What is ambition…? I think ambition is kind of a mindset or perspective — understanding that each of us has the power to really manifest anything we want and desire. It’s all about the way that I kind of go about being ambitious is not having fear. Being able to believe that I can really do anything and everything. I can make a connection with anybody. I can connect, and create anything I want, and have the life that I want as well. That’s what ambition is.”

You guys seem like friends… unless you guys are really Strangers and just started talking, but sounds like that doesn’t happen. So of Xavier, what he defines as ambition (he has a son and everything), how do you think he’s living ambitiously and portraying that for his son? (Directed towards Morgan)

“Well, when you have kids, you have to have that focus, right? So I think all about being a parent, all about focusing time and energy. Even having a kid. Connect with someone, you guys fall in love, or whatever. Make that connection. It’s all about focusing that energy and time in who you are and who that person is in the moment, and you manifest this child. So I think that in itself carries on what he’s able to take his dreams and aspirations, and kind of line them with his child. That makes him ambitious.”

Morgan looks over at Xavier and starts laughing. I look over at Xavier, too, and note how Morgan had a lot of good words to say about him.

Xavier says, “I think he said some good things, but that was good… he hit it on the head.”

So how does he instill ambition in his life and helping others? (Directed to Xavier about Morgan)

“Well, I definitely think that he strives to be an anomaly, right? So very, very, very smart guy. So many big, different ideas. So on any day, he could be trying those ideas. So like now, he owns a store online, and working on a haircut product line. Even in my job, I’m in IT. I can give him a problem, and he gives me a solution. I think he’s always pushing his self to be successful, and to achieve, and to connect, and really make an impact.”

I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (this case, both of you), if you can ask anyone anything — if you could ask a Stranger anything, and get away from the same questions… cut through the crap — what would you ask? Before you get your chance to ask tomorrow’s Stranger, yesterday, Kelley wants to ask you are you doing everything you can today to be happy? And what are a couple things you did today to do that? (Thanks to Kelley, Stranger 88)

Xavier starts out, “Yes, I am. I have all types of goals and timelines, right? So, I’m constantly in a position in a job where I’m constantly being challenged. Intellectually, I’m being pushed and driven to expand. Personally, I’m always working on my business. That’s my bigger role. It’s a mental health agency. I want to reach out to African American youths in low equality areas. Of course, there’s a business behind that that you have to do things day-by-day to get closer and closer to that goal. Constantly working on myself, personally. Paperwork-wise. Working on the business. Always improving everything that’s involved with myself. So if it’s a relationship, with friends, with a sibling or parent… potential employee or friend. So every opportunity, I’m taking advantage of.”

So are you doing everything that you can to be happy? And what are a couple things you did today? (Directed to Morgan this time.)

“Yeah! I think part of the secret to being happy is kind of focusing on the right aspect of where you are in your life. I think so often, we make the mistake of trying to look ahead, and not really just living in the moment. So I’ve made a habit to almost tap into the emotion — being excited, being enthusiastic, being happy… all of the great emotions. Tapping into those, and give a moment no matter what. Realizing that if I do that, my path is that much more in line, and that much more enjoyable. You know what I mean? I’m able to appreciate people more. Notice more things and more people. More parts of my life. Able to grow, and just really tap into what life is all about.”

Like I said, it’s your turn now. If you could ask a question to anyone, effectively tomorrow’s Stranger, what would you like to ask?

Morgan asks, “the question I would like to ask is what is your story? Simple as that.”


“So cliche, right?” Morgan starts laughing.

“… not yours, but what I’m about to say. What can you do to make this world a better place? Literally. Like what physical action can you do? What thought, what gesture? What can you do? One thing to make this world a better place.”

“… and have you done it! So it’s like two parts.” It’s like one of those test questions with multiple parts. Got it!

After the handshakes.

First, it was nice to venture out of my normalcy for a moment and go into a store I’ve never been to. (I’m not very fashionable.) I wasn’t sure how people in a store shopping would react to me, but Morgan and Xavier were fantastic. They were smiling and laughing at each other at first, but were totally game to spend a few minutes to chat.

This journey has been great in highlighting how we (especially I) can connect with complete Strangers. Morgan and Xavier are both ambitious business owners and entrepreneurs. I am an entrepreneur. Morgan has an web store. My best bud has a company catering to web stores. They’re both ambitious, and Morgan, especially, talked much about connections with people. Well, this journey is all about inspiring connections. The common threads here were numerous, and I appreciated both these men opening up and allowing me to get to know them. Now, to help make connections with them and my bud.

Meet Morgan and Xavier. No longer Strangers.

Stranger 85, Day 85 - Meet Travis and Briana

Stranger 85, Day 85 – Meet Travis and Briana, the “Couple Who Builds On Each Other”

I got up this morning to take my car to get its regular 120K service at the local Toyota dealership. As I was finishing up some other work, I noticed a couple sitting next to me. I was thinking all morning about potentially meeting my Stranger this morning at the dealership. It’d be different than my normalcy. So as I noticed the couple next to me, I decided that today would be the day I would speak to a couple Strangers as part of today’s meet. Though, I would count them as a single Stranger much like I have when speaking to multiple people before.

They happily accepted to be Stranger(s) 85.

Also, our talk was a constant back and forth, so I’m changing up the style to better reflect our meet.

Meet Travis, 28, and Briana, 34

M(e): Who are you?

T(ravis): So, I am a 5th-year PhD student in a neuroscience program.

We get interrupted for a little while as my service advisor comes to tell me some news.

T continues: Male. Obviously. *Haha, yes, obviously.* White male from Ohio. I guess if you want to ask for some personality traits as well what makes me a person.

M: However you want to go.

T: I would say I’m a very curious person. Very compassionate person. I consider myself very open-minded. Very interested to learn about people’s cultures and backgrounds. I’m just kind of curious about life, in general — just kind of like the driving force for me being in science as well.

*I turn to Briana.*

M: Who are you?

B: My turn?

T: She’s a little more shy than me, I think.

B(riana): So, yeah, I’m Briana. Regulatory coordinator in continuing medical education. That’s pretty much it for right now.

T: I can describe her maybe.

M: Describe her, and then, you can describe him.

T: She’s very sweet and a soft-hearted person. She’s very compassionate. I said I was compassionate, she’s very compassionate. She’s the one who keeps me tame and focused, I think. She’s very loving. So yeah, just a very… a great force to have around and keep you balanced.

M: How else would you describe him outside of what he said?

B: He’s doing great.

B: … this is awkward. *Haha, maybe just a little. She’s a little shy.* Yeah.

T: She agrees with me.

B: Yeah, I agree with all his stuff… of what he said about himself.

M: Okay.

T: She’s just more nervous.

M: How’d you guys meet?

B: We met at a Halloween party, sort of. Then, I became friends with his lab mate, and hung out with her a bunch. Then, I met him again after meeting him at the Halloween party through her and other friends.

T: So it was a random, like very disconnected friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, you know? It was a long line and chain of people. We seemingly kept ending up at the same place.

B: Yeah. We were at several occasions together. And then, we started dating and stuff

T: Yeah, so, it was interesting. We met at this Halloween party, but just briefly. She was actually seeing a friend of mine, but he kept saying, ‘Man, I met this girl, but like, she’d be great for you! She’d really be good for you!’ I was like, “oh okay.” So it was this awkward “my best friend’s dating this girl kind of, but he keeps saying, ‘man, she’s great for you!'” *he’s laughing* Okay! So we met, and we all agreed that it’s better for me. *He keeps laughing, and she’s smiling* So it all worked out. We’re still best friends. It’s all good.

M: So, when did you guys meet?

B: That was Halloween of 2015.

T: So just a little over a year ago. It was our first interaction.

M: What were you guys dressed as?

B: At the first meeting? He was the Incredible Hul– Or he was the Sexy Hulk? Slutty Hulk? *Travis is laughing hysterically*

M: The Slutty Hulk?

B: Slutty Incredible Hulk… *Travis is still laughing.*

T: We were an Avengers group. So, let’s just call it that.

B: He was like painted green. And he just had these little shorts on. His best friend, the guy who I dated for a very short time, he painted his whole body green.

T chimes in: Well, no…

B: Well, all the visible parts, I guess.

M: Real best friends…

B: I was supposedly, sort of Cleopatra because I was with one of my friends who was my house mate. He was dressed as Caesar, so I was Cleopatra at that party.

M: So let’s be honest — was it the shorts? *they both laugh, especially Briana* Were you like, “you had me at your shorts.”

T: They were pretty impressive shorts.

B: Yeah, maybe… *she’s laughing*

M: So how long until you guys went on your first date?

B: Between Halloween and our first date?

T: Well, our first date was… Julllyyy?

B: At the sandwich bar?

T: Yes, at the sandwich bar.

B: Sort of. No, yeah… I guess July. So it was sort of… March, but then sort of July. So…

B: It took a long time between the Halloween party and where we are now. We started officially, Facebook officially, dating in August.

M: Oh, well, that’s the only thing that counts really.

T: Yup! If it’s not on Facebook, it doesn’t matter.

B: And then, we went to the same Halloween that the girl who hosted the Halloween party which is one of his friends — she’s from his program. She hosted another Halloween party this year, so we went to the same one hosted by the same girl.

T: … One year. But between the October and August, there was a lot of just like dating casual.

B: Yeah.

T: … spending time together, but that was really us officially dating.

B: … from August, yeah.

M: Well, you’re here at Toyota at 7AM on a Saturday, so I’m going to take it that this is real serious. They say there’s this “airport test”, but I kind of go with the “7AM at Toyota test”.

T: Yeah, I think that’s a fair assumption. *Briana is laughing hysterically next to us* I’ll agree to that.

M: What are a couple of your passions? I’ll let you guys kind of talk…

T: Passions… So, at this point, I’ll make it on the superficial level. I’m passionate about science, obviously. That’s why I do it.

M: And you have a tattoo of it on your arm. *It’s of some chemical bonds, I believe*

T: Yeah, exactly. *He chuckles for a moment* It’s the discovery part. It’s the creativity of coming up with ideas. Testing them. Seeing something for the first time that no one else in the world has seen before. This type of thing is really an intrinsic drive for me to get up everyday and to go to work, and do these things that I do. Keeps me motivated and keeps me focused. On kind of the outer level, I would say discovery is what I’m passionate about. Going a little bit deeper, is more passionate about, significant others. Kind of developing this relationship.

M: Aww. *I look at Briana.*

T: Well, you know, we come to this test! *Briana laughs* You know, it’s to the point now where I kind of get in this bubble where I was just doing work all the time, all the time, all the time. I was like I need step out in a way and discover things outside of that — not just sitting in a lab all day. Like in the last year is when I’ve been trying to work on personal relationship cultivation, things like that. So I’m getting more passionate about other people… about others and developing these relationships, and not just clicking and working all the time in the lab. Something I’m passionate about now is making sure that I’m not doing that all the time. I’m doing other things with people and developing relationships.

B: So, let’s see. I’m passionate about a lot of things. *Travis nods* I’m very excited about change, and evolving education that we can do as individuals. And then us… relationships whether it’s parent-to-child or brother-sister or these types of relationships *she motions to herself and Travis*, but also on a national scale within a company, national scale within a state. All the different ways we can identify little areas of improvement and slowly make them. That’s something I’m just becoming passionate about based on my current work, and also seeing our nation and how it’s developing, whether it’s backwards or forwards. That type of thing, I think, is really exciting. Both in that current way but also when I’m learning about our history or like right now, I’m reading about dead bodies, actually. And all the different things I can learn about those. I really like learning, but I’m really excited about problem-solving and change, specifically. How change happens, and how people can embrace change. How you can kind of… right now, I would say my current passions are communication issues and process improvement issues. I think everything from whatever’s happening now to the Palestine conflict can be taken down to communication and process issues, and identifying where those little areas of potential change and intervention are, is really exciting. That’s what I’m excited about right now. Might be something different tomorrow. *Travis takes a sip of coffee from his bottle*

T: That just kind of reminded me because my brain’s slowly waking up. But yeah, and also to say education is something I’m passionate about. Not just for myself, but educating people on all social, political world issues just so everyone can make an informed opinion about whatever they feel strongly about. Let’s say educating one’s self to looking at educating school children — first graders, second graders — teaching them correct information, not just biased, personal, influenced beliefs, or something like that. To an old grandma that’s going to be voting (or this election or whatever), they kind of understand the situation. Look at the issues, not just from one side, but both sides. We’re all guilty and biased in beliefs — some more than others, sometimes. I think it’s important to educate yourself about the issue and all the components to it. I’d say I’m passionate about education on all issues.

B: I’d latch onto one thing to that. In terms of informing the populace or informing ourselves, I think education from first grade to grandmother, I think the most important thing is critical thinking. Like facilitating critical thinking, creative thinking in the mind from the young to the old. That, going back to the change thing, that people that are quite old and set in their ways can still learn and change. I think embracing that idea as a people can help us a lot. I just think much more than filling up somebody’s brain with information, I think that critical thinking is just so important. So no matter what is thrown at them, they can take it, process it, and be able to make a decision from that material. That’s another thing I feel passionate about. There you go!

*we laugh. Travis takes another sip of his coffee*

M: How do you guys communicate and support one another?

T: I got one more thing about the passion thing that I wanted to speak about. One more thing. *Briana is laughing hysterically again* Is that okay?

T: So the other thing… like I said I’m slowly waking up. I’m drinking my coffee. Every time I take a sip, I’m like, “oh yeah…”

M: Every sip is one more enlightenment.

T: Yeah, it is. I’m going to have one more enlightenment here before I go. *he takes another sip* MMmmm. Something else I’ve become more aware about/ aware of and possibly more passionate about is sustainability as far as climate change. How, what can I do at an individual level and also what nations can be doing to kind of reduce waste, reduce emissions. Thinking about the future of the planet where I think it’s starting to become something that’s more and more critical. You know, the more and more I read about it and think about it — reducing carbon footprints. Even just learning about sustainability. How do I grow my own food a bit, and playing around with these things is something I’m becoming more passionate about. That’s important.

B: So our question now is how we communicate and support each other… You can go ahead.

T: She kind of already touched on it a bit with her passion. She’s really good at communicating, but I’m relatively poor, sometimes, at communicating. I think it’s like one way that we — what? *He looks over at Briana who made a little face at this*

B: No, keep going.

T: So when I get mad, I used to not talk much. Kind of more of a cold person sometimes. But like, I’d say that’s something I’ve worked on quite a bit. Our communication — just open communication — addressing issues immediately helps support each other because we can move and progress through things fast and get over things. Move forward quickly where it’s not holding on to things and not talking about it for days, and this type of thing where I think could really be destructive. *He looks at her again inquisitively. Briana laughs a little* Is it? No?

B: You also have to talk about how we support each other.

T: Oh! *Briana laughs*

M: Or, you, Briana%2

Stranger 81, Day 81 - Meet Tesh

Stranger 81, Day 81 – Meet Tesh, the “Man Seeking ‘Obrima'”

I met today’s Stranger sitting at the “corridor” of the first floor of Atlanta Tech Village today. I wasn’t sure if I should walk around a while, but then saw this gentleman tip-tapping on his new MacBook wearing a Batman beanie and workout clothes. Hmm… seems like there’s a good story here, and boy was it! He was happy to jump in as today’s Stranger, and I’m glad I got to meet him.

Meet Tesh, 28

Who are you?

“Who am I? I’m a father of 10…” *pause* Eh?

“I’m joking! I’m joking!” Haha. You’re the first to pull a joke on that one, and it’s Day 81!

“Well, you know, I’m an inventor. I am an explorer. I’m an entrepreneur. In search of obrima. It’s a West African term. It means to search for a higher sense, or acclimation of one’s self. To a degree, yes, I am spiritual. So everyday, I seek to attain obrima. But, you know, in that attainment, that’s something that’s ongoing. You never really will reach it, not even on your dying day. But it does provide a sense of fulfillment because you’re looking to strive to get better. I don’t mean monetarily, but I mean holistically. To be a better person than the day before.”

“Obrima is also a brand. It’s a fashion brand that I’m building. My first runway fashion show that I modeled in was three years ago. And my current business partner is like a brother to me now. It was his first design competition. It was here in Atlanta. It was sponsored by Peroni, the Italian beer, and Milk Studios, which is a studio based in New York. I closed the show — an orange, unfinished blazer. It was a linen blazer. It was a spring collection, and I helped fund it, too. When we met, it was at the casting. Afriyie is my friend’s name — my business partner. He’s a self-taught designer. He finished middle school here, and he went on to move to Atlanta, actually. He used to work out of a boutique here in Atlanta in Midtown. He was a tailor — an in-house tailor.”

“Story told short, that’s where we…,” he pauses for a split-second before pivoting. “After that, we went to Charleston Fashion Week in March of 2013. He was an emerging designer out of a competition of 20. We were entering menswear for a holistic brand which so happens to be the market we were entering first. Out of 20 designers, we won… only male designer.”

“Fern Mallis, who’s the founder of New York Fashion Week, who was one of the judges, is one of our mentors. Now, we just won last year the Axe White Label Collective. So Axe, the body spray, partnered with Esquire Magazine, and they came up with a new product category to cater to more of an adult demographic. It is called, again, the White Label. By partnering with Esquire, they wanted to tell an authentic narrative. So they selected our brand. They selected Afriyie as a designer with demonstrable talent in a brand in American fashion, or fashion in general with high potential. So, it’s really neat. We were notified that we secured that.”

“Our mentors were Nick Sullivan, who is a fashion director of Esquire Magazine, John Legend, the musician, and Billy Reed, who today, is a quite close friend and mentor. Billy Reed is an American designer.”

“So, that’s one of my areas of interest. We’re pursuing that. That’s kind of one area on my walk… on my path.”

… towards obrima.

“Yeah, well, obrima came, again, I grew up Hindu. My religious affiliation, I don’t have a partial affiliation, but I just like the term.”

So, you’re doing a few different things — modeling, and you call yourself an inventor.

“Well, an entrepreneur. When I say that, I just seem to be very, very good at connecting dots. And by dots, I mean people. People with certain levels of skill sets, or interests by coming together, we can create something of value to us and to others.”

“Value and also it being strong and impactful in society. But in this case, this is in healthcare. We started a medical technology company. It’s call Lab Solutions. It’s a reference laboratory. It’s in Midtown, actually, right behind Atlantic Station on Northside Drive. We do a couple things. One is toxicology. With toxicology, we test to the nanogram with what’s called Liquid Chromatography Dual Mass Spectroscopy machines.” Pause here, and say that five times fast. Or just twice. Nope.

“They’re made by Agilent Technologies. They analyze urine specimen or liquid fluids to the milligram. It protects patients’ safety and compliance reasons, and also physician liability. So, practices nowadays because of adverse drug events or aversion, you name it, practices are looking for standard protocols or methodologies in place whether it’s a primary care physician, or an internist becomes a sole practitioner to multi-practice groups like a behavioral health center of psychiatrists. We test urine specimens to the nanogram, and we test for over 200 analytes. By analytes, we mean different drugs and different drug classes in order to provide a scope to what is in a patient’s system. Each physician or group practice or whatnot has their own standard protocol. That’s just one of our services. ”

“Another one is pharmacode genetics. The pharmacode genetics, we have an in-house genetics team. We create personalized drug therapy programs based off a patient’s genomic makeup. We all metabolize medications differently. How I digest an enzyme reacts to that medication… it could be toxic, right? So with these color-coded pharmacode genetic reports that are sent via fax, or we can do a bi-directional-EM interfacing with EMR (electronic medical records), these reports are done within 4-5 business days, and the physician can see — well, if certain medications they’re curious about are not working, the report can provide a possible alternative or an adjustment in dosing along with their current medication list. With pharmacode genetics, it can be a poly-pharmacy patient on multiple medications. Maybe the physician has a curiosity of just a certain type of patient. But it’s a great way. It’s progressive medicine, and it really helps save healthcare dollars, and of course, patient care… and the patient as a whole.”

“We also do some cancer genomic studies and testing. With a saliva sample, if you, as a patient, have a hereditary predisposition in your nuclear family (close blood relatives) have cancers of various forms — whether it’s breast, ureteral, colorectal — you name it — ovarian… we can predict the likelihood you have cancer, or if it’s already present in your body.”

“We’re working more towards a more… becoming more of a diagnostics lab. You know, progressive clinical tools to help enhance the clinical practice. So, we want to partner with physicians more than just extend a service. It’s more of a partnership and a service orientation.”

“So far, it’s good. We have a 10,000-sq foot standalone facility in Midtown. We service a lot of practices here in the Atlanta metro-area, and into South Carolina, North Carolina, and beyond.”

I think I’ve messed up some of the spelling. You’ll have to bear with me! Lots of background noise on my voice recording + complicated medical terms I’ve never heard = typos, likely. Yowza.

That’s… quite a bit. (“Yeah, I know,” he laughs.) You’ve got this fashion thing going on. You’ve got this life sciences/ health company. What’s driving this motivation for you?

“Honestly, it’s the people I work with. Who I work with that help me grow, and evolve, and become a better person. Not only with my decision-making and choices, but also from an educational standpoint. Learning from others. I’ve been fortunate to work with close family, close friends in order to progress myself, and my individual interest helps drive my personal growth. So that’s that.”

Has there been some way, some time where you’ve been maybe “kicked down”, and your friends (the people who drive you) have been there to help?

“Oh, all the time!”

“Here’s the thing when I say friends. A lot of this is the relationship that I have with, for example, one of my friends. He’s, I’d say, eight years older. There’s this sense as almost a guardian relation. So, you can be assessed more critically by someone who knows you so well, than someone else. Society today, you get too many trophies for coming in 2nd or 3rd. It’s this sense of a pat-on-the-back. Whereas, with my friend and the way of our interactions, it’s not always honky-dory. When it’s not, someone can come down on you. They’re comfortable in the way they approach you vivaciously. And, it, again, always hasn’t been that easy. And nothing is. Even with my brand. Yeah, sure, these accolades, these events and functions, even in the lab, you’re having to pitch what it is… your service offerings. You know how many physicians get approached for all types of things all the time, especially being private? Yeah, I’ve been told no. And do I get down? Absolutely. I’m a human, you know. I can sit here and say this, this, and the other, and all these wonderful things going on, but that doesn’t come without sacrifice. Are you kidding me? That doesn’t come without sacrifice. It comes with a certain amount of mental fortitude. Fight everyday. It’s not easy out there these days.”

“With the advent of social media, and the things society deems is whole. ‘By attaining this material thing, makes me a better person.’ Identifying with these sort of outfits… that’s not how society should be shaped. That’s not how we should be shaped as people. It’s so hard to connect these days. You’re already typecasted as soon as you walk out the door whether it’s your facial hair, whether you’re wearing a Batman cap, you know it doesn’t matter. What I’m saying is that societally, we have to work together to create a degree and sense of open awareness and order and structure, and just resonate with each other. Not saying that’s going to happen overnight, but you have to have an open mind initially for that to begin — that open dialogue.”

“I’ve judged others in my past, and I do it probably now. But I’m very much more aware, more conscious of just changing things that are habitual. Not that judging people is habitual, but anything in life whether it’s exercise — my regimen needs to change after a certain time.”

“Is that good?” he asks to check if he answered the question.

What is the most important personality quality that you think could allow you reach a new level in whatever it is you’re doing — your career, or like your art, or your work. What personality trait do you think matters the most for developing that way? (Thanks to Aaron, Stranger 80)

“As you’re reading that, the first trait that came to mind is perseverance. Perseverance is something that I resonate with that’s actually on my, framed on my bedroom wall at my family home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It’s a man holding on with one hand — you know, those motivational quotes? Yeah, perseverance is a strong trigger — quality or trait — in order to continue to manifest, regardless of what may be attacking you in your life. I mean… it’s the one thing that keeps me going, you know?”

“So I would think anyone who is looking to further themselves and their pursuits, and have a sense of… fulfill their sense of purpose. Purpose is ever-lasting. It’s something that constantly changes instead of the effervescent. Yeah, I think that’s the strongest quality.”

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

He thinks about this one. First time! Then, he says, “So many I could ask…”

Tesh talks about adversity, and wants to ask this to tomorrow’s Stranger: “how to deal with adversity, you know, in order to have the most effective outcome. Yeah, that’ll be my question — how do you deal with adversity?”

After the handshake.

Wow. I won’t lie, this was a doozy of a write-up. There were so many technical terms, and so much background noise in my recording, and Tesh had a fair bit to say. There was so much to his story. Much of it, especially early on, was technical. I thought about abbreviating some of it, but it was very fascinating, especially, as I listen to Tesh again, and transcribe his story. Further, I ran into a friend later in the evening, and shared a little bit about Tesh. She, being interested in science and the human genome, was so intrigued into Tesh’s story. This only confirmed that I should transcribe as much detail as I could from my meet with Tesh.

Tesh was brilliant. I enjoyed listening to him, and how he could easily recant the various services and accomplishments of his fashion brand and his lab. He’s 28, and though, I did not ask about his background further, it’s clear he’s had some quality education both formally and informally as he’s learned on his own.

I also appreciated Tesh’s response to Aaron’s question regarding the personality trait. Tesh is well-versed in entrepreneurship, and how important and powerful perseverance is. He mentions purpose during our meet, too, which tells me that he, too, believe purpose can play a powerful roll in persevering. Don’t I know it…

So meet Tesh. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 80, Day 80 - Meet Aaron

Stranger 80, Day 80 – Meet Aaron, the “Intersection of Technology and Medicine”

I met today’s Stranger at my office. He’s a coworker of a friend I met from yoga who works at at startup in the building. They actually just moved onto the floor my company’s on. When I asked today’s Stranger to be today’s Stranger, he was showing off some homemade guacamole to our mutual friend. So aside from now knowing he was a guac chef/ preparer/ enthusiast, I knew very little about him. Great he took a few minutes to meet.

Meet Aaron, 29

Who are you?

“So I’m Aaron. I’m basically a… MIT graduate in chemical engineering from 2009. Originally grew up in south Georgia. Here, right now, just kind of exploring what it’s like to be in a startup. I’m really interested in a lot of different things. One of the things I’ve been interested in is software. But another major interest of mine is medicine. So, I’m actually in school as well. Or, I was in school, and I’m taking some time off school to do more programming and learning more about development.”

“I’m Puerto Rican. My family, a large majority of my family, are still in Puerto Rico. But my dad was born in Chicago. My mom was actually born in Puerto Rico. I don’t know how to define myself,” he laughs.

“Let’s see. I’m a pretty excited person about… like, I think, technology’s really exciting, and the types of things you can do with it. I’m always trying to think of new ideas, and ways I can be learning things that allow me to contribute more to the intersection of different fields through technology. I’m really passionate about learning. A lot of what I do is, ‘okay, how am I going to learn this quickly? How am I going to become a more effective learner?’ How to leverage some things that I already know to learn this more effectively.”

“Let’s see… what else?”

What have you learned about yourself as to what’s one of the best ways you learn?

“I learned about myself and the best way I learn is from hands-on experience. I like reading about different things. I’ve always liked reading technical books, or books about different things — learning through books. I feel I learn the quickest from hands-on learning, and actually experimenting with things and working with things with my own hands. Messing around with them, and experimenting, and trying to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

What’s something that you learned last week? Maybe professionally?

“Something that I learned, maybe professionally…” He thinks for a while on this. “Well… I’m trying to think,” he shares.

He admits, “I’m drawing blanks right now.”

“Just, like, integrating frontends and backends. Just how to… I don’t even know what to say,” he admits. “I’ve just been kind of going at it. Can’t really think of anything actually.”

You probably have learned something, but maybe because you’re so deep in the weeds, you’re still trying to figure it out. Maybe you have to take a little time to reflect?

“Yeah! I haven’t really reflected on it much. Been just trying to keep it going. Trying to keep it active.”

That’s always a tough thing — you’re working at a startup. You want to think about the strategic and the bigger picture, but you’re also very deep in the weeds. Do you take explicit moments where you step back and assess everything and get back in? Say, “okay, this is what we learned, and let’s iterate on that.”

“I do think I have those moments, but they come a lot of times when I’m stuck on something. And then I’m forced to go back and think, ‘okay, what exactly it is that I’m doing, and what happened?’ Like, ‘where am I right now? And how do I get to where I want to be?’ I think that is usually what happens.”

“I haven’t really made any time in my schedule specifically for doing that. It’s probably a good idea, actually, to do something like that. Like right now, things are just changing so fast. Constantly changing. Especially being in a startup, new things are constantly being presented to me. New ideas. New ways of doing things. Which is very different, I think, than probably most places. So, it’s probably something that I should do.”

You also said you’re taking a break from school to do this. Sounds like at some point — are you planning to plunge back into school?

“Yes, I would like to plunge back into school.”

First, what are going to go back to school for, and then, when you do, what is it that you want from this specific startup experience that you really want to bring and leverage?

“I would like to finish my PhD and my MD. I started them, and I’ve done several years in both of those degree programs. I would like to finish my PhD in biomedical engineering. And a MD, just a medical degree — to be a medical doctor. I’m really interested in being at the interface of medicine and technology. I think there are a lot of doctors who are out there who aren’t really that familiar with programming and working with different languages and building things. So a lot of the tools doctors use in clinic are very… just… they don’t look that great. They’re not that easy to use. They don’t make intuitive sense of what a doctor’s trying to do. They don’t really support the work of a doctor. I would like to be somebody who contributes to the development of things in that field.”

“So that’s what I’ve been trying to work on — is to develop the skill sets that have been…,” he thinks. “Like, previous to this, all of my experience has been more like working with backends and doing Python programming. Doing a lot of backend engineering where I’m trying to build services and do data parsing with Python and building databases full of data that I can pull from, and do different things with. But I haven’t been spending that much time on how the user interacts with this. So right now, I’m working more doing the frontend engineering with React and Redux and these newer frontend technologies that are really interesting to use. I’m hoping to get a better understanding of the UI/ UX side of things, I can contribute to what is the most lacking area of a lot of medical apps — the frontend. That’s what I’m hoping to do. If not programming myself, I’ll be able to at least build the conversation that is conducive to build something that is easier for users to use.”

Who inspired you to do what you love to do? And why? (Thanks to Dmitri, Stranger 79)

“What do I love to do… that’s a good question. Umm, personally, I really love medicine.”

“And you know, this idea of working with patients, and being actively involved with taking care of somebody, and how you’re able to overcome this division that exists between people to work collectively towards a goal of bettering someone’s health. You become a partner in their health. A person who has really inspired me has been Abraham Verghese. He’s like my favorite author.”

“He’s Ethiopian of Indian descent. Doctor who’s working at Stanford right now. He does a lot of interesting writings. He wrote a book called Cutting for Stone, and also two non-fiction books that I really found enjoyable. One of them being My Own Country, and the other one being Tennis Partner. Just from reading his books and experiencing the things he experienced through his writing, like he gave me to have a better appreciation for what medicine is. How we can make a difference as doctors if we’re empathetic, and we try to understand the cultures and the people better that are around us. I think that’s something he illustrates really well, and how he describes people. He just talks about things. He really gives me a sense that he’s been exploring these cultures, and tried to integrate himself in a way that enables him to care better for his patients. I think that’s really inspiring to me.”

If you could ask anyone anything, what would that be?

He thinks about this for a little bit. “Anybody, anything.”

“What is the most important personality quality that you think could allow you reach a new level in whatever it is you’re doing — your career, or like your art, or your work. What personality trait do you think matters the most for developing that way?”

After the handshake.

It was cool to learn Aaron was taking time off school to learn programming. As we spoke, I kept thinking he seemed like a smart cookie having briefly forgotten he’s also an MIT graduate. He’s got a background grounded in science, and he’s really pushing the computer science bit more now.

Additionally, I thought it was interesting that his inspiration, Mr. Verghese, and why he is inspired by Verghese also touches on his expansion from backend engineering to frontend. He is, in many ways, now integrating the art of computer science of UI/ UX to his skill set. It’s much like how Verghese assimilates to cultures and to his patients to provide better care. These parallels here are fascinating.

I led him a little bit on the question and answer about stepping back to assess what he’s learned. I don’t normally do that, I think. However, I was empathetic to how in a startup, it’s commonplace to keep running and plugging without stepping back to gauge where we’re heading and where we’ve been. It’s easy because we’re heads down so focused on putting out the fires in front of us. Stepping back seems like a luxury, but to prevent more fires and poor direction, it’s actually quite necessary.

Meet Aaron. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 77, Day 77 - Meet John

Stranger 77, Day 77 – Meet John, the “Strong Christian”

Today, I got the chance to meet another gym staple. I knew of his name and sometimes his workout routines. However, I knew so little about him. I just always remember his Mad Men-esque hair cleanly kept even in the gym. Meanwhile, he’s deadlifting 4, 5, sometimes 6 plates. He breaks a sweat, and I break a sweat just watching him. So as I wrapped up my sets, and he wrapped up his, I asked him if I could get to know him a bit better, and if he’d be today’s Stranger. He happily accepted. Meet the Strong Man.

Meet John, 26

John just dove right into it.

“Grew up in Tucker. Was born in Pennsylvania, and moved down here when I was 3. So I grew up in Georgia. I was home-schooled starting out. 6th grade, I went to a small private school. Then for high school, 9th through 11th — or 8th through 11 — I did like a co-op. It’s like a college set-up but for home-schoolers. So you go to your classes once or twice a week. Do your homework. Manage your own schedule. And then for my senior year, I went to Tucker High School to play football, specifically. We won the state championship.”

Because you joined.(?)

He laughs, “yes, of course!”

“And then, that…” he pauses and thinks for a moment.

“Went to the gym. I’ve always been kind of active. And then, I started going to the gym when I was around 15-16 — just me and a buddy. That kind of led towards football. The gym I was going to, a lot of kids from Tucker were training there. That kind of got it in my head. Growing up as a young adult, a lot of the older guys I looked up to were strong. So that helped motivate me to lift heavy, or do good at the gym and stuff. Training for football was what really built my gym kind of workout. And then, I tried out to play football at Georgia State, but I didn’t make the team. So I just focused on my school. I worked two jobs on campus. I double-majored in finance and computer information systems. Then, coming out of college, I got a job at Key Property Services being a financial analyst. That company had big lay-offs. Funding dropped a lot. I got laid off, and then I got a job with CSRA doing IT — which also fits my major. I like IT better, so that’s what I have there.”

“I’m staying up in Alpharetta, so it’s kind of a drive. Coming here at 5 in the morning beats all the traffic, so the drive isn’t that bad.”

“I’m the oldest of five children. There’s a 10-year difference between the oldest and the youngest. What other questions?” Haha. He really ran with that without me asking anything. That was great.

What are some of your passions?

He thinks for a moment. “Strong Christian. So, trying to live for God, I guess. It’s one of the main things. It can be difficult to, I guess, when you read the Bible stuff, it tells you a lot of things, but how do you actually apply that to everyday life because a lot of people struggle with that. So that’s also what you work with with other people.”

What’s a key way that you live like that?

“One example that really comes to mind is one of my friends started a moving company. I’ve been working with them on Saturdays. Because I don’t cuss or anything, a lot of the guys like, it’ll stick out to them pretty quickly, and they’ll start asking questions.”

He wants to clarify, “That just kind of came to mind.”

What’s your favorite exercise?

“Well, my actual favorite thing is bench press. When I was 18, I got 315, and I’ve had injuries. I dislocated my elbow playing football. In college, I ripped my shoulder up — and this is both on my right side doing jiu-jitsu. So, I had to start over a couple times. That’s been kind of a nagging thing that I’ve been struggling with, but it is the way it is.”

“Deadlifts are probably my strongest point.”

What would you say is a fascinating thing about you that most nobody knows?

“I guess if you first met me, you probably wouldn’t know that I am probably more what people would call a nerd. So like, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, stuff like that. Computer games…”

What do you love about that stuff?

“Umm,” he thinks. “I don’t know! I guess they’re just interesting. Like I didn’t ever like reading at all until I read The Hobbit — the first Lord of the Rings book. I guess that fantasy kind of world is interesting.”

If you could go back in time, not forward, but back in time, any time period in history, what would it be and why? (Thanks to Kira, Stranger 76)

“Well, would I be able to keep the knowledge that I have now?” Sure.

“Then, I would probably go back to the beginning of college, so that I could… I mean, the way technology is now, if you go back to any point in time, there will be a lot of other challenges and difficulties. But if you could keep the knowledge that you have, you know that you’ve developed over time, and apply it to being a younger you, you could probably focus your time and energy a lot more effectively to develop yourself.”

“… Not necessarily undo mistakes because you learn things.”

I make the comment that you’d create some multiple timelines. (Yes, I love the nerdy stuff, too!) We laugh about it.

So what is something you would like to do with all this knowledge? Would it be to invent the iPhone?!

“In college, I kind of saw the opportunity in the housing market where I was living. I was watching the prices after 2008 when I went into college. And I was living right near Turner Field. But I didn’t have money at that time. So, I mean there’s a lot of opportunity there but how to execute on that would be something I now have the knowledge to do. So stuff like that.” He thinks some more.

“Maybe try to get a… instead of working on campus, try to get an internship in IT or finance-type of place.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“If there’s something that you want in your life that you don’t have, what are you going to do starting today to get that?”

“Because if there’s something that you want, you can’t keep doing the same thing you’re doing. You are where you are because of what you’ve been doing.”

After the handshake.

To John’s point at the end explaining his question for tomorrow’s Stranger, I wanted to point out one of Albert Einstein’s famous quotes (at least, he’s credited with):

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The beauty of meeting Strangers is the little nuggets people share that strike a chord with readers for whatever reason. When John asked his question for tomorrow’s Stranger (and indeed, thinking about Einstein’s quote), I thought about something real near and dear to me. There are things we do and things that occupy our minds. Or at least, there’s one thing that has been occupying my mind for so long. I tell myself that I’ve been changing my approach and even how I feel about it. However, I still get largely the same result. That’s me thinking about this one thing every single day. So I wonder if I’m really making a marked difference while expecting (hoping) for a different result. I’ll share this one day, but not today.

Like I said earlier, I’ve seen John in the gym. He’s a regular much like some of the others I’ve met on this journey. This has been so great for me to connect and get to know people I see at least twice in the gym — a place that I call my safe haven and my meditation spot. It’s great to know (in a hey-there-are-mini-connections-everywhere-kind-of-way) that John is similar to a previous Stranger Bruce (#70) who also loves the fantasy world and video games, and both are very strong guys. John made the comment about how most people wouldn’t peg him as a “nerd”. That’s great to hear, though, in some respects because this journey continues to highlight how people are so much more than what we see.

Also, I was wondering what John’s “alias” was going to be. I really wanted the strength side to be a part of his alias while I was thinking about the nerdy side as well as the religious side. So how great was it that John pretty much gave me his alias that really has two meanings — “Strong Christian”. Ah, that works so well.

Meet John. No longer a Stranger.