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Stranger 101, Day 101 - Meet Me
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BONUS ROUND: Stranger 101, Day 101 – Meet Me, the “Doer”

So, I wanted to throw in an M Night Shyamalan-esque twist for my 100th Stranger. After all, I had a lot of different people want to get to know me better. Meanwhile, most of my meetings with Strangers was in one direction — myself getting to know them.

However, I miscalculated thinking the 100th Strangers would be the 26th. Instead, it was yesterday — Christmas. It was difficult to find someone who would interview me on Christmas Day. Note: I originally wrote a post interviewing myself from the original bank of questions waaayyy back when I started. I wanted to use that, but seeing as this journey has evolved to be more conversational, I wanted someone to interview me.

Instead, I met a terrific woman named Toccoa yesterday on Christmas Day. So today, would be my BONUS ROUND, and I asked my good friend, Don, to interview me as Stranger 101, Day 101.

I’ll let him now “be me” while meeting me as a Stranger…


When Daryl asked me to interview him, I was a tad intimidated. He’s an expert. He has interviewed over 100 Strangers. What qualifies me to interview him? Yes, I was the first person with whom he shared the idea for this project. However, I think the most important reason is that I know Daryl very well. We’ve been best friends for over a decade. I understand him on a level that many don’t, and a major key to this project are Daryl’s internal motivations. After coming to that realization, I was ready to channel my inner Terry Gross (shout-out to NPR).

Meet Me, 31

Alright. So, we have Daryl Lu… Founder of 100 Strangers, 100 Days. The first question I would like to ask you is, “Who are you?”

“You forgot to ask for my birthday.”

I have to ask you for your birthday?! You didn’t say anything! You didn’t say I had to ask! Is that required?! What is your birthday? Sorry.

“31. Actually, it’s my age, not my birthday. Alright, so who am I? Who am I…”

“I am a doer! I like to call myself a doer. Because… I love to not make excuses. When I had this idea, for example, I had the idea coming down the mountain. Then, I called you immediately. Then within two hours, I was interviewing my first Stranger. Six hours later, the website was up! So for me, I love to not make excuses. I love to inspire others.”

“Or rather, my personal mission – to change the lives/ the world for the greater through entrepreneurial endeavors. To be an entrepreneur, it’s not about ideas. It’s about execution; so, I love to do things.”

“Yeah.”

So, why this project? What inspired you to interview 100 Strangers? That’s a Stranger every single day for more than three months. Why?

“Uhh, I’ve had so many – well, I think I’m in a really great place today. And, I’m the product of the great people who put me here. That’d be inclusive of my family, my friends, even Strangers who I come into contact with and somehow form some great connections. Meanwhile, we’re getting lost in our phones. We’re not texting back. We’re not emailing. We’re not calling. We just… don’t take time out for those people we love.”

“I think that we should also love the people who are around us in the community. So, this was to inspire others who ask me all the time how do I know so many people. How many people – great people – with all different backgrounds. It’s purely because I say hello, and then, I like to go a little bit beyond the hello, as I like to say.”

“So, this project, or this journey, has been to inspire others to connect with those around them. As well as, to show people when you have a little passion or you want to start something interesting, it’s not hard to start. The hardest part is being sustainable, but you can sustain something that is as simple as one Stranger-a-day.”

Have you, I guess, if someone doesn’t know you, have you always been the type to just go up and talk to Strangers, and get to know them? Or is this just kind of a continuation of what you’ve always done, like when you were a kid? How do you go, and approach Strangers? Were you always this extroverted?

“Definitely not.” I laugh.

“I grew up introverted. Then, I decided that – well, not decided, but I saw how hard my father worked for my family. So, I’ve always wanted to be a business owner. Then, through Boy Scouts and soccer teams, alike, and all the great people around me, I said that I always wanted to be more than just a business leader. So even though I grew up being introverted, I made it a habit of being comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“For me, that meant meeting people, and being more extroverted. Back in college, I did a Senior Design project, I made sure to volunteer for every single presentation. Not being I loved doing presentations, but because I wanted to be accustomed to that feeling. Since then, I used to be really to myself. Didn’t even want to get hugs or anything else. But over the last… oh my gosh, it’s almost been 8-10 years now!” I realize. “I now just try to meet the great people around me.”

“So, this is kind of a continuation of that. Continue that effort, but… yeah.”

It sounds like this is not just a social experiment on other, random people, but also, an experiment on yourself. Right?

“Yup! Yup…” I laugh.

What have you learned about others? And also, about yourself during this process?

“So… when it comes to others, I’ve learned that – think I have like an 80% acceptance rate. I think that’s pretty phenomenal. People are willing to say hello, and allow me to get to know them better. Even to share their story. If I was include people who weren’t comfortable with the picture, but still wanting to get to know, I think that number would probably more like 90-95%. So, I’ve learned that a lot of people are very open to meet. Just take the time to get to know them. A lot of people will get really, really super excited when you do. Especially at the end of our ‘meet’, they’re all just… glowing. They’re all just so excited. When they read their stories, they’re like, ‘Wow!’ Like they discover a little bit about themselves.”

“In terms of myself, I seem to be pretty friendly, and approachable. Or people can let me approach them.” I think about this for a moment.

“I learned that when I set my mind to it, I really do do that. Because this has added a lot of extra work – like another hour, hour and a half most days. Every single day on top of the things I already do… It hammered home more and more to me that you make the time for the things and the people that matter.”

“And no excuses. So for me, it was like, ‘Wow! I can really do this every single day, no matter how hard it is. It just takes a little bit of priorities and processes.’”

“So, I’m happy about that.”

When you started this, did you… can you talk a little about how your process has evolved and changed? Not just how you go about finding a Stranger, and doing the interview and write-up, but the kind of questions you would ask, and the kinds of responses you would get from those questions?

“Yeah, so when I started out, the first two people I started with, ‘What do you do?’ Then, I realized that both of them, they went straight into work mode. That’s maybe who they are as well, but I really wanted to get to know who they are, and let them, kind of, dictate where they want to take me.”

“So, I changed it to, ‘Who are you?’ I normally have a pen and paper, so I’d take notes. And I also had like a bank of questions to ask. So I would almost ask in a very interview-esque fashion. Over time, I started recording the voices, so it became a lot more natural. So, I’m not taking notes and stopping… stopping and starting.”

“And then, instead of just having a list of questions, I still want to get down to what drives people – like their motivations and passions. Especially as an entrepreneur, I’m very interested in that. So, the questions would start from the ‘Who are you?’ Based on the feedback there, then I would ask questions that would build on that. Maybe taking what they do, if that’s what they share. Or, what their passions are. Or, what matters to them, whether that’s family, religion, or sports, comics, video games, that sort of stuff.”

“I started getting a lot more conversational and really connecting with people. And I think a better, deeper level. I think a lot of readers have also expressed their interest in how great this kind of transformation has been.”

So, when did you start making that transformation? Was it 30 Days in, or 30 Strangers in, you started transitioning to more conversational approach? Or, did you kind of just try different things with every Stranger?

I thought about this for a second. “I think the transition to more conversational – I don’t remember. Maybe it was 20 or 30? But, it really started getting a lot better in the second half.”

So… you’ve just done/ completed a marathon of meeting new Strangers. What’s next? What do you see as the next step for this project, or is this it?

“Several people keep asking me this, and sometimes, I ask myself that. Then, I say, ‘You know what? I’m going to first, A, take a little time for myself!’” I laugh. “Not press myself to go meet someone every single day. I’m also going to let it all sink in. So, I’ll probably have a good lessons learned post, or several posts. I know several have been asking for it.”

“And… not sure yet. I might start interviewing friends. Meeting my friends on a deeper level. A lot of people have been asking me about that. Might turn some of the lessons and the approach into a book.”

“… might also make this into a TED talk. Everyone keeps asking me about that as well. So, have a few different things. Doesn’t mean they’re all mutually exclusive, or I’ll do one, and not the others. But, the next several days, I’ll probably just, at least, let it all soak in.”

Can you give us a preview of some of your lessons learned about, maybe for example, how you approach Strangers? How you get them to open up? Is there like a secret sauce or magic secret approach to doing that?

“I think the biggest approach is being open.”

“So, I know there are a few people I would see normally, and I think I’d guess – well, I know – I would judge them. Through this, this also inspires me to say instead of judging someone, why don’t I get to know them. Right?” I laugh at myself. “Instead of just going based on what I see. So, that’s been really fascinating. That’s been fun.”

“So that’s one thing. That approach of being open… being open to anything. This guy or woman can shock you in terms of the good, or could be for the bad, but either way, you don’t know. You might as well spend a couple minutes just getting to know ‘em. So, that’s a big one.”

“Other lessons… yeah, everyone… most people are willing to open up for a couple minutes. And definitely still, my heart beats a little bit still, when I think about approaching someone, but it’s… now, it’s probably more, ‘Well, heart’s beating fast! Doesn’t matter!’ Right? The whole being comfortable being uncomfortable… Being able to acknowledge that, and say, ‘I’m going in anyways!’ I think that that’s been really fun.”

“So the big lesson for that is just doing it. Just like any project or passion, just giving it a go. Doesn’t have to be ridiculously big. Can be something small. That little effort. That little change can make that person’s day, can make your day. Can change the whole week. And you don’t know if that connection’s going to be a life-long connection, either. So, could even have huge… benefits, and ripple effects.”

Interesting. So speaking of ripple effects, what are some of the most… can you give us a couple examples of some of the most interesting conversations or shocking revelations, or maybe contentious conversations that you had or interactions that you had with Strangers? Something that stands out in your mind?

“I don’t know if there’s any contentious ones. Thinking about a couple stories that they shared, their low-points. Those, for whatever reason, resonate really heavily with me. Maybe because I’m the ‘Master of Failure’ having written a book,” I laugh. “I love the motivations and passions of what drives people. A lot of times it’s the low-points that drive people. Hearing about people’s battles with alcoholism or drug abuse has been fascinating because they’re open to that. They acknowledge that. They’re okay to share that. I think that’s a beautiful thing to be confident that you’re in a better place, and you can be vulnerable to share that. And trust! You know, vulnerability and trust in me and others to share that. So, I really, really love that.”

“And, just how hard some people work on whether it’s a startup, or like, heck yesterday. I just pulled over at a Waffle House on Christmas Day. Met a mother. She works at Waffle House. She drives Uber. She drives Lyft. She does all these different things because she’s trying to provide for her daughter. Her biggest goal and aspiration is continue with college – or rather, she’s 10, so get into college, but also get her doctor’s degree. To do better than her. I thought that was something that was really beautiful because she was working on Christmas Day. She still allowed me a couple minutes before she had to go rush off to see her daughter.”

“And then, so many about just walking up to people at Starbucks, and how some of them are pursuing their passions, but you never know it. You never know they have a side gig. What can you do to help them? Because being an entrepreneur, knowing some of the stuff, it’s like, ‘Oh wow! I never knew this! Now, I can help you with some of the stuff that you have questions about. Things you have trouble with. I can probably do that. I can probably connect you with this DJ that I met the other day, and then, this DJ and four other people who are in the music industry. Would you like to connect? Seems like you guys would get along great!’”

“Even though they can be really successful in something that everyone else would be so impressed by whether it’s music, and then, they pursue something more business… 9-5 isn’t always bad. The corporate world isn’t bad. It’s still motivating. People have a lot of fun. It’s not always about the creative kind of occupations, too.”

That’s really interesting because I think part of… everyone has their own interest in your project. For whatever reason, my interest has always been for people I see around because you and I share – we share a similar network. With you going out and interviewing all these Strangers, you’ve broadened your network by at least 100 or more. And the people I see around that I don’t know, and I go to 100Strangers100Days.com, and I read their profiles. I get to know them, and I feel like, “Oh man, it’s almost like cheating” because I didn’t actually interview them, but I feel like I know so much more about them in order to engage with them. So, I’ve actually engaged with people based on your posts. Like, “oh, I know about you! I didn’t know you had five or six brothers and sisters! That’s really cool!” And instantly, the Stranger is like, “Whoa, what?! You know about me?” We’re like instantly connected in a way that I would probably have to spend a lot more time, or many more interactions with that individual. So, that’s been really cool to almost kind of cheat my way in to getting to know some people I see around all the time without interacting with them. So that’s really cool.

“Well, that’s like the whole point – to inspire connections. If I can inspire one person to make one connection, again, like, what are the ripple effects of that? You know, that one interaction can make that one person smile big for that day. Could make you smile for that day.”

It’s something you’re adept at in the business world, too. It’s good to see. You’re able to do this for just the general population. Would be interesting to see what else comes out of your creative lab with dealing with interactions and connecting people. Inspiring connections.

“Yeah.”

Anything else you want me to ask?

“Yeah, so, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day, if you could ask anyone anything, what would you like to ask? So, I think remembering Toccoa’s question yesterday, which was, ‘What can, essentially, I do or what am I doing to make the world a better place?’”

“So for me, I’m just going to encapsulate it with that personal mission which is: To change the world for the greater through entrepreneurial endeavors. So an entrepreneurial endeavors like this, 100 Strangers was just to inspire others to connect. Or, it could be helping them with their startup and being an Adviser or whatever that is, and helping them grow what they love or their passion. Or, encouraging others to write. Those types of things. So, you know, I want my entrepreneurial endeavors to be a catalyst for others.”

Cool.

“And then, I think the other question, or the final question I like to ask others is what is the question I would like to ask a Stranger.”

Yeah, what is a question?

“You’d think I would have a good one at this right now. But I really kind of don’t. Everyone has some really cool questions. Some people are really interested in what is true happiness. Others, ‘What can you do to make the world better’. Before, I used to ask like, ‘What’s your biggest life regrets?’ Those types of things. Or, what’s stopping you. I think they’re all such great questions.”

“But I guess because I start out just about every conversation, every meet, might as well keep being my question for anyone. That is, ‘Who are you?’”

After the handshake.

I was a little surprised that our conversation flowed with such ease. We hadn’t prepared beforehand, but I felt comfortable asking Daryl about his experiences. Thankfully, Daryl helped me ask the right questions when I felt lost. Yet again, he demonstrated his natural affinity to guide. One thing I noticed about “playing” interviewer – active listening without interrupting takes work, and I wondered to myself how many times Daryl sat in my position focusing on his interviewee.

Coming out of this interview, what really interests me is not only the lessons Daryl has learned, but also how he chooses to present them. I agree that a TED talk would be an excellent way to distill his experience and findings in an easily consumable medium for a general audience.

As to what his findings will show, my guess is that the truly insightful points will be what he learned about himself. If you read closely, this project was as much about Daryl testing and discovering unknown things about himself as it was about learning more about and connecting with others. He is quite adept at hacking his internal wiring through consistent and measurable approaches. In this case, he has successfully hacked his inner-introvert to become an extrovert in unfamiliar situations. He repeatedly stepped out of his comfort zone by approaching Strangers, asking their permission to be photographed and interviewed, getting them to open up to a Stranger, and publishing a write-up. He did this for 100 straight days – a true test of consistency, discipline and stamina.

So, what’s next for Daryl? What else will he hack about himself through others? I don’t know, but I agree that he should definitely take a break first. Even if that means that he does what I tell my kids. Don’t talk to Strangers.


Okay, so that’s Don interviewing me. It was pretty fun. I definitely could have prepared myself even more for this seeing as I had this pre-determined. Much of it, I also know by heart. What was surprising, though, was how I really did go straight into my passions of doing things. I didn’t even touch on how much relationships matter. I talked about family and friends, but I feel I talked about them only in context to myself as a doer. Even as I answered the ‘Who are you’ question, I thought to myself that I should mention I’m also a family man — thinking a lot about my amazing niece who I got to spend a lot of time with over Christmas. But I didn’t. I kept this focused on this journey and my entrepreneurial drive. So yeah, I thought that was interesting.

There really was so much I wanted to say, but I wanted to be somewhat brief. (Are you shocked that my lack of brevity here is still what I consider “somewhat brief”? Me, too.) As I mentioned to a Stranger the other day who felt that he rambled, I felt he was speaking differently than “rambling”. Instead, I felt his passion through his words, and how immersed he was in sharing with me his passions and motivations. I, too, hope my passion came through, even if I kept this somewhat abbreviated.

As I said, and as Don said, I’m not sure what my next adventure is. Don’t know if this will be resurrected into the coming months, weeks, or days, and in what form. However, I’m so proud to have not only completed this goal, but to have met so many great people, and to have influenced the many people who have actually said hello and went beyond with Strangers with familiar faces. I hope this is just the beginning…

And of course, thanks again to my best bud, Don, who was also the author of the Foreword to Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success.

Meet me. No longer a Stranger.

 

Stranger 95, Day 95 - Meet Christian

Stranger 95, Day 95 – Meet Christian, the “Nurturer, Enabler, Empowerer”

I met today’s Stranger in the familiar coffee shop on the first floor of my office building. He was busy on his computer, tip-tapping on the keyboard. However, he seemed friendly enough to make an approach, so I did, and he was happy to be today’s Stranger.

Meet Christian, 25

Who are you?

Christian laughs. “That’s a difficult question. I’m Christian B. I’m my mother’s son — first and foremost.”

“I am a developer, designer, marketer that works on passion projects. I’m lucky enough to be able to pick and choose the projects I work on.”

“I guess that’s who I am. I’m my mother’s son who does digital stuff for cool projects, or efforts, rather.”

What is a cool effort you’re working on right now?

“So, I’m in Atlanta. I’m working with some musicians. I’m seeing like a macro picture. I’m just seeing a lot of musicians shying away from traditional record labels. They’re going more the independent route. I’ve got a digital toolkit to help a lot of musicians kind of liberate themselves… move forward and build a career as an independent musician. That’s one of my main focuses right now.”

Why do you enjoy that?

“I enjoy music a lot. At my jobs, I would just realize I was spending a lot of time listening to music. So, I just figured I would try to make my guilty pleasure… make my priority or business. Something sustainable.”

“… and I get to help musicians. Like, a lot of people don’t really understand the music business whether it be executives or managers or the first singer/ pianist/ violinist/ whatever — how to own their masters, build a career, how to support their families, in many cases, off their music. And I get to be around a lot of cool creative people.”

Do you find yourself to be a creative person?

“Ah, I do. I think that’s why I get to connect with a lot of the creative people. But I found that I’m a little more… structured — formally structured — and a little more technical than my creative counterparts. I also get to tap on the creative side when I’m dealing with business colleagues, or my technical compadres.”

One of the first things you said started out was being your mother’s son.

He laughs. “Yeah, absolutely!”

When you say that, what does you mean?

“I guess before anything, that’s what I was. Before I even had a name, I was just kind of conceived as her son. It’s just a difficult question for me to answer, in general, just because I kind of move per project, or my roles change a lot. So that’s been the most consistent thing.” He laughs. “I’ll just always be mom’s son.”

When you say that, I expect (or think) that your mom had a pretty big impact on you other than birthing you. (We laugh.) How has she continued to play that mother role for you, and kind of supporting you in pursuing these passion projects?

“Yeah, absolutely. My mom was a single mom. So, just inspiration just to see what she did for us coming up. She was also a programmer. I didn’t realize how influential that was until I entered my professional level of my life. Just always having computers around. Always having pianos around. Just having programming books around. I remember, like, playing and having to enter the command prompt like MS-DOS so I can play ski games. I just thought that was brilliant.”

“She’s a pretty cool woman, I think.”

How would you like to thank her?

“I would like to thank her by, I guess, giving her a son that she can be proud of. I think she’d appreciate that.”

Is there anything that you do in particular that you’ve really strived to be for her?

“It sounds superficial, but even just financially. I saw her make a lot of sacrifices for me earlier in life. It warms me to not only be independent, but to be able to contribute to her. Instead of receiving, I get to give.”

Thinking about how you work with these new artists trying to establish themselves, control their destinies, and find financial stability, I feel like you’re playing some of that role nurturing them. Is there something your mom taught you or imparted on you as a value that you try to bring to these artists?

“I guess that nurturing… ness? Or again, single parent. So even when she would be at work, I would have to nurture my little sister. Just kind of take on that ‘fill in the blank’. So if mom’s not there, I kind of have to be big brother and mom now. That nurturer. That supporter. That enabler. That empowerer. She allowed me to reach my full potential. I see a lot of people just need that sometimes. I work with the musicians, but before I gave myself permission to work with musicians, I was doing a lot of these same things for smaller business. Super inspired by a lot of startups. Super inspired by a lot of that. I still get to work with them, but the musicians — it’s just super interesting. Working with musicians… I guess that nurturing, that enabler that allows you to do things you’re good at so you don’t have to do the things you have to do.”

“That’s the mindset I kind of keep centered around… as a digital service provider.”

I’ll start to wrap this up. A few questions left. I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (congrats, you’re Day 95!), if you could ask anyone anything, what would you ask them? Or effectively, what would you ask tomorrow’s Stranger? Before you have that opportunity, yesterday, Brandon wanted to ask you, “What’s your life’s purpose?” (Thanks to Brandon, Stranger 94)

“My life’s purpose is to move the human race forward. Maybe a brick at a time. Maybe I can get a brick or two. But, just kind of take us all forward. Put in a little work for the team.”

In this case, what is a “brick”?

“I think I take on a few bricks. They could be, let’s say we just talked about the financial aspect… so financial empowerment. Or, whether it could be like information. Or whether it could be like a lot of connections. I do a little bit of traveling. So if you’re in Atlanta, you do something really cool, I’m like, ‘You need to meet so-and-so in Texas, in California.’ Just those little bitty micro-advancements, I think, all kind of add up. Whether it be a brick or a pebble or a stone…”

Or an Egypt pyramid brick — like two tons!

He chuckles, “Right, right. Or anything in between. Can be just a single grain of sand. I just think progression. I just really like growth and progress.”

Now, your turn — what would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I’d ask tomorrow’s Stranger… hmm, what would I ask tomorrow’s Stranger,” he thinks out loud.

“I’d ask tomorrow’s Stranger why they chose to be the Stranger of the Day… and what does that — what does that say about them. I guess I’d be curious to know. I want to check out the site, and keep up with that answer, too.”

“Why did you choose to be today’s Stranger, and what does that say about you? And what was your impression to being asked to being the Stranger of the Day?”

What is your answer?

“Umm, just being more open. Just coming to a different place and working, I’ve just made the conscious effort to just be more open to people. Or like that whole help humans.”

“I think it’s weird that Strangers are Strangers. I think when you can be social, you can just see somebody and be friendly and be cordial, I just think things smoother. Rather than seeing everybody as like their own independent thing that has nothing to do with you.”

After the handshake.

As Christian and I were going outside to take his picture, I ran into the person I was about to head into a meeting with. Christian was happy and excited to meet another Stranger. He was indeed excited and happy to meet people around him. That was nice to experience as someone just watching him interact with someone else (not me).

He asked me a few more questions about this journey afterwards. I think he was really excited to not only be a part of the journey, but also to continue to exercise his friendliness. I also am curious and happy to hear he’s interested to hear why others are open to talking with me. Should be fun to hear.

Meet Christian. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 94, Day 94 - Meet Brandon

Stranger 94, Day 94 – Meet Brandon, the “Quiet, Accented Creative”

I met today’s Stranger in the kitchen of Atlanta Tech Village’s 3rd floor. We know of each other’s name, but not much else. In fact, I just know the company he works for, and that he drinks a lot of water. He knows me as, well, the guy with a big tub of oatmeal. I’m pretty sure most of the people on my floor think of me this way + I talk to a lot of Strangers.

I was excited to meet him, so asked my question early on in the day. He was totally game to today’s Stranger, and I’m thrilled he was.

But here’s a kicker… I typically use a recorder, so I can freely meet Strangers without having to worry about “memorization” or taking notes. Today, I did the same. Or, so I thought. Only at the end of our conversation did I notice my recorder was NOT recording. Uh oh. He had so many great things to say that even I was thinking in my head, “wow, I’m excited to share his story.” Have no fear, though! I’ve tried to remember the entire conversation, and I believe I’ve done a pretty darn good job of capturing the highlights. More on this after our handshake below.

Till then…..

Meet Brandon, 27

Who are you?

Brandon starts out telling me he’s a graphic designer and how he loves illustrating. He’s smiling as he’s telling me this illustrating how much he loves what he does. (Did you see what I did there?)

He goes on to share how he, like me, was born and raised here in Atlanta (or at least, in the greater metropolitan Atlanta). Awesome! I’ve met a lot of use few, proud, Atlanta natives on this journey. Happy to add Brandon to this “rare” collection of great people. Brandon shares how he went to “the Art Institute of Atlanta” for graphic design.

Brandon also shares with me his love for “sneakers, nice cars, and football”.

He then beams and tells me how he’s normally quiet, and does not talk to many people around citing, “this is funny”.

That last point piqued my interest, so I asked him, “What made you talk to me?”

Brandon shares with me how he only really talked to me because I wanted to take time to actually talk to him and get to know him. He cites, “you’re right, we get so caught up” — referring to my earlier pitch to ask him to be today’s Stranger when I shared with him how I started this journey to inspire connections with those around us.

Sure, I’m paraphrasing, but I promise you that Brandon was smiling the whole time as he told me how appreciated me taking time out to actually get to know him.

What do you love about illustrating?

Brandon tells me about how he loves taking people’s ideas and “bring them to life”. He talks specifically about brand logos. He tells me how many people have “these ideas in their minds, but can’t illustrate them.” He loves being able to do that for them.

I ask Brandon about the challenge of sometimes trying to create a logo for a brand he’s unfamiliar with, or he may not even appreciate.

Brandon tells me how he does a lot of research around industries and the company/ person to start to visualize what that logo and brand is. He sees this, sometimes, as a problem to be solved, and he enjoys the challenge and problem-solving nature of his work.

What is your brand?

“Quiet creative,” he tells me. He starts out telling me how he has many different facets to him. In fact, he says there’s more to him “than meets the eye”. (I recall this because I’m thinking he’s a Transformer.)

He then says something pretty funny that may forever be embedded in my mind — he tells me how he’s “not a peacock”. To this, Brandon is referencing the huge plume that male peacocks have. He’s not ostentatious with who he is. He’s happy being “quieter”. However, those who know him and are close to him know him much better, and know of the “peacock inside”. To this, I already get the feeling he’s a fascinating person with a great personality and spirit about him. This also about the time I was thinking, “wow, can’t wait to share his story and replay our conversation!” (Palm, meet forehead.)

He ends by saying he “has many layers”.

Like a cake!

“Yeah, exactly,” he laughs.

As he’s telling me he’s a quiet creative, my eyes are also drawn to his left wrist as he’s using his arms. Attached to his big wrist is a bright gold G-Shock watch. I tell how interesting it was for him to mention how he’s not a peacock while at the same time loving “accent pieces” like shoes and his gold G-Shock. (I bend down to check out his shoes — he’s wearing a pair of nice, black sneakers — not quite the louder pairs I was expecting).

Brandon sees me checking out his shoes and comments how he’s not wearing anything too flashy today. However, he’s “not shy about wearing bright pink shoes”. He doesn’t “want to fit into the “norm”. He’s comfortable and confident in himself to wear what he chooses would look good on him and allow him to stand out.

He smiles, and shares how he’s “been here for 3.5 years now” doing graphic design stuff. He appreciates the culture and flexibility in enabling him to express himself with his beard and non-corporate garb.

(Meanwhile, I’m sporting some slacks, black loafers, black polo, and black sweater. I am the antithesis of Brandon. Haha)

Curious, do you have a personal logo?

He tells me he does. In fact, that was part of college — he had to create his own logo and brand. His logo was a lime green circle with an upper case “B” and lower case”r” — represents his name.

Knowing logos and brands change over time, I ask Brandon if his logo would be the same, or how would it have evolved.

He thinks about this and laughs because of the loudness of the “margarita green” color. Definitely would not be the same.

Today, Brandon’s logo and brand would be much different — mostly gray or black with simple lettering of “B” and “R” (or “b” and “r” — all the same case). If there was an accent color, it’d be thin, and subtle.

He goes on to tell me how his skills are far and away better than what they were in school.

So, I’ll start to wrap this up. I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (congrats, your Stranger 94), what would you like to ask anyone, effectively, tomorrow’s Stranger? So, I’ll let you marinate on that for a moment. First, Mike, who I met at the gym yesterday, wants to ask you, “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?” (Thanks to Mike, Stranger 93)

Brandon didn’t hesitate answering going back to the time after he graduated from college. He cites, “wasn’t able to get a job”, and how he was wondering if he had “wasted” his time and money in college.

However, Brandon kept pursuing his passion, and knew that he would have to work hard. He grew up illustrating, and wanted to be an illustator growing up. It was in college when he learned he could adapt his passion for drawing into graphic design.

For Brandon, it was about being consistent and persistent as to why he’s doing this in the first place. “Never being complacent.” (How great is that to hear, too, after Mike’s story yesterday?)

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

“I’d like to ask what’s their life’s purpose.”

After the handshake.

I am/ was disappointed that I didn’t get our conversation recorded to better convey Brandon. However, I do hope I did him justice in sharing his great story. But with a recording and a fuller transcription, I don’t think I would’ve have captured who he was to how I know you’re all interested in knowing. He, like the previous 93 Strangers and indeed the next 6, has many layers that I only provide a glimpse of.

Brandon had great energy. I definitely got the sense that he was shy by his body language. However, he was smiling the whole time, and he was happy to share. I suppose what was great, too, about the recorder not on was that I am somewhat surprised by how much I remember from our conversation several hours before. I expect that memory to deteriorate some, but he hit a lot of notes that are both inspiring to me and connect with me. And while he said he was happy to talk to me because I made time for him, I hope he realizes that I appreciate him making time for me and opening up to me. By the amount I can recall from a very busy work day, I’m proud to say I was a decent listener, and got to know Brandon. So thank you, too, Brandon.

Meet Brandon. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 88, Day 88 - Meet Kelley

Stranger 88, Day 88 – Meet Kelley, the “Photographic Nomad”

I ventured outside my normal today, but only because I actually had a meeting with a prospect. The meeting was at a coworking space in Buckhead near my office. I was excited to walk around the space, and find today’s Stranger.

As I wrapped up my meeting and was walking towards the exit, I spun my head around (because my head’s on a swivel like Beetle Juice). I noticed a woman working diligently on her computer in a conference room. The door was open, so “what the hey!” as they say. (Note: I say it, too.)

The woman looked up and, for a moment, gave me that “uh oh, what do you want” look, but that quickly dissipated and turned to a big smile. That smile would remain a constant throughout our meet with the occasional curled lip as she thought about my questions to get to know her.

Meet Kelley, 32

Who are you?

“I am a photographer!…? From Atlanta…? And… I don’t know. That’s it!” She says she’s a photographer and she’s from Atlanta with an intonation that starts out excited before curling back up into sounding like a question.

“… and I’m just here!”

Where’s “here”?

“Here is… well, I guess it’s in Atlanta, but don’t necessarily want to be here for the rest of my life. I’ve been here 10 years. So, what I really want to do is one day be able to just travel the world, and just always be traveling… kind of like a gypsy. We’ll say a nomad.” She laughs.

Why do you want to be a nomad?

“Well, I’ve never really liked boundaries or boxes like that.” Uh oh. I just realized I closed the door to the conference room we were in. I just closed the box…

“… just being in one place. I used to move a lot. I didn’t realize until later that it’s actually what I prefer — changing my scenery and changing where I’m going, just so that you don’t get bored. And I’m a photographer. I would get bored very quickly staying in the same place, and always seeing the same things.”

Actually, yesterday, the Stranger (her name is Emily, Stranger 87) is getting into photography, too. Her father is always an accomplished photographer. So, let me ask you a question that I asked her. What do you like to take photographs of?

“I like to take photographs of people that are not paying attention. So just real life.”

Candids.

“Yes. But really, real real-life. Like people just doing random things. Doesn’t even have to be something specific. That’s just how I see. When I walk around, I just see that. I’m a natural observer, so I like taking photos of just life happening.”

Thinking about one of those pictures that you took that really resonated with you — very powerful to you. Can you describe that picture?

Kelley thinks about this for a moment. “There’s probably a few. I do a lot of hands… sometimes. Hands or feet. For some reason, those photos seem to tell a better story than the person’s actual face. I don’t know why. I think it might be just because of our point-of-views usually like our hands or just other things. So every time somebody’s just doing something with their hands, for whatever reason, they stick out to me.” She pauses for a moment, and asks herself out loud, “I wonder why? Something about hands…”

“I feel like they just tell a better story than the person’s actual face.”

What is the story your hands tell you?

“I think they tell me how I’m feeling of where I am. Usually, not hands on phones. I don’t really take those photos. But, just like if I’m taking a picture of a bride, and she’s getting ready. Her hands tell a lot about how she’s actually feeling. She might be doing something like this or fidgeting.” Kelley holds up her hands with fingers interlaced. “She doesn’t realize it because she’s making sure her face looks nice. But I can tell how she actually feels through her hands. I don’t know. Something about that speaks more than the person’s face.”

“Your face can lie, but your hands will be like… they’re doing something.”

So very much body language is very important to you.

“Yeah, because the way I shoot is more so I try to invoke a feeling or bring through feeling more so than surface value, if that makes sense.”

“So pose portraits, those don’t bring forth the true feeling as much as just a candid.” She strikes a pose to illustrate her point. “So those are my favorite.”

I’m looking at my hands now which are stretched out in front of me resting on the table. Fingers are interlaced. I ask her what does this say.

She laughs. “You’re in deep thought. You’re thinking of the next question.” Makes sense. We laugh together.

So you’re a nomad….

“Try to be…”

You’re a wannabe nomad. You love to stare at people’s hands and feet. (We laugh again.) I guess, what brought you to where you are today? Not just here in Atlanta or photography, but what brought you to where you are? Was there a life-defining moment that put you on this path?

“I think that I put a lot of stuff out in the universe that I want, and I don’t always know exactly what it is. But I do trust that I’ll get there — whatever it is, and I’ll figure it out. So actually when I’m looking back, I actually ask for all the different steps that led me to here. It’s really weird, but… photography, I’ve just been doing that since I was little. And then, I’ve just always wanted to be my own boss. Never put those two together — they’re very far points. And one day, we just bought a camera to take pictures of some t-shirts, and somehow that rolled out into a business where people pay me to take photos of their lives. I don’t know how.”

“But yeah. When I look back, I realize every step, or everything there was a reason, a purpose for everything. I don’t look at anything as a mistake or failure. They’re just like lessons, or shaping you to the next place. That’s really what I do.”

“I don’t even now where I’m going. I don’t even know what’s the final stop!”

Thinking about the pictures and the feelings, I’m curious what does taking pictures or photographs mean to you?

“Well, I used to move around a lot. And I always had one of those little Kodak cameras because I knew when I was moving. I was in a different school every year because my parents were divorced. So I just started taking pictures to remember things… to remember my memories. I was, obviously, the only person that carried around a camera — WEIRDO!” she exclaims. Haha

“I would take pictures of people, and just people I wanted to remember. I would have books and books of the actual…” she resets. “When you go to CVS to print out photos. I just think that was just a way for me to remember my life because I knew it was always going to be changing. That’s why I never put 2 and 2 together that it was a business. I was just trying to preserve my own memories.”

Makes sense! I think right now, like you said, and I think what you said was interesting — to take pictures of people at events and their special moments. It means a lot to them the pictures. Was curious what those pictures meant to you.

“Yeah, just me trying to take pictures for myself. That turned into people wanting me to take pictures of them. I was like, ‘Sure! That’s fine.'”

What would you do if you weren’t afraid? (Thanks to Emily, Stranger 88)

“If I wasn’t afraid, I would contact Vogue magazine, and ask them to look at my work.”

But I would never do that,” she very, very quietly whispers.

“You would never do that?” I whisper back to her.

“I mean, I am. One day, I will be on the cover. But I don’t want them…” She explains, ‘I have to be in a better place first. So basically, I don’t think I’m good enough, yet.”

What are some of the steps to get there?

“I am working on getting clients that have awesome locations, or want to do things that would be considered, I guess, cool for Vogue — so, I would be able to show them. Or, that they would actually be interested in.”

“Like, I have a wedding in Iceland. So I thought that, like, take pictures and then maybe I’ll feel like contacting somebody.” She laughs. “I guess.”

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

“A question that I would ask the next Stranger is… are you doing everything you can to be happy?”

“I like to know if people are actually happy in their lives. Or just to get them to think about it.”

After the handshake.

Kelley was fantastic. She had great energy, and I enjoyed getting to know how much she appreciated the details that are more often than not, go unnoticed. Oftentimes, we notice the details of the bigger things like maybe it’s the smile of a person’s face or the light wrinkles of experience on someone’s face. Kelley appreciated the more nondescript part of the person — his/ her hands (and feet).

After our little Stranger introduction, we talked a little bit longer. She had a huge smile, and like other Strangers, she was glowing. She shared how she was just… happy, and that she felt great to talk to someone on a deeper level. We spoke for about 15 minutes, and I could tell that brief moment made her morning and that energy would carry through for the rest of the day.

Meet Kelley. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 82, Day 82 - Meet Sunshine

Stranger 82, Day 82 – Meet Sunshine, the “Crafty”

I was leaving the office before stopping by to say hello to Chandler, the “Wu-Tang Mentor” (Stranger 13). We chatted for a brief minute before asking him if there was a Stranger around to talk to (not seriously, but for fun). One gentleman was in the lobby of the office building, and I asked him if he had a few minutes, but he was unavailable. He had to rush upstairs to a meeting. All good.

I proceeded to the coffee shop on the first floor (Octane) to say goodbye to one of my coworkers. As I was seeing what he was up to and saying goodbye, I looked around for a Stranger in the coffee shop. A few seats away was a woman working diligently on her computer. So, of course, the challenge was on to see if this person who seemed to be working hard would take a few minutes to meet a Stranger.

She was so friendly, and happily accepted to be today’s Stranger.

Meet Sunshine, 39

Sunshine just had a birthday, so say happy birthday, readers!

Who are you?

“I’m still trying to find that out!” she laughs. “I don’t know!” But she tries anyways…

“I’m a girl. And I like to do crafty things sometimes. I like to drink coffee. This is the first time I’ve been to this Octane. I’m a wife and a traveler.”

So what is “crafty”? What does that mean?

“I like to make things. Doesn’t have to be significant. I just like to make stuff. I’m in my second or third year, and I have a little Esty shop on the side.” She points to her computer screen. “That’s what I was working on right now — my Etsy site.”

“I do things with leftover wood cuttings from my husband’s carpentry. And I also do some things with ceramics. But, that’s not all of it. I do things with my nieces and nephews. I’ll cut paper and color, and whatever it is. I like all that stuff.”

Why do you love doing that?

“I have two guesses. I haven’t really thought about this really hard. I’m sure that’s why you do this, right?” Yup!

“I used to when I was younger, I thought I wanted to be an artist, and decided not to. I went into business because I thought I didn’t want to be a starving artist. It’s just a creative outlet. Since I didn’t do that for a living, I’m doing it for fun on the side now. I think that’s one reason. And my… yes! So creative outlet, and I didn’t do it for a living.”

You wanted to be an artist but not a starving one.

“Yeah, yeah. So I have a job, and I do software development things, and then I do this on the side. It doesn’t pay any bills.” She corrects herself, “It pays for itself!” That’s hard sometimes to at least break-even, so congrats!

Is there anything at the job you find creative?

“Yes. To be clear, I’m not a software developer. I’m in software development. And so, I’m actually a product owner/ business analyst-type of person. I work with folks to make sure that what the vision calls for is built. That’s kind of where I am. And so, most of my creative outlet isn’t around something tangible, and I think that’s the difference between what I do and what I do on Etsy.”

“I do be creative. It just isn’t pretty at the end of the day,” she laughs. “I have to come up with ways for things to move forward even though it seems like they’ve come to a dead-end. That’s all creative and fun and everything, but I don’t know if it qualifies for left-brain, right-brain kind of activities.”

How did you get into crafting and start with Etsy?

“OH! I love this. My husband recently had a career pivot three years ago. He started doing carpentry independently. He was doing commercial construction before that. And his sister and him started up a little business together doing interior decor, and now, it’s turning into furniture. His carpentry skills got really, really tapped into. He was generating all this sawdust and wood pieces and stuff. One day, I picked one up, and I was like, ‘This could be a business card holder.’ That’s like up-cycled at its finest, right? It’s wood that would’ve been thrown away otherwise, and I thought people might want that. And they did! Yay!” She gives a big smile and a brief moment of extra enthusiasm.

“And so, his carpentry was able to get me to brush off all these little small things and just start making.”

“… tangible stuff, yeah.”

That’s very cool.

“He’s way better than me by the way.”

In some things.

“In those ways, for sure.”

You hear that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. So, that’s really, really cool. (I asked her if he participates in Scott Antique Marketing which occurs every second weekend of the month down by the Atlanta Airport — show marketplace full of original and vintage items.)

“They don’t. They actually sell at Queen of Hearts in Alpharetta. So it’s Scott’s, but much smaller.”

I’m also intrigued by Sunshine’s necklace — green-ish beads as necklace. Hanging from those beads is a picture of a single bird looking up at the sky, and sitting on two branches. So I ask for the story behind the necklace.

“My sister-in-law, who my husband’s in business with, she also makes jewelry. She made this for me.”

“I don’t know if it has any significance for her, but for me, it’s just a very special piece. She made it, and gave it me.”

So suppose the necklace was made specifically for you. Why do you think she would have made this for you?

She thinks about this — “Oh, dear…”

“Because, I’m not very colorful, and I need help.” She laughs. “‘Being colorful.’ I don’t know… it’s pretty. I don’t know if the bird has any meaning. I can’t sing. I don’t feel trapped or clipped. So maybe we’re both free birds. I don’t know.”

Do you see crafting and making things evolving into anything else? Maybe something you want to tap into beyond? Do you want to make this your career?

“Dude! I would love to. I would love to. I am very well aware the fact that I have certain income requirements for myself and things that I want. And so, unless I hit something that was able to be a ‘cash cow’ type of thing, this is probably going to stay just on the side.”

“Over 10 years ago, now that I’m 39, my husband and I sold everything and moved to New Zealand for a year. That’s when I learned two things that was really fun, but we liked things. At the end of that, we decided to come home and go back to corporate-types of jobs and everything. I don’t know that I’ll ever make a leap like that. But if he does, which is what I kind of want to happen, if he does and his company has success or there are some risks we can take around that, I’m behind it 100%.”

To wrap this up, how do you deal with adversity? (Thanks to Tesh, Stranger 81)

“That’s a really good question. Tesh is super smart. I have two approaches that it depends. Most adversity that’s not for my immediate family, I take head-on. So, I’m pretty fearless when it comes to taking on challenges with Strangers in the street or with people I work with and stuff. In my family situation now, I usually just avoid it as best as I can. These are people I need to spend the rest of my life with in peace. And I make that alternate choice for my family.”

How do you still address those? Or do you just never address those?

“Pretty much never address, and just find the positive things to focus on and be a part of.”

So before you get your chance to ask your question, I’m also curious about this little piece. (As I point to her bracelet.)

“Oh yay! Okay. So this piece, my best cousin gave to me. She visited here in Atlanta. My mom’s first cousin’s daughter, and we’ve become friends probably over the last 15 years. We weren’t friends as children. We didn’t know each other well. She was here visiting, and we were in a shop over in Westside, and we bought each other these bracelets. They each have different quotes, and we picked our own out, and then gifted them to each other. We both have the same style of jewelry that we like, which is why I guess we picked out the same thing.”

“I think that everyone has the potential to be brilliant, and I think it’s an important thing to remind people of. You’ll see that it’s facing you. It’s not facing me. I put it on intentionally in that direction. It’s for you.” She points and shows me how the bracelet reads, “Be Brilliant”.

“It’s for you,” she tells me.

If I was to wear it, what do you think that you’re brilliant at?

She laughs. “These are hard questions!” haha

“I’m a really good wife. So, I’m brilliant with my husband. It’s my favorite thing to be.”

That’s awesome. I bet when you share with him this, he’ll tell you how much he loves you (and what he finds brilliant about you).

“Or, he’ll tell me how wrong I am, and what I can do to improve. So, we’ll find out.” She laughs again.

So you’re turn now. What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What makes you most happy?”

After the handshake.

I don’t think I said “smile” enough as I wrote up our interactions. Sure, I could sprinkle them in post-write-up, but just take it from me that she was smiling a lot. She was happy, and it was like she was really enjoying life.

Afterwards, we talked some more as she asked me questions about this journey. She found it interesting, and I think, she became more and more interested in the higher inspirations of this journey. It was great to see her continue to smile and be inquisitive. I told her, too, that I thought many readers (you) would/ could find inspiration in her story as she pursues her passion of being crafty not as a full-time job, but as a side-gig. I think that’s an important thing to think about as so many people think that’s it’s an “either/ or” dilemma. However, it’s not. This journey is proof that you can have a tough job + work out + go to yoga + see friends and family and STILL make time for a passion journey (“project”).

Sunshine was gracious to allow me to distract her and learn more about her, and I’m happy she did. I was in a happy mood before I spoke to her, but after speaking with her, I had a noticeable uptick just because of her energy. So great to meet her.

Meet Sunshine. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 76, Day 76 - Meet Kira

Stranger 76, Day 76 – Meet Kira, the “Cultivator”

I met today’s Stranger at the marketing agency my company hired to help with messaging. I wasn’t sure if I should or would ask one of the agency’s great staff members. However, during our working session of piecing the site together, I really enjoyed their personalities. (Oh, there were two women.) I proposed the Strangers journey to both asking if either of them would be interested. One woman volunteered positively while the other pointed to the one who volunteered. Awesome!

Meet Kira, 44

Who are you?

She laughs at first. “I am an Executive Vice President at a national digital marketing and public relations firm. I’m a mom of a tween and a teen. And… an art lover.”

What about art to do you love?

“Specifically, theater and books.”

Have you been in theater?

“I grew up in the theater — from fourth grade through college. Was on stage mostly, but a little bit backstage. In my college years, decided that while I really wanted to be an actress, I didn’t want to eat cockroaches off my bare apartment floor and being poor in New York City. So, I chose a creative career like journalism — which is what I actually had my degree in and PR and marketing so I could keep some of that creativity in my life without necessarily doing theater for a living.”

What about theater did you love? And how have you found that in what you do today?

She sighs for a moment. “Well, I haven’t. I can’t say I have found what I loved about theater in what I do today, generally speaking at my job. One of the things I loved about theater was the people, and their openness and their creativity and the variety of different, quirky, weird people that the theater attracts. I will say the company I have chosen to work at now for 13 years is similar in that. You know, we have a built a real family here at the company I work at. It is a variety of different people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds and religions and things, but there’s a mutual respect much like you get in the theater among us. I guess I do have that aspect of it.”

And you mention you have a teen and a tween. You know when you talk about creativity, you have to talk about the confidence you instill and people have that safe space. How do you instill that confidence with your children?

“Backing up a little bit, both of my children are adopted from birth. My husband, we’ve been married for 20 years, we were going into parenting maybe a little bit different than a ‘birth parent’ would. We really had no expectations about who are children were and what their personalities were going to be like based on he and I like. Like a lot of parents have assumptions and preconceptions of what their kids are going to be like just because they have their genes. We didn’t have that. It’s been really interesting instilling our values and passions into our kids, but really watching them explore what they like, too.”

“My tween, my 11-year-old son, needs no help having confidence whatsoever. He is your more stereotypical, confident boy, you know? My daughter has always been confident herself. I don’t know. I’d like to take credit for that, but I don’t know if I can. She’s a redhead.” She laughs. “… and is fiery, but very kind and very sweet. She’s quirky. She’s different. She gets mad at you if you step on a spider. She’s very artsy and creative herself — things I can’t do like drawing and writing stories. Her favorite thing to do is draw and write horror. So, she’s got a dichotomy of a personality that her favorite thing is horror and… gore. Yet, don’t touch that spider — he’s a living thing! She’s great. So she’s always had a certain level of confidence, and I worried about it. She’s in 9th grade now — just started high school. You know girls particularly, it could be a hard time. She’s sailed right through it! She got through middle school way better than I did.”

“So yeah.”

What are some of the other things that you do to ensure that culture inspires that confidence and creativity?

“We take them to places. We take them to shows, plays, ballets, operas, and we travel. I think one of the biggest things my husband and I do and knew we were going to do before we even started a family was travel with our children. We live in a bubble of a little suburban neighborhood. It’s a bubble. It’s not real-life. Raising two mixed race kids in this bubble of life. So we save our money, and we do everything we can to get them out of there as often as we can, at least, once a year if not twice. Take them places whether it’s here in the U.S. like New York City, or overseas. We went to Iceland last summer. Make them eat new things. Talk to new people. Learn different cultures.”

“I think it helps their confidence, too. They learn how to deal with things that aren’t day-to-day routine.”

So you take a lot of pride in being a part and someone who shapes this company as well as being a mother. What do you love about yourself? What are you really proud of about yourself?

“That’s a tough one,” she admits. “We’re always so critical of ourselves.”

“I think, and my family would roll their eyes when I say this, I do like about myself is that I’m real easy to make laugh. I’m an easy, easy audience. They would roll their eyes at that because I laugh very loudly.” She laughs at this. Though, I didn’t think loudly. 🙂

“… so very public — constantly an embarrassment for them. Hey, you can have a mom who’s always grumpy. You can have a wife who cries all the time. So I think, yeah, I like that about myself. I have a loud laugh, and it comes out very easily. I’m an easy audience!” She laughs again. She’s got such a great energy about her.

I think part of that is you’re happy a lot.

“I am. I really don’t dwell. Part of that may be how I was raised. I was raised in a very blue collar family. My father was the first one to graduate from college in his family. People around me worked hard, really, really hard. They didn’t worry if the house next door had a car up on blocks, or if I didn’t like the color of the house down the street. Now, we live in places where people worry about things like that. ‘I don’t like that political sign in your yard. Let’s create a rule in the neighborhood that nobody can –‘ those things don’t bother me. Because, you know, something bad’s going to happen in my life. Something really bad. Happens to everybody. I got to be able to handle that. If I can’t handle my neighbor having a junk car next door, I’m not going to be able to handle the real stuff. That kind of stuck. I think that’s just how I just stay. I don’t care about those.”

“I have a very nice home. I don’t care about it. My husband this week — I’m traveling. I don’t live in Atlanta. He took the opportunity to completely demolish our master bathroom, and redo it. This week, he’s been texting me, ‘do you like this tile? Or this tile? What about this?’ I don’t care. Pick the tile. Do the bathroom. I just don’t. I’m not that kind of person. I could’ve lived with that old nasty bathroom the rest of my life!” She laughs.

We’re kind of an interesting place, right, because we’re working on my company’s website. We’re talking about “oh, should we put this here or here” — referencing how we were formatting and styling the website.

“Well, that matters more to me. You know, when I do work for you and I do work for clients, that matters more to me than…” she breathes in and continues, “… my fancy shower and my master bath and whether or not I have one, you know? That, I take more pride in that, than I do my home. It’s a nice home, don’t get me wrong. It’s a nice home because my husband lives in it.” She laughs some more about this.

“You know, it’s not about the cleaning. I would live in a house a third of the size we have with my two kids.”

She’s laughing thinking I pretty much bit off more than I expected. Nope! I enjoy this stuff!

What do you see yourself doing next? (Thanks to Sam, Stranger 75)

“Like in my next phase in life?” I tell her that she can take it where she wants.

“Being 44. It has been time for my husband and I to really think about, ‘what does retirement look like to us?’ We’re more on that end of it than we were 20 years ago.”

“I see myself in my next phase living in a small cottage… an unassuming cottage on the water with a dock and boat. We have a boat now, but we don’t have a dock… and traveling. 4-6 months out of the year. I want that home base. Small, homey cottage. Small home on the water. Preferably in the low country of South Carolina. But I don’t want to live there 12 months out of the year. I want to go and experience and learn in places I’ve never been before.”

“And I want to do that not in fancy hotels. I want to do that with the people. Airbnb! Exactly.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“If you could… if you could go back in time, not forward, but back in time, any time period in history, what would it be and why?”

“You get interesting answers when you ask that question.”

She asked me what’s my answer to her question. I told her the 70s or 80s when the computer industry and other technology was starting out. I wanted to be in the garages of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I wanted to be there in the inception of it all.

I asked her what her answer was.

“I think I would… I read a lot of non-fiction. A lot of history. And while so much of it is interesting, and I love to read about it. The way of life… I’m too spoiled now to go back when they’re throwing their chamber pots out of windows. I don’t think I would want to go there. My answer was always to go back to the late 50s to 1970 — just the years that my parents were in high school and college. In that period of time in America, we had modern conveniences so it won’t be too uncomfortable. It was just such a time of change. My parents were in college in the middle of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. All that music that was coming out. All the strife. They were in college in Ohio during the Kent State massacre. I would like to see that. I would like to see what they were like and what their life was like then because to me, as a child in the 70s, it’s kind of a romanticized era — both negatively and positively. Would be interesting.”

“But I wouldn’t be too uncomfortable!” Kira laughs again.

After our handshake.

I had a really great time getting to know Kira. It’s one thing to work with her and her team, but it’s something so great to really get to know her. When she talked about how herself laughing, I actually appreciated this throughout our working session. Both she and her colleague just had great energy about them. And yes, she did laugh quite a few times as some of my jokes. Now, I realize she was probably laughing really easily, and maybe my jokes weren’t all that funny. Darn. Or, maybe they were. Yay.

In any case, I really enjoyed Kira’s energy and her happiness. To find out, too, how she loved art and how she and her husband strived to introduce their kids to new experience was nice. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers talks about this very opportunity kids have to excel in school and life — the extracurriculars some children have between school years. By hearing how Kira and her husband nurture and expose their kids to these new opportunities, I can only imagine their growth (in so many ways beyond just academic and personal) was that much greater than those in their age groups.

Additionally, I totally understand where Kira was talking about when she reasoned with me that the work she does for my team and I (and other clients) meant more than her home and other things. She’s selfless, a. B, she cares less about the material things in her life that are… about her or for her. Instead, she takes so much more ownership and pride in her work products. These are things that are of so much more value than physical goods like a nice bathroom. Though, she enjoys having the nice amenities, she’s really more interested in what she provides to others and how those elements reflect her image.

Meet Kira. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 71, Day 71 - Meet Alex

Stranger 71, Day 71 – Meet Alex, the “Apparel Designer”

I met Alex at a retailer in the mall this morning. I really don’t like going to malls especially so close to the holidays. However, I wanted to check something out, so I went to the mall before it opened. When the store I was interested in finally opened, it was slow enough to ask the associate I was working with if he’d be my Stranger today, to which he was happy to do so.

And mind you, I told him I wasn’t going to buy anything today. In fact, I had already scoped out the product for a while before saying I would wait. (Just in case you were wondering he accepted just to complete a sale.) 🙂

Meet Alex, 26

Who are you?

“Young, professional trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. Definitely still figuring it out. Day at a time. Not really knowing what’s going on. Not planning. Just jumping in, waking up, and just doing it.”

What are your passions?

“Apparel design. Outside of here, I, actually, have my own apparel design company that I’ve been working on launching for the last thee years.”

When are you going to do that?

“Hoping by the end of 2017.”

Why did you want to get into apparel design?

“My mom. I’ve always admired her, and she used to sew when I was a kid. I picked it up off of her.”

What did she sew for you?

“For me, Halloween costumes,” he laughs. “She did all of my costumes.”

What was your favorite?

“She made me a White Power Ranger costume because we couldn’t find my size.”

How else has she inspired you?

“Being the strong individual that she is. She’s very strong. Always motivated. Never negative. Smile on her face 24/7 even if she’s having a bad day. Definitely someone I aspire to be when I’m older, for sure.”

When you think about designing clothes and building that brand, are there any values or anything she’s done to inspire you that you want to make sure you carry over into that brand?

“Just passion and motivation. Make sure every piece shows there’s passion behind it and not have it as a second thing.”

What kind of fashion do you want to design?

“Women’s evening wear. I actually went to school for that.” He tells me how he went to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

Meanwhile, I notice he has an Ohio State University bow tie on, and ask if he’s going to be supporting them for the game today (pretty much a given, but was curious where/ what he might add on to this).

“I am, and unfortunately, I’m stuck here!” he laughs. “The biggest game of the year, and I’m stuck here!” We’re referring to the OSU-Michigan game today in a Top-5 clash.

Why THE Ohio State?

“My dad went there. His whole family went there. I started my undergrad there, and then transferred to SCAD to finish it.”

Anything else that you’re really, really passionate about?

“Football!”

Why is football such an influential sport and part of our culture?

“Culturally, I’m not 100% sure. I know I do it because it’s the one thing that bonds my father and me. Yeah, football’s the one thing that bonds us together; whereas, my mom and I have always had a strong bond my entire life. My dad and I only bond on Saturdays during football season.” Alex laughs again.

Thinking about that bonding… what was your earliest bonding experience with your dad?

“When I was 10, he actually took me up to the Ohio State campus to watch the Michigan. We were at the 50-yard line.” So today was a real big day for Alex given today’s Ohio State game against Michigan.

“It’s a big day more so personally than it is actually for the game just because it is the BEST memory I had with my dad.”

Alex’s dad will be able to watch, and Alex will be at the store listening. I asked him if they were going to be texting throughout to which Alex responded, “Of course. Of course. As long as my other managers don’t talk to me, I’ll be good.” He laughs.

Going back to your passion of apparel design where do you see that going? Where do you want that to go?

“I mean, I’ll always aim big. Hopefully be a huge design like Dior and McQueen and all that. On a smaller scale, I, more so, want to work with different philanthropy programs, and work on maybe donating to different charities and use my name for positive instead of just fame.”

Why do you want to do that?

“It’s just always been something my mom’s instilled in me. Always make sure people know you came from humble beginnings. Don’t forget where you came from.”

I realize, too, that Alex is working in a retailer who really doesn’t have any apparel.

He admits that he hates folding clothes.

“And working with accessories and luggage, I’m learning a different side of the industry without having to hate the side that I actually love, if that makes sense.”

I asked him for some fashion tips given I have had some… constructive criticism at times. (Hey, I’m always trying to learn.)

“Style is something you acquire, not something that you learn.” Hmm, I hope I can learn something still!

So I asked him for a fashion tip for me/ men.

Alex instructs me, “Don’t wear flip-flops in public. Unless you’re going to a pool, a beach, or a gym locker room, don’t wear flip-flops.”

He adds, “hate when guys wear sneakers with suits. And then black shoes with a brown belt. Never do that.” *phew* I haven’t committed any fashion faux pas recently.

For me, I wanted some direct advice.

“I say always just go with what feels good on your body. Because at the end of the day, if you’re not confident in what you’re wearing, you’re not going to look good. Always make sure you’re confident in what you’re wearing, and don’t really care about what other people think.”

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? At any point in time, what would you change? (Thanks to Bruce, Stranger 70)

“That’s really tough. I probably would’ve stayed at Ohio State to finish my degree.” His degree was in early childhood education.

“And probably not be working in retail if I had done that. Probably stay and finish my original degree instead of transferring for a passion. And then, while working in that field go to classes for the passion. That’s probably what I would change.”

“Definitely, I would’ve focused more and stuck with the smarter route instead of… go with my head and not with my heart.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“That is so tough.” He thinks. “Just cut all the crap and go deep…” Of course, if he wants to go deep. Doesn’t have to.

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years? That’s a question I ask everyone. I feel like knowing someone’s future plans helps get to know them as a person now.”

After the handshake.

It’s been a few hours, but I’m still thinking about what Alex said about not pursuing his passion while in school, and instead, focus on the “rational” (or as he put it, “smarter route”). I think there’s a lot of commotion for people to follow their passions, and that’s indeed something I espouse. However, there’s also an element of diving into your passion without a safety net. The logic here is that you’re backed into a corner and have to make that passion/ business work. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Instead, it’s just making that decision and executing. For Alex, there is no reset button on college. He’s instead building his brand while doing what he needs to to live.

I also appreciated Alex sharing his earliest (/ fondest) memory with his father and how it coincided with the OSU football game. When I think back to one of my fondest memories with my dad growing up, I think about how we would go to a local baseball batting cage about 8PM. I’d be done with my homework, and he’d be done with work. We’d drive about 15 minutes to the batting cages (Grand Slam in Norcross), and I would practice for about an hour. After then, we would to a fast-food restaurant (The Varsity in Norcross) and order big things of ice cream in waffle cones (I would get simple vanilla while he’d get mint chocolate chip). We’d sit in my dad’s (and later mine) ’88 4Runner. We’d have so much ice cream that it’d start to melt, and he would show me to put the ice cream upside down in a cup so the ice cream wouldn’t drip everywhere. I’d then use a spoon to eat it. We’d sit there for about 30 minutes just eating. And I remember a cop walking up to our car sharing with us how much he loved his ’88 4Runner, and how he had taken off the fiberglass top to drive it convertible-style and had considered getting a “bikini top” for it. I include some details (just a small fraction) because that’s how vivid that memory was for me, and how powerful it was. I imagine Alex has a similar memory with his father at the game 16 years ago. Stories like Alex’s make me relive my own memories and recall so many great experiences and relationships.

Meet Alex. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 67, Day 67 - Meet Amy

Stranger 67, Day 67 – Meet Amy, the “Aerial DJ”

I walk around the office today to find today’s Stranger. As I was walking I noticed an office with three women about to leave, so I did what I never do — walk up to a group of women to chat. In this case, I wanted to meet my Stranger for the day to which one of the women agreed, and stayed behind.

As we start out, she’s sitting on an exercise ball. She’s got so much energy to her that the bouncing on the ball really amplifies her energy. She’s even moving her arms while she bounces like she’s getting a full body workout — fitting, too, given she works at a company called Fit Radio. I note that there’s no radio on, but she’s certainly got the “fit” part down, and that she’s pretty much the radio on her own.

She surprised me, “Well, I’ve been on radio before. Well, I’m on radio right now. I do radio in San Diego.” How great, too, because I love San Diego. It’s all coming full-circle, and I mention how I love being fit (or trying to be).

She agrees, “We’re all trying to be fit. Have you ever met those people who never eat bad? Never… just… let loose? I can’t relate to these people!” Haha. As she was telling me this, I was literally thinking about how great it’d be to have a KitKat bar or Skittles right then.

So, we officially kick this off.

Meet Amy, “Grown and Sexy”

*I was told not to ask women their age, but I’ve committed that faux pas plenty of times already on my journey — whoops!*

As she tells me her email, I realize she’s DJ Mami Chula. I’ve heard her name come across the radio before, so it’s really coming full-circle for me now. In fact, I share with her how I just attended Atlanta’s MLS team’s kit unveiling — where they reveal the design and style of the uniforms and jerseys for Atlanta United. She was the DJ spinning the tracks at the big shindig. I remember thinking that the DJ was pretty good before the MC (master of ceremony) intro’ed the DJ — DJ Mami Chula. It resonated with me because I had heard her name on the radio before. Now, here I was meeting her for the first time. How crazy is that? Okay, back to Amy…

I share with her how I recognize her name from several radio shows I’ve heard in the morning.

She responded, “I don’t know if they’re here now. I’m not on radio here. I was on 95.5 the Beat, 107.9, and Power 96.1… AND Wild 105.7/ 86.7.” Very cool.

What drove you into radio?

“I was going to go to school to be an FBI agent.” She corrects herself, “I was in school to be an FBI agent.”

“My school had a radio station. I was like, ‘oh, I can go up there and have fun. Just a side thing to have fun.’ And then they had turntables and the radio show, and I fell in love. That’s all I wanted to do.”

“…Turned into my passion.”

What about radio really drew you in?

“The creativity. Being able to move people by just playing a record. Making them feel good. Making them say, ‘Oohhh!’ When you get that ‘oh’, that’s like the best feeling as a DJ.”

“Also, to be honest, not many women do it, did it, or was doing it where I was from. So I just thought it was really cool. Be like one of the boys!”

“Just one of those things I’ve always been — I want to beat the boys,” she laughs. “Very competitive.”

I told her I felt like she made a name for herself recalling how I recognized her name at the Atlanta United event last week, and that I enjoyed the music she was “scratching” (I put quotes because I’ve never said that or typed that before, but she’s using the term). I had a great experience from her music. I asked her how she felt about where she is now.

“I’m happy!” Then, she breathes in deeply. “Okay, so to be honest, Power 96.1 got rid of me — they let me go. I think because ever since I was in Atlanta, I’d done radio. This was the first time I’ve never been on radio in Atlanta. It definitely threw me for a loop. But I’m so happy at Fit Radio.”

“I’m doing another passion project. It’s called ‘aerial DJing’. Have you seen the girls on aerial stilts hanging from the ceiling? I’m combining that with DJ’ing. My first show is New Year’s Eve at Opera.” (Opera is a club in Midtown Atlanta.)

“It’s a full show. Every 15 minutes, I’ve got two girls up with me. We’re doing mini aerial acts, and then I’m in the sling upside down DJ’ing, scratching, yeah! That’s what my passion is right now. So I’m happy. I’m good!”

I’m thinking about how I should introduce her to Andrew, yesterday’s Stranger.

What brought up aerial DJ’ing?

“Yeah, getting letting go from your job!” She laughs.

“Honestly, I always wanted to do… add something to being a DJ. I’ve been on tour. I’ve DJ’ed for people on tour with Ciara, Snoop Dogg, The Game, but I wanted to do something for myself. I wanted to take my DJ’ing to the next level. I didn’t want to DJ in places where I didn’t want to DJ. Every DJ does gigs… and they’re like, ‘oh god, I don’t want to do this gig’. I just didn’t want to do that to a degree being that I’ve been doing DJ for so long.”

“I wanted to create something that would hopefully go viral. That would be something nobody’s ever done. To do it. To do it for me.”

“I started doing aerial, and I thought ‘oh my god this would be cool to add this with it.’ It could totally happen.”

“That’s just how I came up with the two. I don’t know. When I get something in my head, I just go do it. Might be a little bit of ‘I’m going to do, I’m not going to do it’, but then I just go. I attack it!”

When you were let go, how did you get into the zone to still be happy with what you’re doing?

“It was hard. It didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot. Took like 6 months to almost a year of being let go. I was still DJ’ing at the clubs, and stuff. But to start working on this, this is a year in the making for me to get this show. You have to be strong enough to even do the moves in aerial. It was a come-on-let’s-go type thing. I can’t really pinpoint what motivated me. I just see something big in my head. I know that this could work. I know it could be big. Nobody’s ever done it. Why not?”

What kind of advice would you give to someone who comes to some sort of hardship (i.e. being let go, a break-up, some other loss)?

“The hardest thing for me was to realize — I’m a very big go-getter, and I was really mad at myself. There was a time period I just couldn’t get going. I just got so down on myself. I think just try and recognize why you’re sad. When you lose a job, or when you lose somebody, that’s a big thing out of your life. It hurts, and you don’t understand why. Just being able to recognize you need some time to grieve. You need some time to get yourself together, but don’t waste too much time. I wish I could’ve not wasted so much time being so mad. Then, pick yourself back up and freaking go. Go get it. Go with what makes you happy.”

Amy shared with me someone close to her that she loved and respected. However, “she does something that she hates everyday in life. She hates going to her job. I’ve been so lucky to all my adult career to pretty much do what I love. Just go make that happen. If someone doesn’t see your worth, your worth is somewhere else. Forget that. It’s hard to feel it at the time, but it’s true. I had to realize my worth is more than what they were showing me. That’s a hard thing.”

Have you had anyone who has been a big influence who has helped you get to where you are today? How did that person help you?

“Well, there’s been a few people. There’s been my aerial teachers. Amber who owns Sky Gym. She’s helped me. Kathleen who was a trainer at Sky Gym. Those two people have really helped me. They’ve been doing it for years. They’ve helped me feel comfortable to do aerial.”

“My DJ teacher who I call him my ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi of DJ’ing’. He and Machete X. He’s helped me throughout everything. It could be scratch. It could be a show. How to put my show together. I’ve had some great people help me, and just motivating me and keeping me going, and make me see a different route, or make me a see a different move that could work over what wouldn’t work. No matter what, they’ve helped me make it happen. That’s how they’ve helped me.”

“Having those people in your corner is so important.”

Are you helping anyone in that way? How are you paying it forward?

“I’m a big person. My Love Language is Acts of Service. So what these people are doing for me, I have to do for them. I’ve put on a lot of people through my career on radio. DJ’s — giving them DJ gigs when nobody else would. Or got people hired when nobody else would get them hired. So as far as the aerial DJ part, I haven’t been able to pay it forward just yet. But I’ve got my girls hired and put money in their pocket. Whenever I get a job through my connections through aerial, I do it that way. I make sure they get a job. So I put people on. I give them jobs. I hire DJ’s to do parties a lot.”

“I’m not a afraid to teach somebody. Some people teach you wrong because they’re scared — a lot of people do that. I want to teach you right. Or, they won’t teach you at all because you might be better than them. I’m not afraid of that. Like, be better than me. Go ahead.” Probably raises her game!

Have you ever been betrayed? And what did you do? (Thanks to Andrew, Stranger 66)

“Yeessss!” She thinks about the first betrayal that comes to mind.

“Yes, I have. My really good friend that came up in radio. She was kind of a mentor. I think she saw me as a threat, and that’s why she didn’t help me get on when she left. She was leaving, and I was trying to get her spot, because she already announced she was going to a new station. So she told everybody that I was trying to steal her spot — just made me look really bad before she left. It was really hard to get through it.”

“What did I do? I didn’t talk to her! To be honest… I didn’t talk to her because I didn’t want that energy around me. I don’t know… that’s kind of where we left it. She emailed me saying she was sorry, actually. She said, ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I didn’t help you. I think about you all the time.’ As nice as that was for her to do that, I just didn’t hit her back. I was like, ‘you know what? I’m passed that.’ Cool, but I don’t know… It was just so deep, and so hard. I just couldn’t hit her back. I’m glad she hit me. I’m glad she’s doing good.”

Do you think you’ll ever close that?

“If I see her, I think we’ll be cool. But we’ll never be friends again. I’ll never just call her.”

Has that impacted some of your relationships today?

“Definitely because it was so hard. What she did before she left impacted my career for a long time. When those people have a certain view of you, it’s hard to shake that. And I don’t even think she understood what she did.”

“I didn’t… I just left it alone.”

She remarks, “That’s a deep question, Andrew! That’s a good one!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I want to know… are you 100% happy with what you’re doing in life right now? If you’re not 100% happy, what will make you happy? And are you going to do it? 3-part question.”

After the handshake.

I mean… like… yeah. I’ve heard her DJ name for a while on radio before. Then, I see her perform and do her thing at an event. Today, I just walk up to an office that she’s at, and she’s the volunteer to be my Stranger. The world is small. Serendipity happens all the time!

It was really great to meet her, and I loved her energy. She was happy and bouncing from the outset, and she stayed that way throughout while taking her picture on her exercise ball, too.

Also, as we were leaving the office, another woman walked up who worked on the same floor as Amy. I knew this woman, too, so introduced them. They both looked at each, smiled, shook hands, and mentioned to each other how they had seen each other several times before. Classic everyday Strangers! Glad the two were able to meet since they’re both good people. I’ll also make the intro to Andrew, yesterday’s Stranger, who spent some years DJ’ing as well.

Meet Amy. No longer a Stranger.