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Stranger 78, Day 78 - Meet Zach

Stranger 78, Day 78 – Meet Zach, the “New Man”

As the counter reaches 100, I’m leveraging this journey to connect with the people I see often but haven’t talked to. These are more “warm” Strangers, as no doubt they’ve seen me before many times.

Today is onesuch Stranger to whom I’ve wanted to get to know for a while now. He came to a meditation class weeks ago, and has been a staple to that class and several other yoga classes I take. In between meditations in class, we have discussions, and he’s always participating either asking a question or sharing how the meditation affected him. He always had a confidence about him, so I was interested to learn who he was. Happily, he agreed to be today’s Stranger.

Meet Zach, 28

Who are you?

He smiles and laughs for a moment. “Man! I’m not 100% sure how to answer that question.”

“I’m kind of looking for who I really am, if that make sense at this point of my life. I’ll kind of give you a sense of who I am, what got me here, you know?”

“I had a really big substance abuse problem for a big part of my life. I couldn’t get off drugs. I probably started trying to quit using drugs probably about five years ago. My life was just real horrible, as you can imagine. They kept sending me to, I guess, 12-step like-AA-based recovery. That wasn’t very effective for me. I was introduced to the idea that — well, I guess, addiction is a mental disease, right? It’s all in your mind — your cravings and all that stuff that goes on. Well, if you could change your thoughts, if I could control my thinking, then maybe I could train myself to quit using.”

“So, that seemed to be really effective when I started trying to do it. Just trying to catch negative thoughts, bad thoughts. I learned to be able to change them… thinking of the world in a positive way. I’be been clean maybe 10 months now. I’ve never been clean this long, but when I’m 27 years old, and I look in the mirror ‘I’m a junkie, I haven’t accomplished anything in my life’ that just makes you want to use more. When you learn to look at yourself in a positive light and thinking of yourself in a positive way, then you feel better about yourself. You don’t have the urge to maybe stick needles in your arm and do all that shit I was doing for so long.”

“So, I started coming into this belief that our thoughts are so important… changing my thoughts has had such an impact on my life. Somebody actually told me –you know, I was looking into the internet and stuff like that — meditations is really like training your brain. I’ve gotten to where I really enjoy it, so here I am in meditation class. And yoga! I’ve always liked working out, you know? Physical activity… that’s like meditation and working out. This has all been really helpful to me.”

“I didn’t even know, man. Even something new that’s hitting me is I started going to meditations at the Buddhist Monastery down the street right down Dresden.” He was telling me about how much it all surprised him. “There’s a whole religion that’s based on this. Based on suffering is nothing more than thoughts in your own mind. Your state is ‘perception is reality’. That’s really cool to me. So, I’m thinking. I’m really intrigued into learning more about Buddhism, and take that interest to a deeper level.”

“Yeah, man…” he laughs.

“So right now, I’m not a drug addict anymore! But I spent my whole life as a drug addict. I started using when I was… smoking weed, eating pills and stuff when I was 13/ 14/ 15 years old. So, it’s like I’m learning who I am now because I’m not that anymore. But I’m not 100% sure who I am or what I’m going to do or whatever. It’s been a beautiful experience.”

“I hope that wasn’t too much.” No way, Zach! This was great, and I appreciated you sharing with me and others. Know that there are lots of people who will appreciate who you are NOW, and lots of people who will look to you as their inspiration.

Thinking about how you started thinking more positive, what were some of the keys to thinking more positive when most everything seemed negative at the time?

“Therapy helped a lot. I actually got introduced to therapy and seeing a therapist. He was the one who told me to look up various people on YouTube. There’s a guy named Wayne Dyer.” Zach tells me a little bit about what Wayne is about before chiming in, “As goofy as it may sound, I don’t sit there. I can’t ever bring myself to do it like some people say affirmations to themselves in the mirror. It probably works!” He laughs. “But I just can’t foresee myself doing it. Maybe one day. But it’s not my jam. But I don’t know…”

He pauses for a moment and asks me to repeat the question.

“Okay, for myself, just realizing the negative thoughts when you have them. So, I use examples to show people and share my experiences.” He thinks of an example.

“Okay. If I think to myself, ‘man, I’m 28 years old, and all I’ve got is like a beat-up car or a room in a house that I rent and a job that doesn’t pay that great, you know, I can think about that as negative. Or, I can come back, and I realize I don’t like to think that way because it’s not comfortable. It’s not a happy way of thought. I think to myself, ‘man, I was homeless a year and a half ago. And now, I’ve kept the same job I’ve spent X amount of time in. I’ve been getting paid a lot more when I started the job. Look at the progress I’ve made!’ And think, ‘man, if I continue making progress, and like, I’m going places’, you know? You can look at the same situation in two different lights. The more you realize… you kind of train yourself to, over time, be able to look at it in a positive way.”

“Your thoughts create your future, you know? If you’re thinking in a positive manner, you’re going to have a more and more optimistic future.”

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? (Thanks to John, Stranger 77)

He takes a deep breath and looks up thinking. “Whoa, this is hard.” He repeats the question slowly, “If there’s something I want in my life… that I don’t have…”

He thinks for a little longer leaning against the wall.

“Just listening to my gut, and know I’ll end up getting it if I need it. Do the nice, right thing, man. Does this make sense? They call it path of least resistance. I believe that if I’m doing what I’m supposed to do and thinking how I need to think, the universe is going to put in place everything that I need to be whole.”

He admits, “I’m not 100% sure what it is that I do want. But I know it’s coming to me, if that makes sense.”

“And, once it’s apparent to me what I do want, action. Put action behind it. You know what I’m saying? Wake up and act the role in which that’ll take me to get what it is that I do want. Like, if I want peace, come to this class or the monastery. Now, I put action behind like everyday. I meditate everyday because it helps. I go to the yoga class or go to the gym. Do the shit that helps you. If I want to do something with my life or go to school, college, but I don’t know.” To Zach he’s deliberate and puts action into what he wants to do/ achieve especially things like meditation and yoga which have helped him a great deal.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Ask them to describe a time they were truly happy.”

He explain why he wanted to ask that question, “by doing that hopefully it makes them happy.” That is, Zach believed that recalling a truly happy memory would trigger a recall, and thus, feel that same happiness in that moment. Wow.

After the handshake.

This was perhaps a shorter meet as we had limited time at the yoga studio before the studio needed to close. (I asked to extend the time so I could meet Zach.) However, we were able to stand around a little bit longer afterwards to just chat. He was very interested in what I was going to do with our conversation, and what this journey was about. As I explained to him more about how I wanted to inspire connections, he understood more and more of my inspiration. He also started to appreciate and want to read the stories of the other Strangers. I shared with him that no doubt others will read his story, and people will be inspired by his story. People will connect to his story in ways he and I didn’t even know, and may never know. That’s how many Stranger stories have meant to others.

I want to point out how great it was to spend a few minutes to listen to Zach. He left the building before coming back to share with me how spending just a little bit of time with each other could mean a lot. I’m paraphrasing a little (a lot) here. However, I think he genuinely recognized the opportunity to be had if people were to just take a few minutes to recognize people around them. I shared wth him that that is exactly the point of all this. It’s about inspiring connections and cultivating a stronger community.

Also, Zach’s question was good, but I didn’t really think too much of it having heard it in a similar form before. However, I was taken aback when he added why he wanted to ask the question. He wants tomorrow’s Stranger to not just share a happy moment, but he wants the Stranger to feel that happy moment again — to relive it. I thought that was powerful because, sometimes, we ask to know. Heck, sometimes I ask Strangers questions to know and to continue this 100 days journey. Yes, I want to inspire connections, and I want people to feel connected. However, Zach wanted to ask to inspire a feeling. Let that sink in for a moment. When you ask someone a question tomorrow, or when you say something (maybe even just a hello), how do you ask it? Do you ask just to greet someone because that’s “courteous”? Or do you ask a question so that the other person feels something — feels happy. Feels sad.

Perhaps I’m excited about Zach’s share because he explicitly said it, and it’s resonating in my head like a gong being struck. It’s calling to attention how I’m interacting with others. Like Kathleen, the Women’s Mentor (Stranger 60) who shared how men tend to interrupt women. I want to say I don’t, but her explicitly sharing makes me that much more conscious of my conversations with women (and men). It’s one of those shares that keeps me honest.

So meet Zach. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 62, Day 62 - Meet Kevin

Stranger 62, Day 62 – Meet Kevin, the “Family Man”

Today’s Stranger is actually the husband of a friend who I don’t actually know too well. This friend I’ve met at yoga, but we haven’t talked too much. In fact, we really talk in coincidental run-ins at Starbucks. As it so happens, I ran into her husband this afternoon at Starbucks. We don’t know each other well, and he’s never actually heard a Stranger story or read one. I figured this would be a great way of getting to know him.

Meet Kevin, 31

Who are you?

“In what sense? Professionally? Personally?” I shrug letting him pick the path he wants to put me on.

“I’m a husband. Wannabe father one day. Professional. Think of myself as a family man. An amateur athlete,” he laughs.

“… and a work-in-progress, I guess. That’s what I like to think of myself. I try not to set goals for myself, but try to make those goals ways of being. That’s why I say a husband and a good provider/ father. I don’t set goals for myself like ‘buy a house, have kids’. I think of them as roles that I’m continuously working towards. That’s about it!” Except he continues. “I’m a brother. I’m one of five boys and one girl. And I’m an uncle. Getting trained for those kids, maybe.” Kevin laughs again.

I do remember him having a dog when I’ve seen him before. “I have a dog, yes. Jenn refers to the dog as her fur-child. Had her for about 12 years, so she’s getting up there in age. She’s a good girl. Trying to get her yard, like I said. She’s introduced us to the outdoors if anything. Started us off with hiking and things. It kind of took us out of our element, and introduced us to something new.”

Thinking about you’re a work-in-progress. You don’t really set goals, per se. You do want to have kids, though. You’re an amateur athlete. (He points out, “amateur gym rat!”) Do you have any Dreams?

“Yeah, sure. I guess it just depends on where in my life you ask me that question. My dream when I was 10 is going to be drastically different than 15. I guess when I was a kid, I had an idea — I wanted to make a lot of money and have a good job. I guess I kind of set my goals to my brothers, and what they did. They were successful. I’m a workaholic, obviously, because I refer to that a lot.”

“But my dream’s just to be happy. I’ve kind of hit that point in my life, recently, to where I had to do a mental inventory of myself and my values. What I thought was in important, because for a while in your 20s, you get out of school, and you’re part of the whole rat race. You’re trying to get your first job/ internship. Then, I turned 30, and I got married. Jenn’s never really been like that. She’s always been very in-the-moment. Jenn’s my wife, by the way.”

“…And I just did a reset of my life which is interesting because I stopped making benchmark goals for myself, and started thinking about how I want to live. Once you set goals for yourself, and you achieve those goals, you kind of have a mid-life crisis because you realize those goals maybe define you. Once you’ve achieved them, then now what? But if you keep this ‘this is the way I want to be or the way I want to live’… that’s what I did. I got my values in line, and just work a little bit towards that everyday, you look at what’s in front of you rather than 10 years down the line. Achieving those things… is my dream — to be happy, and make my wife happy. That’s kind of my ecosystem. I’m not a professional baseball player. I’m cool with that. So I guess it’s evolved now as I’m older.”

So what are some of your values you’ve re-prioritized your life around?

“I don’t so much anymore look to the sides to see what Fred or Jane and the Andersons are doing. I’ve learned to keep my eye on my household and Jenn and me, and making sure we’re taken of. I’ve gone away from the whole materialistic way of being. I’ve questioned the American Dream lately. Is that the template? It has to be our lives? When you talk about goals, so I guess, I really don’t know. I’ve been doing a lot of  thinking lately to say what’s my American Dream? Is it the 2.5 kids and the house with the white fence? Or should maybe we have a conversation about what that is? I know a lot of people who aren’t happy. I kind of found myself in that rut four years ago.”

“My goal is to customize what I want my life to be, and not make it that cracker barrel, generic brand lifestyle.”

Four years ago, you were in a rut. What helped you get out of it?

“Turning 30. Approaching 30, and realizing… I don’t know. I was behind where I wanted to be in my life. And I was okay after a little crisis.” He thinks some more.

“Yeah, just I was burnt out. I was working a job I really didn’t like. Since then, I’ve gone on to something I’m actually studying about and passionate about. But yeah, I was just a wreck, you know? I found myself just in a routine. No day was different. I didn’t really take time to stop and look around, or do something interesting like go to meditation. I was burnt out. A lot of people… I can spot it everyday. That’s when I started to change, like I said, getting all of that stuff. Rethinking me.”

So you mentioned your wife, Jenn, a lot. What are a couple ways she’s influenced your life?

“Because she’s the polar opposite of who I was. I had a very hard time accepting that, but that’s what I loved about her. I never could correlate the two. I’m OCD and super neat. Jenn’s a free spirit, go with the flow. Super easy-going. And before I knew it, five years into the relationship, I realize it rubbed off on me a little bit, and I like myself a little bit more. The fact we’ve been through a lot of hard times, she’s probably seen me at my worst — really ugly. She still loves me unconditionally.”

“I’ve never felt that ever. From anyone. I’ve always had superficial relationships prior to that. AND my mom loves her. She brought some qualities in myself that I didn’t know were there, and I really, thoroughly enjoyed them.”

How have you influenced her?

“That’s a question for her.” I tell him it’s actually a question for him, too. How does he think he’s influenced her…

“I feel like she would say… like I said, we’re yin and yang. She’s very free-spirited, and I was very structured. I think, now, because of the influence I’ve had on her, she’s achieving some of her personal and professional goals. Personally, spiritually, I introduced her to the Catholic church. She Baptized and confirmed to get married which meant a lot to me and my mom. Spiritually, she’s become a different person since meeting me, and we’ve introduced her to God because that’s our family’s tradition.”

“I’m just such a neat-freak, organized, probably on her case. That’s one thing she’d say. She’s probably a lot more organized. No more collection notices are coming to the house, which I knew bothered her. And then, I hope I’m her first love because that’s how I feel about her. That’d be the most influence I’ve brought on her.”

What kind of person do you want to be tomorrow? (Thanks to Mark, Stranger 61)

“I’ve strive to be better than, or a little bit different than the person I was today. So, I try to learn something everyday.”

What’d you learn today?

“I learned…” He thinks about this for a while. “Hmm… what did I learn today?”

“I guess today’s not over yet!” He smiles.

“I met a new guy named Daryl. I might’ve made a new friend!” he laughed. “It’s not about myself but the day’s not over yet, I could say. Get out of jail-free card.” 🙂

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What would I like to ask…?” Kevin looks down then around thinking. He realizes I’m recording this and comments, “there’s going to be a bunch of blank space.”

“What are you doing this weekend?”

“…since tomorrow’s Friday. That’s usually the high point of people’s week.”

After the handshake.

I was a little hesitant at first about me asking Kevin to be today’s Stranger. I was wondering if I was bending the rules too much, but as I got to know Kevin more and more, it just highlighted how much I didn’t know him. He really was a Stranger on many, many levels.

I got a good sense of who he was throughout our talk as he always brought the conversation back to his home — his wife, his physical home he wants to have, his mother, his faith, etc.

After our meet, we got to talk even more about… everything. We spent time talking about social media being really a front… almost a mask of what’s really happening in people’s lives. We talked about the importance of being vulnerable, and to showing younger generations what life really is like — not in a bad way, but to ensure our future kids are raised authentically. We talked about our pasts including how many of the other Stranger stories (after he hopped on the site) were so interesting, and how he could relate to several of them.

It was good to get to know Kevin. In fact, I probably know him better than his wife now! Ha!

Meet Kevin. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 57, Day 57 - Meet Claudia

Stranger 57, Day 57 – Meet Claudia, the “Open Listener”

I met today’s Stranger at yoga. She’s in several of the classes I take. Heck, I’ve even taken roll before class, and learned her name, but nothing else. I’ve said so little about her, that it was high time I got to meet her.

Meet Claudia, 21

Who are you?

“Who am I? Good question…”

“Well, I’m Claudia. I’m from the Dominican Republic. I recently here to Atlanta in May for school. My brother’s lived here for about 10 years.”

She thinks some more. “I don’t know… who am I? I don’t really know who I am, to be honest. I’m trying to figure that out. I feel like we all are all the time. And… I like to act. I feel like it’s very therapeutic for me. For a period of time, I was in a really dark place emotionally, and that brought me out in a way. I’m trying meditation and yoga as well — helps me feel spiritual and better about myself and about the world.”

“… and yeah. I go to school for business. I started school for medicine, but I felt it wasn’t what I wanted for my life. I felt stuck. Like that was in my path, so I tried to find something different, and here I am now!” She smiles.

So you said you’re trying to find yourself. How are you going about doing that?

“Spirituality. Trying to find…. I mean, I’ve read up on different kinds of — Buddhism. Different types of religion. Trying to find a way through there, but I’m not sure yet.”

“I said acting really helps me. It just feels like you get to be whoever you want to be, or somebody really different. In a way it helps you find different things about different people, and put them all together in one.”

“Studying people, studying everything around me. Trying to figure out what I like, what I don’t like. And how the world affects me. And what do I want out of that.”

Thinking about how the world affects you, how does the world affect you in a negative way?

“Sometimes, it can be disappointing. I felt for a really long time like I don’t really fit into anywhere. I felt like a misfit most of my life, and I still do. When I was a kid, I used to think when you’re older, that feeling will go away. But it didn’t really go away.” She pauses for a moment, and asks me what the question was again. I can tell that this little bit could’ve actually been a much longer deeper conversation — one I hope to have with her one day.

After repeating the question, Claudia responds, “With all that’s going on like right now with the whole Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton kind of thing. That affects me in a sense that it feels like there’s a huge division in the world. It feels like there’s a lot of hate in the world. That affects me because makes me feel a little unsafe as to where I am and what’s going on. What my world is going to look like in the future and for my kids. It makes me a little sad.”

“People around me affect me.”

How does it affect you in a positive way?

“Beauty. I think there’s a lot of beauty in the world. A lot of beauty I haven’t seen. A lot of beauty there is to be seen. So it makes me a little curious as to where it’s going to take me — what I haven’t seen and what there is to see. So I’m excited, and it makes me… excited about the future.” She smiles and laughs.

What’s something beautiful that you’ve seen yesterday?

Claudia thinks about what she did yesterday.

“Yesterday, I spent some time with somebody that I didn’t know that well, and it surprised me because he was very educated. We talked about politics. He’s actually… I support Clinton, and he was a Donald Trump supporter. I was very curious as to why he was there mentally, and why he stood by Donald Trump. And his points, he just surprised me about how educated he actually was about the whole ordeal. He had really valid points, and I thought that was beautiful because of different perspectives. The fact that we can be totally different, so kind of like see equally in some sort of way.”

Is there a key to that to be able to have very different views, but being able to be open to it and listen?

“I think it’s just listening. I feel like if you give people a chance and try to listen to what they have to say, they might surprise you.”

“You might end up being more similar than you actually think. Just listen and being open to what they have to say. Not closing yourself off just because it seems like what they’re saying doesn’t make sense.”

How do you maintain your relationships with people? (Thanks to Joey, Stranger 56)

“I don’t talk to people everyday, but I try to stay in contact in kind of like, when I do speak to them, I try to… the most important things going on in their life, and make sure that I know how they’re doing… emotionally — what’s affecting them the most, and how they’re doing with everything.”

Is there a preferred method that you’ve been maintaining some of that?

“Preferred method… not really. If I remember things that have been going on the past couple months or stuff like that, and we haven’t talked about it a lot, I ask them about that. Just try to make sure I keep in mind the important things that are going on in their lives. Try to bring them up as much as I can just to make sure…”

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

“What makes you feel alive?” She smiles to end.

After the handshake.

I’ve realized there are so many people in my yoga classes who are effectively Strangers, and I see them over and over and over again. I can easily make 100 Strangers, 100 Days solely focused on the people at work, at yoga, and at Starbucks — my three main places outside of home. (I hope not to meet Strangers at my home, though, it’s unfortunately happened before.)

I didn’t realize Claudia only moved to America this year. Heck, I didn’t know she was from outside the U.S. That was a fact that jumped out at me for whatever reason. Another part about Claudia that I didn’t know was how she’s felt like a misfit for most of her life. As I mentioned above, she seemed to get absorbed into this feeling to which I hope to get to know her better. The good part, I think, is that she’s seems to be feeling more comfortable and more “fit” at the yoga studio we go to. She’s a great cultural fit with the yoga studio’s community, and so I really do hope she feels more included. This journey is about community. It’s about connecting with one another. Happily, I feel more connected with Claudia, and hope she feels the same.

And as part of her own journey to realize who she is, I hope she realizes who she is soon in her own way. Now, that’ll change as we all do over time. So for now, I hope she realizes who she is — a curious person… a young woman making real, authentic connections with those around her. She’s a person looking to make a positive effect on the world from every interaction — large or small. As part of her curiosity is an eagerness to have perspective, which is sometimes a rare thing today, but it helps for her to connect and, indeed, be empathetic to those around her. Oftentimes, it’s not about “fitting in”. Being a misfit can be a beautiful thing, and I think it’s this eagerness to gain perspective that enables her to not fit in with the status quo. Instead, she’s going to (and she is) effortlessly weaving the everyday into her own life.

I think of “fitting in” as being “normal” — stress the “I think”. And to that, I don’t remember who told me this or where I read this (don’t even think I know the exact quote), however, don’t be “normal”. Be you.

Meet Claudia. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 55, Day 55 - Meet Natalie

Stranger 55, Day 55 – Meet Natalie, the “Science Tour Guide”

Another day, another casual walk-up to a Stranger at the coffee shop in my office building. It’s a funny thing to just see the back of someone’s head and commit to asking that person to talk to you. I have no idea who he or she is. I just… have a Stranger to talk to, and we’ll see if this person is actually new when I approach from the front. (Never approach from the back!)

So meet the woman who I spotted today as she was on her tablet…

Meet Natalie, 23

Who are you?

“Who am I? Well, I’m a graduate student from the University of South Florida in Tampa. I’m actually visiting my brother this weekend, so that’s why I’m here. And I teach. I’m a teacher. I teach first year composition. And I am a lover of music. I love going to music festivals and live concerts and things like that. Oh! Kanye West!” Natalie points up to the ceiling where a Kanye West song is coming from.

“I love Kanye West, too!” she laughs.

“So those are the main things I identify with — graduate student and teacher — right now.”

Thinking about what you like, what are your passions?

“Singing… teaching… traveling… I applied to go to China.” She points out that she noticed I was Asian. Yup! Haha

“I’m half-Asian, so right now, I’m applying to go China to teach English over there to try to connect with my roots and get into… just to be a better international communicator. One thing that you have to do for this scholarship was connect it to an actual project, outside project in China. It was interesting. I saw you’re an entrepreneur.” She’s recalling the 100 Strangers, 100 Days homepage she saw before we began.

“… because I just recently became exposed to that world. I’d also love to be an entrepreneur. I did these pitch competitions for this software I was working with over the summer. Anyways, the point is, being a business woman is really positive. One thing I found in China was they have an entrepreneurial collaborative center there. It’d be awesome to work with Asian students there. Connect them with resources in America as well. Just create more cross-cultural connections. Now, more important than ever.”

What is it you want to build?

“Okay, so one of my business ideas is to open up an after-school program, or a private education program that teaches young children about science. Because what I’ve recognize is that a lot of my friends, or I’ve even went through a bunch of STEM courses before I landed on English (right now, I do technical writing — explaining very technical, scientific information into words everyone can understand). I noticed that‘s the gap. You can know all of the science, and all the things you want, but if you can’t communicate it to a wider audience, then what is that? Or communicate it in such a way that people will believe you and also accept it. Right now, in my studies, we’re identifying a lot of places where — let’s say there’s farmers out in Kansas. They don’t want to listen to scientists. So it’s a two-way street. Both of us need to figure out how to communicate with each other. I think science is one of the most important things, so that’s why I focus there.”

“The reason I focus on kids then,” she laughs. “Not to be pessimistic, I don’t think that educating higher levels… people’s beliefs are so ingrained at that age. It’s hard to change their minds, so I’d rather just target the kids and get them thinking about it while they’re young, and get them used to science so they’re not scared of it when they grow up.”

Thinking about communication. What’s the key to writing something so that farmers (who aren’t interested in listening to you in the first place — which is key to communicating everyday) are receptive?

“Well, you just said the key. You said, ‘everyday’. So that’s where you need to target them — in their everyday lived experiences. That requires going there and accepting they have a different lifestyle than you, and learning their way of life so you can target those specific things. Translate whatever policies you need to create into something that is valuable to their community. That way, they are receptive of it.”

“For example, even in Florida where I’m from, a lot of the government seat in Tallahassee, does not listen to what’s happening in Miami. The streets are flooding with seawater because the seas are rising. But they’re not going listening because there’s disconnect. If only they can come here and see what’s going on. I think that would be key.”

Being identifiable and empathetic?

“Yes, certainly! Being empathetic.”

You mentioned music, and you’re singing. Your necklace also has notes on it…

She corrects me because the notes is actually the symbol for Scorpio. She recently celebrated her birthday.

When it comes to singing, are you trying to pursue that? I mentioned YouTube and the like.

“No, they’re really dedicated. YouTubers, really dedicated. And they have the equipment for it. I just kind of do it for fun, and on my own. Relaxation.”

“I’ve just recently been trying to get more accustomed to singing in front of people. I do a lot of karaoke…” She laughs, but she enjoys it. “I love being that performer.”

She shares with me how her brother moved her to be a stand-up comedian. Her profession as a teacher, like her brother, puts her in front of audiences.

“Singing is a little embarrassing. It’s like your own voice. Some people aren’t going to like it. That’s true. It’s going to happen. Just gotta get used to it.” We talk about the vulnerability part.

Have you had any other kind of Life-Defining Moments that pushed you into this space? Wanting to help kids, teach them…?

“Yes!”

“That’s all articulated in my scholarship essay to go to China. That was like the hardest thing to do — just writing that essay over the summer. I’ve never done so much self-reflection because I’ve never wanted to do something so much. It required me to be truthful with myself, and actually stop and think about my goals. At my age, it’s such a critical moment for you to do that, and see what the hell you’ve been doing in school the whole time, and what are you going to do for the rest of your life! It’s completely terrifying, right? But once you find that passion, that really helped me… just make the decisions I needed to to get to where I wanted to go. That’s the formula. Just do the things!”

“What was stopping me was working for that software technology.” She described how the job environment was not right for her. She described the two years of working there, but it was her first time having to stand up… really for herself. The position was terrible for her, and sounded like it was a really great for her.

“Changing my life, changing my income and the things I did everyday really showed me that, ‘okay, yes, become a teacher now’. I teach instead. Alright, now you’re committed to that! That is one thing that certainly led me on the path that I’m on now… teaching, that is.”

“Also, just my overall interest in science is why I chose that specific place. I just love science! I started out as a biology major, but I didn’t want to be in a lab forever. So I found technical writing instead. It still allowed me to write about science and learn about science and tell it to other people — which is what I do. My friends say I act like a tour guide. I do that on purpose. I just like explaining things to people.”

You probably enjoy it so much you want them to understand it and be a part of that.

“Exactly. Yeah. That’s number one. And number two, personally, is (if you want something very personal for your blog)… so I mentioned I’m half-Chinese, and half-white. The reason that I want to go to China is because my mom, who is Chinese, was adopted. She is completely Americanized. It was strange… my whole life, I grew up in South Florida. Pretty country. Pretty white. And everyone would call me the token Asian. They made fun of me a lot — I’m sure you’ve heard that. Derogatory terms for Asian people, right? So I always saw myself as Asian. That’s my thing. That’s my identity. But then, when I got to college, there was so much more diverse people there. I wanted to reach out and find out more about my roots, so I joined this Asian organization — a group of women. But then, they discriminated against me for being white! I never ever looked at myself as being white. So they would make fun of me equally as the white people did.” She shared some of the things they would say just based on her actions describing as “that’s so white”.

“So I think both parties are just being malicious. I discovered that, first of all, I don’t know what the heck my identity is. I still need to figure that out. Number two, I don’t want anyone to feel like I did to feel like they don’t have a place. In helping them be better communicators, I think, would lead to more tolerance probably.”

What’s holding you back? (Thanks to Samantha, Stranger 54)

“It’s honestly probably a combination of myself in thinking that I have to prove something to other people.”

“I don’t know why I think that. That’s how I feel about China, for example. I told everyone I was going, and now, I’m thinking, ‘I don’t want to go!'” she laughs. “But I now I feel like I have to because I told everyone already, right? Now they’ll think of me in some way. I know their thoughts don’t really matter. Just what I think. But what’s holding me back then is the fact that, I guess… I feel like I have to live up to other people’s standards and care what they think.”

“… down down. But, I think if push comes to shove, I could probably overcome that, and just be happy wherever I end up.”

“That’s a good question,” she laughs again.

What’s a question you’d like to ask anyone?

“I like your question about ‘what in your life brought you to where you are today?’ That’s a question I want to ask someone. So the question would be like, ‘what is your earliest memory? And why do you hold that as your earliest memory, and remembering it now and articulating it, what does that mean for you today?'”

“I think our earliest memories do shape the way that we think about things. The way we’ve led our lives without us even realizing it. For example, in doing that huge self-reflection for the essay, why do I like science so much? I thought back to seemingly meaningless times with my father when I would watch Nova together on PBS and watch science shows. I wonder if my interest in science comes from that bond.”

After the handshake.

I definitely identified and connected with Natalie here about a recent experience of having some stereotype cast on me. This happens often, but one recent event… I had on my black pair of Tom’s shoes. If you don’t know Tom’s shoes, they’re like slippers-esque. As I sat in the dentist chair the other day, one of the assistants immediately asked me if I knew karate. Oh boy… I knew what was happening here. I asked her why. She responded by pointing at my shoes. I responded by telling her they’re just Tom’s. Her response, “I just knew”.

First, yes, I do know karate. (Damn it.) However, these are Tom’s shoes. I know several people who have Tom’s… black pairs like mine! I get asked probably half the time I wear these shoes if I knew karate, where did I get these karate shoes, or just compliments on my martial arts shoes. Normally, I don’t pay much attention to these stereotypes. However, perhaps because of this year’s Presidential campaign, these little stereotype-comments are standing out more and more. And this was just a simple version. I won’t even get into otherwise embarrassing, emasculating situations like on a bus in college by some football players. Nope. Won’t get into it. It’s not fun, so I’m happy Natalie shared her experience. It’s now letting me share mine.

Other than all that, I enjoyed getting to know Natalie. I enjoyed hearing how she really loved science. Whenever she mentioned science, she smiled and her face lit up. I’m now thinking if science really is that interesting to her or if that special memory of watching science shows with her father is just that powerful. In either case, it doesn’t matter. It’s just fantastic to hear how she’s bringing together her love for science, communication, and teaching kids. How great is that?

So for Natalie, I don’t think you (we, anyone) needs have something to identify ourselves as. I think you’re just great being you — not Chinese, not white, not even a woman. Instead, you’re you. Those who don’t appreciate you for you don’t deserve to be in your life.

Thanks for letting me get to know you, and share our “Asian/ Chinese connection”. Haha. But perhaps even greater, thanks for connecting as just… people.

Meet Natalie. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 49, Day 49 - Meet Sara

Stranger 49, Day 49 – Meet Sara, the “Team Player”

I used to visit one of my good friends’ office at Atlanta Tech Village. Getting to his office requiring stepping through an intermediate office of another startup. So I would pass through this startup’s office saying the courteous hello, and just kept walking. Don’t know their names or anything. I must’ve seemed like a jerk.

Today, I got to meet one of the startup’s employees. Though funnily, I met her at my usual Starbucks as she was getting her car services nearby. And also coincidentally, my buddy was at the Starbucks, so he helped fashion the intro.

Meet Sara, 27

Who are you?

Her head cocks back as she gasps like she just saw a ghost.

“Who am I? Gosh… okay… I… $h!t! I don’t even know how to answer that.”

“Alright, well, Sara without an ‘h’. I’m 27. Atlanta-native. I joined the startup community in February of this year, and basically, took the biggest risk of my life. Left corporate America where everything was solid, and a good salary and benefits, and I said, ‘screw it! I’m not into it at all’, and join this startup company that had no money to its name, and said, ‘let’s do it!'”

“… and now, eight months later, I have a whole new network of friends, and on my way to Denver in two months to launch the business out there.”

“I have kind of just found myself in the past eight months, honestly. Just went into the startup community working at Tech Village meeting people that inspire me everyday.” She mentions how it’s “normal” to not say hey, and just “observe from afar”.

“I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle to saying hey to everybody. Talking to people. Getting to know people. There’s no reason not to be nice to people. No reason not to say hey to people. I learned that from learning with startups and working at Tech Village, and being involved with what’s a whole new community in a city I’ve lived in all my life. So yeah. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.”

Except, she continues. 🙂

“I’m also a massive advocate of team sports,” she laughs. “Kind of transitions into my lifestyle of working and building teams for our startup. Live, eat, and breathe sports in general. I grew up playing soccer. Massive football fan — RISE UP!… the Falcons. I do all of these soccer leagues on the side because I still love the game. Walk around swollen ankles left and right. So yeah. I take everything I’ve learned from sports. It’s one of those things I grew up knowing I can’t do anything without my teammates. Can’t accomplish anything that I want to do without them, without the help of someone else. That’s kind of how I put in all of the work into my team that I build out for work now. It’s what I live by. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.”

Sara laughs again. “Silly!”

You mentioned you weren’t really inspired from corporate America. What was the uninspiring thing that really… ‘I gotta go!’?

“Things that I wanted to create, things that I thought I could be good at, and things that I wanted to try and potentially fail at, and be better at it again, that opportunity wasn’t really praised a lot. It wasn’t something where the idea of failure being an option. In corporate America, something that’s so developed already. Processes already developed. It wasn’t something that you didn’t feel all of the support behind it. So it made me timid to try things new.”

What made you jump onboard with Sifted?

“Jess and Kimberly — our cofounders. The product… our product — chef-made lunches. It’s a cool concept. We always joke that it’s some ridiculous concept to bring lunches into corporate offices. We didn’t know what we were doing going into Atlanta, to be honest in the beginning. We just thought this was something cool. These are our people. This is what we want to do. But those two women changed the game for me. I can see it when they talked about it. Can see it in their eyes. Hear it in their voice. The way we connected as three people sitting in a coffee shop together. I was like, ‘these are my people. They’re going to let me make mistakes. They’re going to let me fail. And they’re going to teach me how to be great.’ So those two women are what brought me onto the team.”

So what’s something that you have failed at that you’re like, ‘at least I tried,’ and what was the learning from that?

“I’ve been tasked with hiring out one of the hardest positions of our company, and maintaining that position which is our host team.”

“So basically, when we go into an office space, and we sign a client. We have something like a perk that we offer. It’s professional, creative, on-site host to foster the client relationship and give a true experience behind lunch. Not just, ‘here’s lunch. Eat. Go on with your day.’ There’s an experience behind it. That’s what our host provide — the culture of Sifted. We kind of bring that into the office space.”

“We have to hire out part-time hosts. I can only really offer them up to 15 hours a week, and it’s in the dead-center of the day for lunch which is the most difficult time to give up just two hours in your day. And to transport food in your car, and to do heavy-lifting… it’s a very difficult job to hire for, and only minimal hours I can offer them. And so at the rate Atlanta’s growing, at the rate I believe Austin’s going to grow, Denver’s going to grow… in any city we tackle in 2017, I’ve gotta find a way to foster these employees. And you know, I had to hire one, and now we have 12, and I’m looking to get to 25. It’s all about finding the right candidate — quality over quantity. Hands down. It’s all about getting them invested in the culture of the company, and getting them invested in that they’re going to make a difference regardless of how small they may imagine the host part-time role of this fast-growing startup is.”

“Every single thing they do everyday is making a difference. They have a huge role in the development of the company. And so, it’s a lot of knowing that they have to understand… they have to know and have confidence in me that I’ve got their back every single time, and I’m going to help them grow in whatever they want to grow in. And that they fit the mold, and they feel they can find themselves in this team.”

“It’s much more than just being able to give them a high monetary value on the team. It’s much more than giving them as many hours as possible. It’s more like how they can personally relate to the company. I’ve hired some not-good fits for the team. I have lost people on the team. I’ve failed at that plenty of times trying to figure it out. Over time, I finally think I’ve got a grip on it. Now, we’re just hiring out really bad ass hosts. They’re really cool.”

What’s one of those characteristics that you have to have?

“So when I’m interviewing someone for the host position, I’m always, forever going to ask what’s their dream job. A lot of these hosts that we’re hiring are either straight out of college, or they’re young professionals willing to make a change, a career change. And they’re willing to give up everything they have, and just start somewhere. These people have huge dreams. College students come to us with the world at their fingertips. Young professionals who are looking for a full-blown career shift, and willing to go from salary to part-time… feels like they have the world at their fingertips. So there’s something driving them behind the scenes.”

“I always ask them what’s their biggest passion? What do they want to do most? How do they think that they can get something out of it through us. At that point, they tell me their full-blown life stories. You can hear it in their voice, even on a phone interview, and than saying, ‘this is everything that I absolutely love in life.’ If you can hear that passion in their voice just talking about whatever they want to do whether it’s food-related, startup-related, whatever-related, that’s the one key right there. If I can hear it in their voice on a call, I’ll bring them in to shadow, and see if they fit the team.”

We talk a little about a few books I read that would be great for her including: Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Success, and Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment.

What is your Dream? And what’s the biggest obstacle in that way?

“So my biggest Dream… something that’s been piling in my head. I don’t talk about it too much. I want to find a way to start a philanthropy aspect within Sifted. Long term, I’ve always wanted to do something campaign fundraising-wise. I never knew what it was. It was a very broad concept in my head. I remember when I was 18 freshman year, my teacher asked me what do I want to do in life.”

“”The only thing that I could ever come up with was to help people. They’re like, ‘oh, you want to be a doctor.’ I was not really digging the medical, you know? That’s always been the concept. So when I came on at Sifted, we were asking clients, we’re asking businesses to take back lunch, essentially. We’re asking them pause during the day, and enjoy time with coworkers and eat lunch with coworkers.”

“So I have this big, huge, long-term dream of being able to give back lunch. To children, to kids… where some way, shape, or fashion that every client we serve in the day — we’re on big-scale mode — we can account for how many meals we’re serving someone else who can’t afford to have a meal at home. Or a meal at school at lunch. At Sifted, a portion of our profits are going to based on how many clients we’re serving, how many lunches we’re feeding in a day… account for some meal that a kid eating in a third-world country, or just somewhere else in general.”

“That’s my biggest one. My biggest obstacle, about that, is honing that in and figuring it out. That’s super long-term. I have a lot more learning to do. I have a lot more development professionally to do that. But that’s kind of this big, huge dream, so now I just need to find the pathway to get up there.”

“Short-term, launching Denver!” she laughs. “Getting out to Denver!”

“That’s a big one for me. I’m an Atlanta-native. I’m leaving. The idea of leaving family. My brother’s out there so I’ll have some family network, but leaving the city limits that I grew up in — what I know very well like the back of my hand — tackling something new with a company that’s a startup, and new to that network, that’s, right now, the biggest challenge I have.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? What’s the first thing you would do? (Thanks to Meg, Stranger 48)

“Oh… that’s a great question.” She thinks. “If I think anywhere in the world right now…”

“… I would probably… I’d head out… my sister and I — I’m on vacation mode right now, thinking of vacation here — I want to go out to Thailand, to be honest. Be on the beach, and I really want to do an elephant conservation. Learn all about that. My sister’s really into that. She follows them, donates to them. So she’s always wanted to go. I want to travel with her, and support her with it. We’ve always talked about that being the big dream is to go out there and explore the wildlife conservations and stuff. Yeah, that’s kind of, sort of in my head always. Sounds silly, but yeah, definitely!”

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

“There was something you could’ve changed yesterday, what would it have been?”

After the handshake.

Sara brought the energy today! She was super friendly, and laughed quite a bit. While she was sharing the story behind her joining the startup, I could feel how much she enjoyed working there.  I sense that her enthusiasm and general passion for the business (and indeed having a hand in its growth) was very similar to how she felt meeting the cofounders that convinced her to join.

Now, I’m eager to meet the cofounders so I can get a direct sense of their passion. Though my friend no longer has an office at the Village, I’ll make the trip to meet more from Sara’s team just because.

Great to finally meet Sara, and I’m excited for her very-near future. Plus, she’s kinda impressive (and/ or crazy) to be playing on an ankle that is the size of a softball.

Meet Sara. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 39, Day 39 - Meet Megan

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

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

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

Meet Megan, 33

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

What is the key to running a great event?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s another way that you challenge yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

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

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet Megan. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 36, Day 36 - Meet Jeff

Stranger 36, Day 36 – Meet Jeff, the “Always There”

My weekends are getting wicked packed much like my weekdays now. Before noon, I had already met up with family and friends, hiked Stone Mountain, coordinated some meetings, and etc. etc. So today, I immediately looked for someone to speak to while walking to my “next thing” as the rest of my Saturday wasn’t going to get any slower. Lo and behold, I spotted a guy who just sat down at a table on the sidewalk about to whip out his phone. Insert me, a complete Stranger to ask him a few questions.

Meet Jeff, 36

Who are you?

“Born and raised here in Atlanta. Played baseball all my life. Now me and my dad have a company together. Engaged to get married in May. Doing that! Livin’ life!”

I introduced myself as the “other person born and raised here in Atlanta.”

I take it baseball is one of your passions… what else?

“Now, I’m just a fan. Baseball… Unfortunately, I’m a workaholic — can’t help it. Everyone I went to college with, I was in a fraternity, so I keep in contact with all my friends. Church. And… cannot say I’m passionate about politics. I’m too PO’ed about it now. It’s awful.” Jeff laughs.

Jeff tells me how he went and played baseball at the Middle College and State University in Milledgeville, GA.

You started this company with your dad. What do you want to grow out of that?

“Well, it’s a commercial real estate company. We’ve grown. I like the fact we’ve given people jobs. We’ve got 40-something employees — probably as big as we can get. Most of the people have been with us for 15 years or so. For us, it’s about continue to grow in the community. Continuity to work with people who we’ve worked with for a long time, and build relationships.”

Have you had a Life-Defining Moment?

“I got in a really bad car accident back in 2001. Someone t-boned me. I was in a coma for three months. Both legs broken. I have rods. I have rods in this arm. I have barely any use of this hand.” Jeff motions over his legs and arms and hold out his hand.

“Yeah, that’ll define you a little bit.”

“But God saw me through that one. Able to walk out. Everything’s still intact.”

The car accident occurred one week before graduating from college, too. I asked him how it changed his life.

“If there was some major person at fault, or something, I’d probably have to look at it a little differently.” Jeff goes on to tell me how it was raining really hard, and as he started to take off from a stop, the car heading in a perpendicular direction could not stop in time. Jeff acknowledged that the other driver was probably going to fast so he couldn’t stop in time, but did not place too much blame on the driver. Again, Jeff acknowledged it as an accident, and one that was due to weather conditions.

“Wasn’t something he meant to do, so at some point, I just had to get over that this moment of being in a wreck and how to recover, what do I have to do to get back to where I was. What do I have to do to get get back physically. Not dwell on why or what happened. Just move forward.”

Has that influenced you in any other type of way? This was an accident, but knowing that something like that can happen, how has that changed you today?

Jeff tells me how he’s very conscious of things like driving, especially. He’s very conscious of others’ driving habits like texting a driving.

“I guess it really hasn’t affected me from driving, like driving habits. I was always like a grandma-driver, anyways. It does make me more conscious of my surroundings when driving, for sure. It’s also given me a new lease on life. It could’ve gotten a lot worse. His car did hit right on my door. In fact, it could’ve been a much worse accident. Fortunately, I was in a truck that did a good job of not getting me too hurt. In the end, you have to look back on it, and say you’re real fortunate and God had your back. Just keep trying to live your life, I guess.”

“Sometimes you can get in a habit of living your life, you don’t think about it. But when you do stop and think about it, you reminisce on how lucky you really were.”

Who can you say were all around you supporting you?

“Parents!”

“I never had a situation where I had a bad break-up. So any girl friends that I had — I had a few — I’m still very good friends with, and all of them were there through the whole thing. That was pretty good. I was in a fraternity. Every single one of the fraternity brothers were there the whole time. Some people look down on fraternities and all that, but in the end, you make some friends that you end up keeping your whole life, that’s for sure.”

Do you have a Life Lesson that you’d like to share?

“Never let yourself get down. Always look at the positive side of whatever the situation is. That’s how I always look at it. I know lots of people who seem to be “the glass is half-empty” attitude all the time. I just always try to find what’s the best thing that could possibly come out of whatever. That’s kind of how I always operate.”

Is that how that helps you be one of the leaders in your company?

“I think that makes you successful. If you’re down or depressed or whatever, you don’t tend to succeed. That’s just my opinion, but if you’re in a bad mood or you always seeing the negative in the situation. You’re not going to try to excel. You’re just going to be focused on whatever the problem it is you’re seeing as opposed to seeing what you could possibly make happen out of it. I think that’s something definitely is an attitude thing that people need to work on. Try to stay as possible as you can.”

What would it take for you to talk to 100 strangers in 100 days? (Thanks to Mike, Stranger 35)

“As a sales person, I talk to strangers all the time!” Haha, yeah, but what about without the motivation to sell…

“I guess a want to meet more people. Want to expand your friends base who you’re not even friends necessarily… more of a connectivity base.”

Jeff adds, “100 days is a pretty long time when you think about it actually!” We laugh about this. It most definitely is.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What kind of an impact do you want to leave on this world?” To this, I asked Jeff what impact he wants to leave behind.

“In the end, family and friends said if they ever needed anything, I was always the one that was there. I will always try to be that person — some need, or if somebody needed something. ‘Watch my kids’ or whatever. They can call me, and know I would do it. Simple stuff like that.”

After the handshake.

From the get-go, Jeff was ready to go. I was partly surprised that he didn’t have to think much about any of the questions. In fact, he went straight into each question almost immediately. It’s as if he either already thought of some of these questions before, or he’s just that quick of a thinker. For the latter, he is in sales, so maybe he’s real good at improvisation as he crystallized on his true answer.

I also appreciate how Jeff recognized that to make an impact on someone’s life like always being dependable, it’s not always the big stuff we glorify. Instead, it’s the simple stuff like “watching a friend’s kids” or being available for a call. Being dependable and someone others can trust isn’t about the big stuff. It’s usually about the little things that no one else ever celebrates or even knows.

Meet Jeff. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 27, Day 27 - Meet Brooke

Stranger 27, Day 27 – Meet Brooke, the “Friendliest Singer”

So one of the very faces I thought of when I set off on this project was this incredibly friendly barista at Starbucks. Instead of my name when ordering my drink, I once gave a superhero’s name — “Ironman”. Okay, okay, I still do it, and I cycle through superheros because it’s fun. So anyways, this particular barista has since called me Ironman with a smile on her face always greeting me and the other guests. She’s super friendly, and I barely knew her name.

Today, I got a chance to finally meet her, and I am glad I did.

Meet Brooke, 33

Who are you?

To start, I asked her if her name was “Brooke” with an “e”. Her response, “yes, separates me from a stream of water.” Haha. Nice.

“I’m a silly girl. I’m stuck in my 20’s still — my mentality. I work at Starbucks. I’m a barista. I’m a singer, songwriter, and producer. I am a daughter and a sister and a loving person. That’s pretty much it!” She smiles almost timidly.

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

“I’ve had a passion since I was 3-years-old to become a singer, and sing to everyone across the world. I’m passionate about singing anything. I’ve been singing my whole life.”

I asked her if this was her dream, too, to which she responded, “… it’s all wrapped into one — yeah! Entertain people with singing. I’m passionate about learning how to be as good as I can be as a singer.”

How did you find your voice?

“I’ve been in this music world since I was really young — a lot of soul and R&B music were my main influence from the 70s all the way till now. Pretty much every artist that I can consume has been my helper — I haven’t really said, ‘I need to be this way.’ I’m just growing and learning and accepting everything with music.”

You mentioned accepting situations… was there a really tough situation you had to accept?

“I’ve had so many tough situations. Mainly as a young person, it was mainly not having that set family — a broken family. Brothers living in different places. Sisters living in separate places. Parents never together. That was a challenge for me because I haven’t had a stable lifestyle at all. It’s been a lot of moving — every year, every year, something new. Kind of got used to it because you’re expecting change when you go through so many changes. But then again, I kind of want the stable lifestyle with just immediate family. So those were some of the challenging things as a child.”

“As an adult, it’s kind of similar because when you start out with instability, you try to get that as an adult and try to maintain what stable lifestyle as an adult I can do. My parents were dealing with having children too young… they weren’t ready to be parents.”

What’s a lesson you’ve learned from all that?

“To always reference back to love. In my teachings… I’ve pretty much accepted lots of spiritual teachings from many different ways. I grew up in a church lifestyle, but converted to learning meta-physical teaching. To me, the creator of all things is love. So I just take my mind back to meditating on love, and I feel like that helps me stay balanced and at peace and help everybody else.”

Brooke opens up to me and is a little taken aback realizing that I truly am learning about her. Then she says that she really doesn’t open up too much to the people around her. She admits that she’s always wanted to get to know me.

So how does someone get to know you (given you don’t share much in the first place)?

“So first of all, I’m not too much hidden because I wear my emotions on my sleeve. So most of the time when someone asks me how I’m doing, I’m going to automatically share. I’m not automatically closed up.”

She then smiles… “I’m a motor mouth! I could talk people’s ears off!” I laugh.

She continues, “I try not to push myself on people because I know I can do that. But it’s more or less if we can relate on something that I’ll share with you more about me”

Is there a common perception about you that people have that you’d like to dispel? If so, what is that?

“I think that because I’m sensitive and because I can be emotional about things easily, a lot of times, it can be considered weak. But I have learned that it’s actually a strength, and that’s because I’m not afraid to share how I feel. People who don’t share how they really feel are a little more weak — not willing to share their emotions. It’s something I learned. I thought like everyone else, ‘that made me weak’, but now, I’m learning that’s my strength!”

I promised to share with her Brene Brown’s TED talk and her book Daring Greatly that I read earlier this year. Bottom line: Vulnerability is not a weakness. It’s a strength. Great leaders are able to be confident and inspire others by being vulnerable.

If you could run into any Stranger with the intention of creating a conversation with them, who would you like that to be… of people you know of? (Thanks to Ed, Stranger 26)

This came to Brooke relatively quickly — “First person… the rapper T.I.”

“It’s because he’s had such a successful career with all the drama and issues with his personal life. I just wanted to more, or less, learn whatever it is you give to someone who’s a new artist — some advice and guidance. Anything! It seems like a challenging lifestyle to deal with regular stuff in, and promote yourself as a musical artist. Crazy!”

“That’s someone I’d love to meet.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“How do you feel about all their life choices… if you could have the life you want, what would that be?”

After the handshake.

To Brooke: So Brooke, I’m so glad we finally sat down and met. Even though I didn’t share much about me, let’s face it — you’re more interesting. 🙂

Brooke is one of the many smiling faces we run into at coffee shops, restaurants, in the office, etc. She’s another example of someone who is incredibly friendly, and due to our “busyness” we don’t get beyond the typical “hello”. But just with a few questions and a couple minutes, I got to appreciate how Brooke works real hard on her passion of singing. It’s a life-long passion for her, and it sounds like the very passion that helps her through the challenges of life. She knows her WHY and her PURPOSE, as Simon Sinek would say, and I’m rooting for her.

Meet Brooke. No longer a Stranger.

 

Stranger 24, Day 24 - Meet Jacqui

Stranger 24, Day 24 – Meet Jacqui, the “Explorer”

Picking out a Stranger is a little bit of judging and a little bit of just-do-it and a wee-bit of this-person-seems-open-enough. Today’s Stranger, I wasn’t quite ready to meet a Stranger as I was buckling down on some writing for work, but a woman next to me spoke a few words to me about a situation that happened next to us. It was pretty basic, but it actually gave me this nudge to ask her to be the Stranger interview for today.

Funny enough, I had pulled up a chair to work behind her a few minutes earlier. As I moved my chairs, she actually glanced in my direction a few times before shifting where she was sitting. I felt like I offended her in some way before she told me she was uncomfortable with people sitting behind her. She was writing in a book and abruptly rotated her chair which triggered in my mind, “yeah, she probably wouldn’t be a good candidate to talk to for a Stranger post.” So simple, but that’s where my mind went only for me to reverse that thinking and ask her just minutes later because she spoke to me out-of-the-blue.

… and boy was I happy I got a chance to meet her.

Meet Jacqui, 47

Who are you?

Jacqui starts laughing.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. My husband passed away 4.5 years ago, so I could say widow, but don’t that fits anymore… or if it ever really did. I’m a writer, too. But also, a ‘health communications specialist for the government’.” She talks about how she is reading different books including one about having a day job different from a passion and hobby — the importance of giving both different “breathes”.

She goes back to asking herself, “Who am I?” and laughs again. She’s unsure for a moment.

“An explorer, an adventurer… don’t like the word ‘intellectual’, but a thinker. I’m in a weird position as a 47-year-old woman — not a wife, not a mother. So sometimes it’s hard to figure out where you fit. I’m fairly grateful for the freedom I have.”

She shares how she did not have a “conventional family growing up”. She did on paper, but cites the “abusive, alcoholic family” she grew up in. Jacqui jumps into how her upbringing without having the expectations of a supportive family has made her more self-reliant.

At this point, Jacqui’s actually going in several different directions including how she values conversations like she and I are having right now. I’m happy to let it flow from here and the next question…

Why are you open to these types of conversations? What makes these conversations unique and special?

Jacqui remarks how she believes many people live certain lives that they’re happy with, but they are not the type of life she wants for herself. Jacqui shares how traveling opens her life up — “it’s like pulling a string on a sweater” and how “you do one thing and you discover five other things. It’s all part of the quest and the great part of life. I love to learn and continuing to explore. There’s just so much… people can always surprise you. There are so many types of people.”

She goes on to share, “I didn’t really learn what love really was till I became an adult because I learned a lot of wrong things.” She shares how she is more comfortable exploring and living life on her own, and partly because she never grew up in a life where the familial unit was so important that her life revolved around the family unit.

She describes her value of time as a “primal reaction” given her upbringing and the loss of her husband 4.5 years ago. She’s been able to recover and still live life despite trauma — “neuro plasticity”. She’s thankful for being able to recover and not let these difficult moment define her.

Jacqui goes on to share how her golden retriever that passed away recently was a great “reliever” for her. She had many PTSD symptoms, and was thankful for her dog to be her comfort dog. Now, she has a golden retriever puppy that she wants to train to be a comfort dog for others. She tells me how she wants to take her new puppy to hospitals to help others grieve and to enjoy “the good times. Nothing good or bad lasts forever.”

Jacqui shares how she views much of society as very much in instant gratification mode, and how technology gives us so many options that sometimes, we see too many other opportunities. We can move on if we run into trouble, and we lack an ability to “handle it” (it being difficult situations).

We’re laughing together now as she laments going back into the dating pool, especially online dating.

What’s a Life Lesson you’d like to share given your travails?

“Don’t worry so much about the future — you have no control over it. I don’t mean that in the ominous way. I mean it’s very freeing. I just get up and try to do the best I can everyday. You just have today.”

She then talks about how she spoke with a dog owner walking his 13-year-old dog earlier today. They were talking for a while before talking to him about the importance of enjoying the time he has now with his dog. His dog is older, and the owner realizes this “impending moment”. As she thinks about this, tears start to well up in Jacqui’s eyes behind her sunglasses.

She goes on, “there’s nothing in our lives that lasts forever except for ourselves.” I’m thinking about what she’s telling me, and there’s a hint of gloom to it. I think about myself and how a lack of expectations and attachment has a way of limiting my enjoyment in life… or even desire. So I ask her…

How do you balance that? (Balance this notion of “inevitability” and “expectation or want”)

“I’m working to getting to know who I am. I’m learning self-care.” She admits that she thought being self-caring was selfishness before, but realizing that there’s a big difference. She needs to learn to love herself.

“You’re going to be with yourself your whole life! There aren’t that many others who will be. Not in a negative way, but it’s just reality. So I got an early glimpse of that before most.” This last comment was about the death of her husband — 10 days after her birthday.

“It was pretty terrifying. I liked not knowing how quickly my life can change at any given moment.”

“I think people would be kinder to one another if they knew that might be the last time you might see someone. I think people would treat each other very differently. So many people have so much going on that they don’t share with the world. Everybody has something that weighs heavy on them. We need to be just kinder.”

Is there something that a lot of people don’t know that you wish they would?

“I’m a pretty open book.” However, I realize that there’s a difference between being open and people knowing.

She’s thinking about everything going on, and confesses that she’s introverted but trying to “correct this with closer friends and some family members. Even though they all tell me lovely thing about how strong I am since this happened and how amazing I am and… I just have always been…” She tells me a story about how as a baby, her parents never knew when she was awake because she never cried. She tells me this because she admits that “that’s my temperment. But I think because of it, people don’t realize how much I’m hurting and also I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so I don’t always tell them. I love to put a smile on someone’s face and leave them that way.”

So how do you wish would know? How would someone be able to help when you’re hurting?

“I’d have to be vulnerable.”

Do you give off subtle cues for your friends to know when you’re hurting?

She tells me how her closest friends can see right through her, and she starts crying with them. She then starts wiping away tears realizing that she’s hitting that point with me.

She shares how she’s here journaling because she just sold her house in Virginia that she owned with her husband. Meanwhile, her dog recently passed away, and her friend just had a wedding. So for her, she admits that she’s in a difficult time. She shares how that when she’s crying, you know it’s the truth.

“I’m an honest person, but I don’t think I’m honest about myself sometimes. Like there’s a facade.” She’s crying more, and I feel sorry but also happy that she’s sharing. It’s clear she wants to share, and I’m happy to be someone she can share with.

She also wonders if people are used to seeing me with others crying… The answer is no. haha

Jacqui then shares a great story… she received a condolence card about the death of her dog from several friends from high school. Her high school classmates had their 30th reunion to which she could not attend due to her dog’s death. It was really nice to have received a card signed by so many of her old classmates, but she admits that she is still unused to that type of support because she still does not get that even from her family.

Before moving on, I had a quick question I wanted to interject — would you like a hug?

“Of course!” and so we hugged.

We laughed some more and talked about other things including our backgrounds.

“Life will continue to have its heavy moment, but I feel like I’ve probably had a good share of them, and it’s probably time for some lighter stuff.” She laughs and awaits my next question.

Where are 3 places you’d like to go see before you die, or 3 things you’d like to do? (Thanks to Erin, Stranger 23)

“I really want to go to Italy… feel like Rome. It won’t come as a surprise, I was depressed for a couple years after my husband died, and I feel like now, part of the lightness is…” she pauses to think.

“I gained a bunch of weight, and I’d like to lose weight. I did yoga, and there’s nothing wrong with yoga, but I want to do something more active… and have some fun! ‘Crazy thought.’ So maybe I want to get a pair of roller skates. I hear roller skates are coming back. So Rome appeals because it just sounds like the most vibrant, exciting, maybe even over-stimulating but still very passionate, alive city.”

She’s thinking out loud with me trying to realize the other things she has thought about but has not written it down.

“… things I want to do… I would like to get re-married. That would be an adventure… and apply all that I’ve learned about myself over the past few years without overwhelming someone… hahaha,” she laughs. “I think I’m a little bit of a bubble in some ways as you can when you live alone.”

“The third… kind of random, but whatever! There’s an 85-year-old English lady living inside of me. I really want to go to this Burley… it’s this type of china that has been around forever. I want to go to these factories and see people do these things. That stuff is going to go away eventually — these crafts-kinds of things that have been done for hundreds of years. Visit English gardens…”

“So there’s Rome… WOOOO!!… and there’s the two sides of me — the balance of me. So there’s the English with china and having tea and scones. That’s also appealing. And just really, I’m really into history. Just going to a place that’s been around for so long, for good or bad. Really exploring that.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What is your deepest fear?”

After the handshake.

This was actually a pretty long interview — much longer than the 5-7 minutes I told her it’d take. However, we just let our little meet flow, and she started and ended by taking the conversation where she wanted to. Much like Steve, the “Musician” from Stone Mountain, I realized early on that Jacqui had a lot to share, and she WANTED to share. I think that’s a key piece to a lot of this which is also why Jacqui was open to sharing the tough moments of her life and for her to be vulnerable and even shed a few tears. As she mentioned, she didn’t necessarily have subtle cues, but instead, she let herself be vulnerable and share her story with me (and with you). It’s an amazing thing.

Perhaps hitting home in me much harder than some other stories was her mention of how some people, good or bad, will come and go. She said this as a fact and rather casually, but to me, it hits home a little more seriously as I consider a key person in my life leaving soon. Add to that what Jacqui suggested to have an almost okay feeling about it, I definitely do not. I have tried (and still do) to not have expectations and just be “okay” with people leaving, but in my case, it’s tough, and “being okay” depends on how I deal with it being “okay”, if that makes sense. For me, I catch myself trying to be isolated more so as a defense mechanism. However, I also value this sad feeling because it highlights how much this person means to me. So as Jacqui talked about, it’s important to have balance. So far, I’m stuck going from one extreme to another… not quite the balance she suggests.

In any case, I’m thrilled that Jacqui opened up to me, and I’m happy we hugged as “strangers”. As this journey continues to unfold, it’s easy to see how we are all Strangers, and yet, simply connecting just for a moment feels like we aren’t Strangers at all.

So meet Jacqui. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 22, Day 22 - Meet Carling

Stranger 22, Day 22 – Meet Carling, the “Ecstatic Wellness Enthusiast”

I’m talking to my buddy at Starbucks while also wondering who was going to be the “Stranger of the Day”. As I’m looking around, I notice someone across the room, but this meant I had to interrupt her… studying or work. I wasn’t sure what she was doing, but I knew there weren’t that many people there. But only seconds later, did this chick wave at me. I was a little shocked — “I’ve been found!” — and wondering what I did… turns out, I kinda met her last weekend. She was here with a friend talking about blogging — one of the key words my ears listen for. So we met briefly, but I didn’t know her. (If you couldn’t already tell because I didn’t recognize her very well when she waved the first time.)

Anyways, so I met her, but only briefly. And this is where my Rules for Engagement come in (which I should document sometime soon) — I really didn’t know her. I didn’t know how old she was, who she was, what her passions and dreams were… she was Stranger. So I approached her, and this is the start of getting to know today’s Stranger…

Meet Carling, 24

Who are you?

“I am a student and I was born in Canada — St. Catherines in Ontario — and parents moved to Charlotte, NC. I have now lived in Atlanta for 3 years. I’m going to Georgia State. I’m studying psychology, and I’m working on an online health-coaching certificate — that’s I’m half-way through.”

Carling is smiling pretty big as we start this. I’ve had some pretty happy and excited Strangers in the past, but Carling’s probably the most excited. This, in turn, makes me more excited.

“I’m one of seven kids. Number 3 (from the top)…” I was wondering if people ever say start from the bottom. We laugh as we both say, “now we’re here”. She’s kinda nerdy like me.

I love psychology, so my next question was pretty simple — Why psychology?

“I just love people and knowing how they work and myself… how I can improve myself. I feel psychology plays a lot in that.”

What are your hopes and dreams for Psychology? Or even beyond?

“I originally wanted to be an academic adviser for freshman. I was an exercise science major, and I wanted to do PT. But it was only because when I was 18, you have to decide what you want to do. I ran track in high school, so I wanted to be a physical therapist. Half-way through, I shadowed at a PT office, and I hated it. So I that’s when I wanted to be that filter for that 18-year-old who says, ‘I want to do exercise’, because no one ever asked, ‘why do you want to do that?’ No one ever asked, ‘why do you want to do that?’ No one ever stopped me and asked me, ‘are you sure? Go shadow before you make that decision.’ So I was like, ‘I want to do that!’ but you have to have a Masters to do that. So I have to do an undergrad for that anyways, so I chose psychology.”

“I finished up in May, but I’m going to take a year to figure that out. I’m not going to jump into grad school because I’m learning more about different paths. And I’m actually more interested now in the holistic health — eating and fueling your body.”

What do you think is key to being healthy? What does being healthy mean?

“Being healthy is about… feeling your body and your… soul — for the recording, I put that in quotations.” Haha, I just wanted to include exactly what she said.

“That’s eating plant-based vegetables… organic when you can, but also healthy relationships and positive thinking, and time for yourself.”

I asked her if I was healthy because I ate things that ate the vegetables, and she was okay with that. #win

What else are your passions?

“I really like learning. Sewing? I really like sewing — or creating!” She very excitedly shared how she just sewed an apron with chili peppers on it. “I’m super excited about it.”

Carling shared with me her go-to when it comes to cooking — anything Mexican. “Rice beans or anything with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.” Then, she added salads were very important to her.

… and she quickly mentioned how she really liked Shake Shack down the street. I have to reiterate how she’s laughing a lot about all this. She’s having a ton of fun with this meeting, and it really shows. She’s got a highly energetic and infectious enthusiasm about her.

What do you like about Atlanta? Or do you not?

“I do like Atlanta now. When I moved here, I was living in an old house with a couple girls. Definitely different, but the last couple years, I’ve put an emphasis on creating friendships and exploring the city, so I definitely like it better now.”

She shares some advice for new residents who know very few people here: “Download the app Meetup.” She admits, “You have to put effort in. You have to cultivate those relationships and put effort in. Be patient and it pays off.”

As I said, I did meet Carling before, but very briefly. She was talking to a friend about blogging, so I asked her about that.

“My blog is just about things I’m learning through all the healthy stuff. I would read stuff and share it with my roommates, my two best friends, but they eventually got tired of hearing me say, ‘oh, that shampoo has a lot of chemicals. Shouldn’t use it.’ So I figured I’d find an audience who wanted to learn about this stuff.” WHAT?! Friends didn’t want to always hear about the best shampoos?! Haha, she’s laughing again.

I’ve run into a lot of people who want to write, but don’t. Many lament how they believed no one would want to hear what they had to say. So curious, I asked Carling how she found her voice.

“I’ve always journaled, so I’ve always written. To find my specific voice, I used to do write DIY and self-help, but it just naturally happened where I found myself enjoying the health aspect more. So I went with what I felt was more enjoyable. Punching in recipes was not — felt like work. Whereas the information and sharing the knowledge was where I woke up — ‘oh, I really want to share this’, so I just started to listen more to myself. I found my voice by listening more to myself. You have to pay attention to where you feel alive.”

“I found myself to listening to myself.” — it seemed like a revelation.

Have you had a Life-Defining Moment?

“I was living in Atlanta, and I wasn’t in school at the time because I was still trying to figure out what I was trying to do. I bought a $2000 industrial sewing machine. I was going to sew leather bags, not knowing how to use an industrial sewing machine or how to sew leather. So I got the sewing machine — super pumped. It was my third time trying to use it, and I couldn’t get it to sew anymore. And this time, I’m still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life school-wise. And the day it wasn’t stitching. I was home alone. I couldn’t get it. I Googled. I called. I remember being there, and I just started crying because I was like, ‘oh my God, I can’t get this. I’m never going to be able to do this. This isn’t going to work.’ I just got so pissed at the machine, and that when I was like, ‘I have to go back to school.’ I really put effort into actually figuring out what I wanted to do. Thinking about it, and taking off the time limit I put on myself.”

She shared with me about the “time limit”. She shared how she was 23, and she needed to get out of school at some point. Then she needed to get married. It was, to me, “the template”. She wanted to get out of that track. She figured out what she wanted to do.

But after this moment, she got into Georgia State and shares how she’s so much happier now.

I was curious how she decided to buy $2000 toward a sewing machine out of… anything and everything else out there. She admits she was just very impulsive and how she had some “optimism bias” — a mindset how she could achieve something where others couldn’t.

Note: She sold the sewing machine for $900 six months later.

What’s a Life Lesson you want to share?

She told me she needed to think about this, but took only 2 seconds before returning back to me.

Carling shared how she “got out of a 3-year relationship a few months ago.” Her lesson: “You have to be completely… only you can fulfill yourself. Going into anything in life, relationships or encounters with people or work, you have to be 100% of yourself… you have to come from a place of ‘I am secure in who I am by myself’, and then you take that into other things.”

“It’s not an ‘another-half’ kind of thing. You are you, and you bring that into the encounter.”

Carling told me how she really relied on the network of her best friend and her boyfriend, especially, when she first moved to Atlanta instead of creating her own network. I understood this as her needing to keep and expand her own identity in a new city.

Studying psychology, what do you think is a good way for others to connect with… others? How can we better connect with others?

“A… genuinely, and it’s sometimes hard to remove the fear of, ‘what is someone going to think of me’ or ‘how do I come across’, but that just ties into what I said before about being 100% — being complete in yourself, you can come into encountering others from a confident place. Just being yourself.”

“… being open.” I ask her if she means being vulnerable. “Yes… and being open to this. Maybe I would’ve said no four months ago. Now, we’re sitting here, and I’m enjoying it.”

“… just being in the moment. Don’t really focus on ‘where is this going to go’ or ‘do I have the time for this’ or ‘I have all these things in my head that I’m thinking about’. Actively listening, and not focusing on what you’re going to say next because they just said something. Just listening and being there.”

So… Be genuine. Be open. Be in the moment.” Check!

What makes you happy? (Thanks to Jordan, Stranger 21)

Carling thinks about this… “From a physical sense, listening to a great song, walking outside on a beautiful day… that makes me happy.”

“On a meta-physical sense, being around people who you know, who know you, and who you love. And just sharing laughter with them. That’s something that makes me so happy.”

Though, I was curious because she seemed pretty happy despite knowing very little about me.

“… in a broad sense! Positive interactions with people make me happy!” Haha, good update. 🙂

She adds before moving on, “being productive makes me happy.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

She thought about this question for a while.

“What are you doing when you feel most alive?” (Something on the daily…)

After the handshake.

So this was actually my longest meeting. I think it was just a testament to Carling’s energy and our connection/ her openness. She was super excited from the get-go to share her story. I mentioned her laughing and smiling throughout, but what I didn’t share was how animated she was. Like Sandrika early on, Carling was very animated. She just has a lot of energy, and you can’t help but be happy around her.

I definitely appreciated lots of points of our talk. Specifically, I appreciated her recognition in the effort it takes to connect with others. It’s not easy to connect with others sometimes, and this is even true of the friendships we all have. Relationships (in any form) take energy and commitment.

Also, I was curious of Carling’s points on how to connect with others. I love psychology, and given her studying and her own natural ability to connect, I was curious. I don’t really have much to add or augment to Carling’s key tenets, but I would say being open BOTH ways is important. At first, when I heard Carling, I was thinking about what was important for me to be with others in being “open” about myself. But the key, I think, is being open for others to be themselves.

 

Great stuff, and I’m excited to learn more about her healthy blogging… even if there’s a fair bit of veggie blogs in there.

So meet Carling. No longer a Stranger.