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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet Me, 31

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

“You forgot to ask for my birthday.”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Definitely not.” I laugh.

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

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

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

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

“Yup! Yup…” I laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

“So, I’m happy about that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think the biggest approach is being open.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

Anything else you want me to ask?

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

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

Cool.

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

Yeah, what is a question?

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Meet me. No longer a Stranger.

 

Stranger 97, Day 97 - Meet Alvin

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

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

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

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

Meet Alvin, 30

Who are you?

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

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

So what brought you to all of those different countries?

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

So now, what brings you to Atlanta?

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

What opportunities are you looking for?

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

How long have you been here?

“About two years now.”

What do you think of it so far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not just 50?

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

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

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

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

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

You seem like it.

He laughs, and asks, “I do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah?

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

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

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

You grew up breaking the law! Haha

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

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

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

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

You are the Chosen One.

He laughs. “Thanks!”

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet Alvin. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 95, Day 95 - Meet Christian

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

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

Meet Christian, 25

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you enjoy that?

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

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

Do you find yourself to be a creative person?

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

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

He laughs. “Yeah, absolutely!”

When you say that, what does you mean?

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

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

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

“She’s a pretty cool woman, I think.”

How would you like to thank her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this case, what is a “brick”?

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

Or an Egypt pyramid brick — like two tons!

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

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

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

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

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

What is your answer?

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet Christian. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 90, Day 90 - Meet John

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

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

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

Meet John, 34

Who are you?

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

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

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

“Yes! Married. Three girls.”

Three girls?!

“Three girls!”

How old are they?

“6, 4, and 1.” Congrats!

Have any aspirations for more?

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

So what are some of your passions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you and your wife meet?

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

Half of your lives!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just, you know, go from there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John adds on, “… and why?”

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet John. No longer a Stranger.

 

Strangers 89, Day 89 - Meet Morgan and Xavier

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

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

Meet Xavier, 30 and Morgan, 34

Starting out with you, Morgan, who are you?

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

Xavier, who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xavier?

“So cliche, right?” Morgan starts laughing.

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

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

After the handshakes.

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

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

Meet Morgan and Xavier. No longer Strangers.

Stranger 88, Day 88 - Meet Kelley

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

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

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

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

Meet Kelley, 32

Who are you?

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

“… and I’m just here!”

Where’s “here”?

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

Why do you want to be a nomad?

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

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

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

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

Candids.

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

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

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

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

What is the story your hands tell you?

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

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

So very much body language is very important to you.

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

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

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

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

So you’re a nomad….

“Try to be…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of the steps to get there?

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet Kelley. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 82, Day 82 - Meet Sunshine

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

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

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

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

Meet Sunshine, 39

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

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you love doing that?

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

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

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

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

Is there anything at the job you find creative?

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

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

How did you get into crafting and start with Etsy?

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

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

“… tangible stuff, yeah.”

That’s very cool.

“He’s way better than me by the way.”

In some things.

“In those ways, for sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

She thinks about this — “Oh, dear…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s for you,” she tells me.

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

She laughs. “These are hard questions!” haha

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

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

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

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

“What makes you most happy?”

After the handshake.

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

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

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

Meet Sunshine. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 81, Day 81 - Meet Tesh

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

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

Meet Tesh, 28

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… towards obrima.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, all the time!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

So meet Tesh. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 79, Day 79 - Meet Dmitri

Stranger 79, Day 79 – Meet Dmitri, the “One Stop Stylist”

Continuing on on not just 100 Strangers, 100 Days, but also on the journey to meet the many Strangers with familiar faces! Today, I got a chance to meet one of the baristas I encounter oh-so-often at Starbucks. He’s always cheery, always friendly. As just as he always is with me and every other Starbucks guest, he happily accepted to be today’s Stranger. And that cheerfulness continued throughout our meet.

Meet Dmitri, 28

Who are you?

“As… what do you mean? Like, as a person?” He smiles. “Hmm, that’s a good question.”

“I’m a lot of things. I am… I could make just one-big word — a multi-talented…” he thinks some more. As he does, he’s smiling and his eyes are going back and forth everywhere except me. “A multi-talented, passionate, entrepreneur!”

So, you say entrepreneur. Your email includes “one stop stylist”. What is that?

“I have a license in cosmetology, and I’ve have that for three years. I’m now working on my Bachelors in fashion marketing. So, I sew as well. I’ll be graduating in June of 20-17. So, it’s kind of pretty much saying it — it’s like a one-stop shop. Pretty much where the email derived from. It’s pretty much someone who can do everything when it comes to the fashion industry — hair and beauty. It’s all in one.”

What do you love about the fashion industry? Why are you pursuing this?

“I love dolling people up!” He laughs. “It’s an art, you know what I mean? It’s not really a career. It’s more so an art. You have to have an eye for it. It excites me to see other people happy.”

“It’s usually what I’m about, so. I like to be happy. I like other people to be happy.”

I’m thinking about these examples where you’ve dolled someone up. Have you ever dolled someone up, and you did it because you wanted to make that person happy?

“Absolutely. I’ve have a couple events of people who just did not feel pretty, you know what I mean? It’s kind of sad to see because everyone should have some kind of confidence level. When I interned at Nordstrom, there was a lot of people who came there who just did not like their figures. Or who didn’t like anything about themselves. I worked in the dress department. It was kind of hard. It was kind of hard to convince someone that they are pretty when they don’t believe you.”

“… And it takes a lot of dedication. You have to actually be dedicated to that person. Like, trust me, and it’ll all be fine. I’ve even invited some of them to my house afterwards for hair and make-up as long as they bought a dress that I knew would fit for them. I had this specific lady who was getting ready for her daughter’s wedding — ‘I was just too big!'” Dmitri tried to portray the woman’s voice as a little frantic and discouraged.

“Umm, it’s crazy because she ended up buying a dress. It’s on my Instagram. So, she ended up buying a dress. Did her hair and makeup. The photographer took photos of the wedding, and she looked PHE-NOMINAL.” He laughed and smiled about this. I could see him reliving the moment and just being proud.

“She cried, and she sent me this long text message. Kind of warmed me, you know? You just don’t find this on an everyday basis.”

How do you also help some of these people (men and women, I’m guessing)… how do you help them find confidence? Is it purely through styling?

“Yeah… I feel like everyone, you can always look at someone and find beauty in something about them. Focus on their eye colors. Whether they have beautiful lashes. Or they have perfect eyebrows, or you know… beautiful skin. It’s just enhancing what’s already there, and not doing too much.”

“We had to study a lot in cosmetology and in dresses. You had to have a dress that fits someone’s figure. You don’t want them to look box-shaped. You don’t want them to look bigger than what they look like, or makeup. I have this book at home called the art of cosmetics through makeup. Tells you how to reconstruct someone’s face. And, you know, it’s just a lot of… it really takes a lot of studying to really learn people. Someone can say I really don’t like this about me. You have to know how to fix it. If I don’t know how to fix it, I just say I don’t know. But I’m still willing to help. I research it, and help you get that confidence level up.”

“I’ve had a lot of people who never wore makeup before. Got them into makeup, and I can’t get them to stop!” He laughs. “So, you know what I mean? So now, they’re like shopaholics when it comes to makeup. But that’s a good thing. Everyone needs a push. Everyone needs that one push that says, ‘okay, maybe I can do this’. Because I don’t believe anyone alive did everything alone.”

So to that, who’s been someone who has been there for you?

“The most, my grandmother and my mom. And my best friends. I have three solid best friends. Known them since I was 15. Without them, I’d probably be like a… shipwreck!” He laughs.

“… probably.”

I imagine being an entrepreneur (I’m one, too), there’s ups and downs, right? So what have some of these support cast members done to continue to help you realize your shine, your confidence?

“I would say whenever they do something as far as… yesterday, I had a tag on Facebook. Someone was getting better at doing their own makeup. I had taught her her skills, and she tagged me, and it’s like, ‘I bet you’re so proud of me’. Things like that that keeps you going. To know that people remember that you helped them. They don’t forget where they came from. Or they don’t forget whoever helped them turn their life around. That kind of thing. That’s very inspiring to me. That’s what keeps me going.”

What’s something that you’re very confident of, that you love, and that you’re proud of about yourself?

“Umm,” he thinks.

“I would say my intelligence. I’m very intelligent. A lot of people don’t see. A lot of people think I’m ditzy!” he laughs. “That’s just a personality thing. It’s just not. But I’m very serious of the things that I do. I play a lot, but it’s just my personality. It’s how I am. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take everything seriously. I don’t think you have to be serious in order to conquer something. You can still play. It’s okay to play around. But instantly serious at the same time. You don’t have to be so dead-serious that nobody wants to work with you, or that kind of deal.”

“I would definitely say my intelligence. My sense of art. Definitely. Where it comes to interior colors, or whatever has to do with art. Period. Think those are my best assets.”

Is there anything else that people can do to be more confident about themselves? To love themselves more?

“Umm, yeah, I think there’s always room for improvement for anybody. My mom used to tell me all the time. I used to say, ‘oh my gosh, I’m so fat. I need to workout!” he laughs and has a big smile.

“She goes, ‘well, you know, if you don’t do anything about it, you really don’t want it’. I go with that all the time. When someone tells me that they feel like they’re too thin, they need to workout. They need to eat healthy. They’re really just whining and complaining. If you really want to change, you will. And, you’re boost of confidence, yeah, someone else can help you become confident in yourself, but it has to start with you first. You have to actually believe that you can do it, you know what I mean? You believe yourself, so you can believe in other people.”

“So, yeah.”

Describe a time when you were truly happy. (Thanks to Zach, Stranger 78)

“Wow… umm…” his eye pace back and forth above me and behind me. He’s thinking.

“… like truly happy. That is hard.”

“That’s a really, really good question.”

“I don’t know. I don’t really know if I actually hit the truly happy stage, yet. If I was truly happy, I would’ve remembered. It’s almost like been in love. If you’re in love with someone, you’d know. So I’ve been very happy. But truly happy? I don’t think I’ve hit that yet.”

“Like, it’s coming, you know what I mean? It’s right around the corner, but you know… But I don’t think… yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever been legit, truly, truly happy. Happy? Yes. Truly happy? No. Not yet.”

So what is it going to take to get to truly happy?

“A sense of self. I feel like I just need to learn more of who I am as a person before I can be truly happy. That’s with anything. That’s with careers, or relationships, or just life itself. I’m a people-pleaser, so… a lot of people that are close to me would come before I did. You know, it’s kind of changing. I’m getting more into myself, and more of what do I like to do, and things I love and all that kind of stuff.”

“So I feel like once I’m happy, I can make everyone else happy.”

Your turn! What would you like to ask, effectively, tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I would like to ask who inspired you to do what you love to do?”

“I feel like everyone’s inspiration comes from different things. It’s interesting to know who that person is, and why.”

“It’s really deep!” he laughs again.

After the handshake.

This was great. I knew Dmitri was a nice, friendly guy. However, I was really captivated with how happy he was throughout this meet. He admitted later that it was a little nerve-racking, so perhaps that smile disguised it. Disguised it well, indeed. He was just constantly smiling, and constantly looking everywhere except for me until he was listening to my question. It was fascinating to watch him piece his story together, just like some other Strangers. Dmitri was just that much more excited. It was great.

When he said he had never experienced true happiness, I admit I was a little sad. Like he feels everyone should have something to be confident in, I feel everyone should have several, let alone one, moment of true happiness. I was hoping Dmitri had that one moment where he basked in the glow of the present… perhaps a proud moment, and he did nothing other than revel in how he made someone smile and confident about him/ herself. I can say, honestly, that even for a few seconds as he gleefully welcome me at Starbucks or someone does something nice for me, I feel a sense of true happiness. I felt connected to another, and I felt that someone was nice just to be nice. Sure, the moment may be “fleeting” or may last just a few seconds. However, they’re the few second that offers and brief respite and offers that ray of sunshine — that little piece of true happiness.

Though, it’s nice to hear Dmitri was confident that his moment was coming. I hope it comes soon and frequently.

Meet Dmitri. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 75, Day 75 - Meet Sam

Stranger 75, Day 75 – Meet Sam, the “Sir Skibbles of Gaming and UI Engineering”

I met today’s Stranger actually as I was otherwise turned down by my initial prospect. See, I was in the kitchen area of my office, and I was talking to one of my colleagues as two other people walked in. I didn’t know either of them. I did, however, realize that one of the guys was wearing the exact same button-up I was. So they noticed me staring while my colleague suggested I make him today’s Stranger. I asked him, but he said he didn’t have time. I then turned to his colleague, however, and asked him. He did have a few minutes to spare, and happily accepted to be today’s Stranger.

Note: Kailee, Stranger 73 also walked by today, and was encouraging of one of the guys to be the Stranger. That was nice.

Meet Sam, 31

Who are you?

“I am the father of… two dogs.” Haha, the pause and then finding out he was talking about dogs threw me off.

“… And actually have a baby boy on the way in April. First child.” (Congrats!)

“… And I am the lead UX engineer for Rigor here at Atlanta Tech Village. So I kind of handle — I work with the engineering team. I’m the lead, but I’m also the only.” He laughs. “I handle all of the front-end development — user interaction, user interface. That sort of stuff for our web application.”

Do you love UX? If so, what do you love about it?

“I do! I love… design, in general. My title, I think, is mis-leading for what I actually do. I get approached by people who are very interested in UX. I think UX has a very loose definition to it. Many people have different definitions of what it is. I do not do much of the full-fledged research stages where I think a lot of people think with UX you go out with a team, go to other companies, you look at websites or you look at whatever it is. You analyze and pick apart. Figure out all the best ways. You go through this whole process. You have this budget by a big company or something like that. You’re given a month or two months to basically rip something to shreds and come up with a better solution.”

He clarifies, “… which is not really what I do. I do a lot of that, but in a very short amount of time. A startup is not going to give you that flexibility because you have to move a lot quicker. I’m more on the coding and development side which I enjoy, but as I said, I don’t think my title is as fitting. And I can change it. I’ve already talked to everybody on the team. I can change it if I wanted it. I don’t really care.”

If you could have any title, what would it be?

“I’d probably just change it to UI Engineer or something like that. Something small where it gives a little bit more… let’s you know I do more on the coding side, less on the strategic research side.”

Do you love being a part of a startup? If so, what?

“I do. I worked for big companies. I grew up in Georgia, but I ended up moving out to NYC for a couple years. Then, I was out in LA for a few years. I’ve worked at big companies across multiple different industries. My career has spanned all types of different fields. And you know, the big companies are all generally about the same — the environment is kind of crappy. The culture is… lacking. Some of the companies have thousands or tens of thousands of employees. Some I’ve worked at have just a couple hundred employees. So on the small or medium side.”

“I came to Rigor… actually, I was in the Village for another company, RenterUp, with a good friend of mine. It was just me, him, and the Founder, David F. And so I just loved it. The culture here, in general, is fantastic. Unfortunately,RenterUp has kind of faded a little bit. So now, I’m with Rigor. I came on with the team of like 15 or 16 at the time. It’s awesome. Everything’s about the culture. Everybody’s there to support one another. You don’t have those office politics that play in where people are always trying to stab you in the back even if like they’re the best friends to your face.”

“I do not miss the old jobs that I had. BUT at the same time, I think it was definitely important for me and for a lot of people to experience that. It’s the same thing like if you’ve never worked retail in your life. I feel like everyone should’ve worked in a retail job at some point so that you’re a little bit more empathetic for what people in these positions go through now. It just sets you up better for life, in general.”

You’ve talked about culture and part of big companies… been in NYC, been in LA, and now you’re back in Atlanta. How would you describe how Atlanta compares to the other two cities culturally?

“People always ask me do I miss LA. Something I miss a lot about LA was the entertainment culture that went on there. I enjoyed on the day-to-day having conversations about movies and television. People have that here, but you sort of have to reach for it/ dig for it a little bit to get it out of them. Just conversations are different in Georgia because entertainment isn’t everything. There aren’t billboards every 20 ft promoting a new show or something.”

“Professionally… you know, I was not big in startups. I didn’t really know about startups, or the term startups, at all, really when I was in New York. That wasn’t something that ever came across my radar. I think maybe in LA, Shark Tank started to get big on TV, so I started hearing more about it. I never, personally, used the term ‘startup’. It wasn’t until I got back here in Atlanta, I didn’t even know about what David Cummings was doing with startups at the time until my friend, Eric, who I was with RenterUp with and coincidentally, we both came to Rigor at the same when RenterUp kind of went away. He sort of introduced me to it because he worked for some startups. And then I did a startup weekend here in Atlanta that was hosted out of ATDC, and my wife and I actually did that. We competed on different teams, and her team came in second. My team came in third. Which is crap because her team didn’t even have a working prototype or anything. It was just a bunch of slides that they clicked around to make look like a site. We actually built that, so…” Haha! Sounds like they built a minimum viable product (MVP) to win.

“But that startup weekend was huge for getting me into this, and opening up my eyes to startups, in general, and the growth of startups here in Atlanta. So I think Atlanta is on pace for becoming a big startup scene known around the country.”

So you talked about giving yourself your own title. You just mentioned entertainment, and I’ve recently talked to people who liked video games and comics. I was thinking what about entertainment interests you?

“I just enjoy the scene… the buzz… and talking about. At that point in time, I don’t wish I still did all of this, but it was interesting to discuss celebrities and statuses and things that were going on that really didn’t relate to [me] at all. It was fascinating to be around that. And to bump into celebrities was always kind of fun. Kind of cool. So I enjoyed that.”

“You mentioned games, though. I thought you were going to ask, ‘oh, you look like someone who might be a gamer or something like that’. I do play some games now. Interestingly enough, a fun fact, I used to be a professional gamer for Counter Strike and Unreal Tournament 2003.” How great!! I just talked to Bruce, Stranger 70 about UT2k3! I share this with him and my affection for UT.

“Yeah! That’s cool! That’s fascinating. I feel like you say Counter Strike around here, or Half-Life a lot people have dabbled in it. Yes, I was on a couple different teams. We had a manager. We traveled around. We did the CPL which is no longer a thing anymore — the Cyber Athlete Professional League. Big events took place maybe twice a year. Won some money. Won more, I feel like I won more, swag and free processors and motherboards. I remember one point at a small local tournament, everybody won a 24-pack of Red Bull. I drank that in a weekend which is terrible. But Unreal Tournament was more of my shining star.”

“I competed in a UT2k3 event here which was the local Georgia qualifier for the World’s Cyber Games. I won that, and that was right at the end of high school — my senior year in high school. The US qualifier — the World Cyber Games took place in Korea, I think… I can’t remember — I didn’t actually end up going to it because…” He pauses for a moment to recall.

“I won the Georgia event. I was given a free flight, trip, hotel out in LA to compete in the USA qualifier which if you win that you probably place in the top 3, then you represent USA in UT2k3 overseas in the World Cyber Games. But…”

“… my parents have always been — obviously, school came first — my parents were always good about, you know, ‘do what you think is best. Keep your grades up and we don’t really care. You’re winning money. You’re winning free swag. You’re having fun playing games. You’re doing well in school. That’s fine.’ But I remember I had been doing a lot of gaming at that time, and I didn’t even try and ask my parents for permission to go to LA. The qualifier date in LA took place the first week of college, so that would’ve been my first week going to UGA, and it was basically a decision do I go to my first week of college, or do I go to this video game thing?” He smiles.

“I can’t even swing that with my parents because they would flip out. They’d just be like, ‘are you crazy? You’re going to school.’ I didn’t even end up going to the LA event, and I felt like that was the end of my gaming career. I tried to play a little through my first year of college, but… other priorities came up and pushed it by the wayside.”

Do you play any games now?

“Now, I really like to just play socially, with friends. Get on a headset and play with some friends. I play Battlefield 4 on Xbox One… which I also used to hate console gaming. I still don’t love console gaming. I’ll take keyboard and mouse any day of the week. My thumbs just aren’t as agile as on a mouse,” he laughs. “Sometimes, I get… pissed in the games. You know, having to play with the joysticks, but it’s fun. I enjoy it. I don’t play that much, but Battlefield’s my game.”

Thinking about all these things you’ve done. How would you describe yourself? What would be your alias today (from video games)?

He laughs. “My alias? My gamer tag?” He laughs some more.

“Well, my gamer tag on Battlefield is Sir Skibbles.” Hahahaha. We both laugh about this. “I don’t think you’ll find anybody else with that name!”

“… which all spawned from SKB was my gamer tag when I competed. Before that was Fugmire, which, don’t even ask me why. SKB was more of the name that you could look up. Although, it’s hard to find stuff these days of yore on Counter Strike anymore… from the old players from Half-Life. But yeah, SKB, and then, people were like, ‘yo, SKB… yo SKIBBZ’ Then, I was SKIBBZ for a while. And then eventually, I don’t know, at some point, I just changed it to Sir Skibbles, probably for some stupid reason.” He laughs some more.

“But that’s what I’ve been playing with for years now!” We both laugh about this together.

We talk a little more about the technical fun stuff about games including the old days of watching gamers play on-demand before this was a big thing. (Twitch was acquired by Amazon years ago for $970MM for this very audience.)

Not knowing your financial situation or otherwise, yesterday’s Stranger, Stan, wanted to ask you what made you successful beyond the “template”. Perhaps it’s something you think you’re successful in or if you consider others you know who are very successful. What made them successful that goes beyond the normal answer of “go to school, college”, etc. because people do that all the time. What sets you or those successful people apart? (Thanks to Stan, Stranger 74)

“I feel like, what I have seen for the most successful people… a lot of people are passionate about something. That’s usually the catalyst for starting a company or building an app or continuing with an idea. I think what makes that a success, and maybe makes you very well-off financially, is the ability to continue staying passionate about it.”

“So, I’ve definitely had some things I’m so passionate about. So I start working on it whatever it is. Actually, my friend, Eric, and I, we started a company together before we were at RenterUp just out of my house. We started working on something. We were both super passionate about it at the beginning — ‘this is game-changing! This is amazing!’ — like most people are with a new idea. ‘Listen to my app idea! It’s going to change the world!'”

He whispers, “…how naive!” Haha.

He smiles, and continues, “But then, probably like 3 weeks/ a month into working on something, you can tell we both started losing interest in it. We weren’t passionate about it anymore. Maybe the question there is: were we really passionate about it at the beginning, or did we just think we were passionate? I think that’s kind of what makes the most successful people. One of the reasons… What makes the most successful people so successful is the ability to be passionate about something and actually stay passionate about it.”

“And maybe it’s part of when you start seeing the writing on the wall. Maybe it’s not working out. Maybe you don’t have enough market share. Maybe it’s not really about needs. That all starts taking a beating on you. You lose passion because of that. But there are definitely some things out of nowhere you just wake up one day, and you’re like, ‘whatever this is is dumb. Why am I doing this? I need to change it up. Let’s come up with a new idea.’ I think people if they can find something they’re truly passionate about. I think it’s cliche. People say it all the time. I think if you could find something you’re truly passionate about it, figure out a way to do that the rest of your life. Monetize it. Make a business out of it, or something that’s going to keep you happy and provide for you.”

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

“Wow… man, that’s a good question…”

“What do you see yourself doing next?”

After the handshake.

How cool that I should meet a legend of Unreal Tournament just days after meeting Bruce and talking about video games, too? It was nice to continue reminiscing about video games after marinating on video games the last several days since Bruce.

Meanwhile, I appreciated Sam’s advice on what makes successful people successful — maintaining that passion. Or maybe more accurately, having a true passion that successful people have that enables them to also push past the tough moments. I’ve read a lot about purpose and ground into one’s “WHY” (and have talked about this several times on this journey). But meanwhile, I also started a book called Primed to Perform about motivations in corporate cultures. The biggest take-away after the first couple chapters is how PLAY is the greatest motivator for people. Sam’s point about being passionate makes me also think about what drives me, and what I deem as “fun” or “play”. That’s what keeps me motivated — fun and challenges. Like Sam, I’ve realized how passion quickly fades for people starting out some entrepreneurial journey. Maintaining that cadence and that rhythm of building something great is tough. I think many people get infatuated with this idea of entrepreneurship and startups that they take the leap, but struggle to keep going after a couple weeks. In many of these cases, I think people get excited about the idea of entrepreneurship.

At the same time, Sam’s talk about passion, is the very thing I attribute my first real startup’s demise — we ran out of the passion to keep going. It’s tough to think about sometimes, but it’s the truth. With true passion, you’ll do what you can to find a way to succeed. In fact, check out Sara Blakely’s interview on NPR’s “How I Built This”, and listen to how her passion fueled her to grow Spanx and be a sensational 0 to billion (several) success.

Meet Sam. No longer a Stranger.