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Stranger 99, Day 99 - Meet Shyamal

Stranger 99, Day 99 – Meet Shyamal, the “Organizer for the Love of the Game”

I knew this day was going to be a busy one spent with my brother and his family. So, I wanted to meet today’s Stranger real early in the day. Fortunately (and very fun-ly), I met today’s Stranger while playing pick-up soccer in the morning. This was the first time I was playing with this big group of players; though, I have several friends who play regularly. There was probably a good 50 players out there for 9AM pick-up. My field was set with two teams with 9 players each (small-sided games). So, I felt pretty comfortable finding a player to meet today.

In fact, today’s Stranger is the organizer of these large pick-up soccer meet-ups. Since it was my first time playing, it was fitting that we meet.

Note: I did approach one other person prior to the Stranger of the Day. However, he felt too exhausted after game play to speak/ think coherently.

Meet Shyamal, 26

Who are you?

“I am a human-being that’s loves soccer. So, I organize all this stuff every week. I’m an immigrant to this country – a U.S. citizen now.”

“Just trying to, I guess, live my life the best I can. I was actually born in Kenya in Africa. Lived there for 12 years. Then, moved here, and yeah, been here ever since.”

I imagine organizing this type of thing is a lot of work. Why do you do it?

“Basically, because I want to keep playing. When I came to this, I wasn’t really doing the organizing. I was just part of the people. When one of the organizers had to leave, they needed some people to step up. I have a lot of free time usually, and I like playing soccer in that free time, so that’s pretty cool.”

“I get to organize and make sure other people can have fun and have a place to play, and we can keep this thing going for a relatively low cost. Basically, we’re not making money. But in Atlanta, it’s hard to find fields and things where you can just play for free, and have the equipment and stuff. We have to pay a little bit of money for that, but it’s relatively low.”

“But yeah, basically for the fun!”

I noticed that you’re an immigrant. Here, there’s just a plethora of different immigrants.

“Yeah, a lot of them are here, too. Soccer is, like, an immigrant sport, I guess, or like a sport that’s growing in America. But’s it’s big, obviously, in the rest of the world. That’s what a lot of these people bring when they come here – a love for soccer. It’s one of the things that kind of binds us all together. That’s what I find is pretty good – pretty good connections.”

A little bit outside of soccer, what are some of your other passions?

“So, I like movies, video games. Whenever I hang out with my friends, that’s what we usually do. Or, we’ll watch sports on TV. Video games, music, things like that. And then for my job, I work in a children’s hospital. I do software development for them. That’s pretty fulfilling, too.”

“So, I have two fulfilling sides of my life with soccer, and I guess, my actual work. But also, for fun, I’m a really big video game fan. That, too, whenever I get time.”

Yeah, I’ve met a couple video gamers including a professional. It’s pretty interesting hearing about all the stuff he wins.

“I really like single-player gaming. Games with stories and things. I like movies, too, but games with stories are really cool. Multi-player gaming, I’m just not very good. Unless it’s FIFA. I’m good at FIFA. Other than that, yeah, it’s tough.”

Anything about video games and movies and stuff that you really love? Is there a root cause to why you love these?

“I like, I guess, you get different experiences. So, I do like traveling and whenever that’s possible, that’s good to get different experiences. But when you just need to turn on the TV or go to the movies, and you can get a different experience. You can get an escapism, or you can get something very real. But it’s just easily accessible. It’s good. So, I like movies with a good story, a lot of good characters. Sometimes, I like those action movies, too, obviously. Usually, just good stories.”

I’ll start to wrap it up. You watch a lot of movies and some Marvel and super hero movies, so this will fit in great. Yesterday, I met Lindsey who was a big fan of comic book movies, super heroes, etc. So, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day, if you could ask anyone anything, effectively, tomorrow’s Stranger, what would you ask them? So, Lindsey wants to ask you if you were a villain, what super hero would you want to destroy, and why? (Thanks to Lindsey, Stranger 98)

“Any of the Marvel or DC super heroes? I would pick Superman.”

It could be any super hero, any comic.

“That’s true. Well, I’d still probably still pick Superman. I like the super heroes that are… well, my favorite super hero is Batman. I kind of like that he’s someone is very real – a little more realistic, I guess, if you had to say that he doesn’t have super powers. I guess Superman is just too powerful. As someone who is very… very one-sided character where he is just purely good. You know what I mean? Like, he doesn’t have a gray character to himself. Other super heroes, I feel, like Batman, have a little bit of white in them. Black… or just gray side to them. So maybe him.”

“Best I can come up with!”

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

“You could ask who is their favorite soccer player, and why? Maybe. Or something better…”

Not sure if tomorrow’s Stranger will know soccer, but…

“That’s true.” He thinks for a moment.

“You could ask what they plan to do to make things better in the future for everyone else.”

“… Maybe. I guess that’ll be a good question that is kind of general.”

After the handshake.

Like I said, it was my first time truly playing with these guys aside from 6 or so other friends I knew. So, it was nice to speak with the organizer. This pick-up play is supposed to be geared for pretty competitive players, too (or at least, non-beginners), so I had to play some before actually being let in. Doesn’t hurt to meet the guy who runs it, too!

Shyamal was very nice and open to speaking with me. It’s hard work setting up these meet-ups, and ensuring we have a place to play week in, week out. Spending a few minutes to get to know the man behind the curtain is sometimes rare. Luckily, he plays and organizes this because he has a passion for soccer and enabling others to continue playing soccer. Much like we talked about the immigrants who were playing, we could all find a common ground that bounds us all together. Sometimes, that’s really all you need to create something as fun, as consistent as these pick-up games.

Meet Shyamal. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 93, Day 93 - Meet Mike

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

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

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

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

Meet Mike, 27

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

“Ha! Yeah.”

So it’s nice afterwards to connect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope.

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

No…

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

You can’t go that far.

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

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

I did remember once or a few times, but…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is work a passion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He answers quickly, “No excuses.”

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

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

Yeah.

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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

Meet Mike. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 77, Day 77 - Meet John

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

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

Meet John, 26

John just dove right into it.

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

Because you joined.(?)

He laughs, “yes, of course!”

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

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

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

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

What are some of your passions?

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite exercise?

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

“Deadlifts are probably my strongest point.”

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

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

What do you love about that stuff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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

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

Meet John. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 74, Day 74 - Meet Stan

Stranger 74, Day 74 – Meet Stan, the “Provider”

I’m on a real get-to-know-the-people-you-lift-near vibe at the moment, so I met today’s Stranger at the gym. In fact, he’s another person I’ve been wanting to get to know, but we’ve both been pretty focused on our routines, that we don’t talk. He was about to exit the building, too, but luckily, I just finished my workout, and I did the normal thing to chase him as he reached the door. He had to get to work in 40-ish minutes, but he still agreed to sit down for a few minutes and share his story.

Meet Stan, 30

Who are you?

“Father. Two kids. Married. Working man,” he laughs. “That’s about it.”

Your email contains “imagine”. What is that?

“I used to rap, BUT I stopped because I got married. Working out is just my passion. I had this little thing called Imagine JR. That was just my little theme for the time being. So I just kept it over the years. It’s not professional, but I just kept it because everybody has that email.”

You used to do it, so it used to be a pretty big passion. Do you still do it on the side?

“No. No. I just love music. That’s about it. I don’t rap anymore.”

What’d you love about rap before?

“Well, I started when I was 5. So I started way before everybody else tried to even get on. But…” he pauses. “Yeah, when everybody started doing it, as I got older, it just seemed like a hoop dream. I had a lot to take care of. That’s pretty much how I came to a halt.”

Then working out has since become a passion.

“Yeah. My health has always been a passion.”

He admitted, “I used to be bullied as a kid actually, because I was smaller than everybody. I went to high school 90 pounds. I was just the target, so I started lifting weights. I started getting bigger, and yeah.” He laughs.

Bullying is an interesting and tough thing. I was slightly bullied at a couple times when I was younger. However, it’s become more of an important issue to me as I have a little niece. As I put my niece in that perspective if she was ever bullied, it breaks my heart. So I wanted to ask some questions about this to Stan — How did you cope with that?

“Well, the school I went to was very… ghetto.” He laughs. “So, it was pretty much fight or get picked on and then they’ll beat you up. So I had to beat up the bully. That’s pretty much how people stopped messing with me!” He laughs some more.

“So I had to fight to get out of that. Once they saw, ‘Oh, Stan’s strong!’ They stopped. Immediately. I just kept on working out from there.”

You’ve got two kids (son is 3, daughter is 1). What are you going to teach them about bullying but also about respecting others?

“We’re Christian. So, my son is… is deep in the Word right now. Every time he does something or I do something he doesn’t like, he says, ‘God doesn’t like that’.” He laughs again.

“Even if it’s right or wrong, his number one thing is ‘God doesn’t like that’. So he can get his way.” Haha

“Yeah. I teach them morals of what’s right, what’s wrong. I want to teach them to run their own business. Of course, my children are going to be strong… working out-wise. I want to teach them to be on top. Not to work for somebody. That’s the direction I want to take them.”

What is your Dream and goal?

“My Dream and goal is… I really can care less about myself. I’m more so focused on my children. I want them to be better than me. I want them to really be way better than everything I’ve ever done. As far as what I’m teaching, I’m big on that. I’m not going to push them to the point they’re tired of me, but I’m going to show them the route and everything. My life really consists of providing for my family and making sure they get everything they need to succeed.”

I think about this as I look around at every one else who is a father and mother — how do you still be authentically you other than living for your kids and wife? Is that even possible?

“The gym is my LIFE! I go to sleep thinking about the next day in the gym. I’m here 5-7 everyday, Monday-Friday. If I could get in on Saturday, I will be here. This is what makes me happy.”

“And I’m also an artist. So drawing and getting in the gym… my day’s complete! So, I mean I pray before I get to the gym. I keep God first. This is my passion. I’m here.” He’s smiling and motioning to “here” as he speaks.

If you were in a bad situation, and you didn’t know it, would you want to know? Or would you want to live in like blissful ignorance? (Thanks to Kailee, Stranger 73)

“Well, that’s a trick question. I don’t want to know my future. But, I don’t want to live ignorant. I would want to better myself so I’ll look at it as whatever situation that happens, I’ll let it happen and be prepared next time to not let it happen. But I don’t want to know the future.”

I wasn’t sure if I had relayed Kailee’s question very well, so I expanded on the question using a “practical situation” where his company was doing something shady. Would he want to know, or would he rather live in the “blissful ignorance”?

“Yeah, well, in that case, yeah. But in the fortune teller sense, no.” Stan laughs, and thinks.

“If I knew something was wrong, yes, I most definitely would like to know — what’s going on? Where’s the future of this company headed in order to get out of it. Yeah, most definitely.

What is a question you’d like to ask?

Stan asked if I meant someone who’s really successful or not. I said I wasn’t sure who I was going to walk up to and speak to tomorrow.

“I would like to walk up to the most successful person in the world, Warren Buffet… there’s even a guy in here who’s an undercover millionaire, and if I could go up to him and he’ll give me a million dollars, I wouldn’t even ask for that. I would just ask him, ‘how did you do it?’ I want an authentic answer. I don’t just the B.S. he gives everybody. All I want to know is how. That way, I can either do it, or I can push my child in that same direction. Even Bill Gates got into computers when he was [young]. But I want to get my children into computers, and get them on that right path. Just follow in his footsteps vs. going to pre-K. Going to elementary. High school. College. I don’t want them to take that path because that’s the same path everybody’s going. But the select few that’s doing bigger than that… whose owning corporations, who owns this gym. I’m pretty sure they didn’t sit in class, and go to college. I’m pretty sure they did something different. I wouldn’t be surprised the majority of people of the corporation dropped out of school. Dropped out of college. There’s more to life than sitting in somebody’s classroom.”

“To answer that question, I want knowledge vs. a handout.”

I tell Stan that I’m not sure if I’ll speak to a millionaire tomorrow, but I could phrase the question in such a way so that tomorrow’s Stranger can share how he/ she is successful in whatever capacity — look for something non-conventional, if available.

“I think everything I got in my life was God-given. Everything. Because every aspect of my life, every time I lost a job, I always got a job that makes more money. Lose a job, more money. Lose a job, more money. So I believe God is taking care of me. Even my previous job before the one I have… I got a house. I have bills. I got a mortgage. So…” he laughs.

“The thing about that is I was working at FedEx. I don’t even know how I was surviving. $8.50 an hour! I don’t even know how I was taking care of my house, feeding my family, and paying everything. Now, I’m making more money and doing the same thing, I don’t understand how that was even possible!” he laughs and says incredulously.

After the handshake.

I’ve seen Stan at the gym. A lot. I mean, he’s there every weekday 5-7. However, I also saw him running up Stone Mountain once. At the time, he was running up one of the steeper grades carrying a kid on his shoulders who happened to be his nephew. I said hello to him then much as I give him the head-nod-hello at the gym. Suffice to it say, it’s about darn time we met for real.

Stan’s view on the world is a bit different than my own. His perspective on life is centered around his children, and providing for them. Much of what we talked about was about his kids. Even his question to tomorrow’s Stranger was about learning how to achieve success for his kids (and likely for himself, too) without following a template. I suspect he doesn’t fit into the normal “template” that even I’m accustomed to as someone who went through the many levels of education here including grad school. My path post grad-school may otherwise be less template-like having done my own startups and even this journey. However, he’s acutely interested in these “millionaires” to which he has great deference for. Perhaps I interact with lots of people who have the millions and billions, and what resonates to me is not so much on the money as much as it is on the life style and the pursuit of passion. But that, again, is my view as a single guy with no kids. I’m not a provider, so to hear Stan’s perspective is an enlightening one that highlights the focus those closer to me who have families.

Meet Stan. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 72, Day 72 - Meet Toby

Stranger 72, Day 72 – Meet Toby, the “Comic Book Enthusiast”

I’ve seen today’s Stranger several times at the gym. He’s another staple there. I wanted to meet him last week, but he was not there. Lo and behold, he was actually at the mall yesterday when I ran into him. That’s when we introduced ourselves before having to go our separate ways. So when I saw him today, I asked him to be the Stranger of the Day to get to know him.

Here’s a recap of our introduction…

Meet Toby, 43

Who are you?

“I’m a country boy from a small town — Chester, South Carolina. I’ve been here since ’95. College-educated. I have a degree in history. Currently, working in IT. I’m single. I live in Brookhaven. I’m gay. I’m just a regular, average Joe. I collect comic books. I’m kind of a — I’m not going to say a ‘geek’ — but I’m half-way there.” Toby laughs.

“Just a regular ole dude.”

I’m thinking about the comic books. I find that interesting. What do you love about comic books?

“I’ve been reading them since I was little. Like, 5 years old. I think that’s how I learned to read, basically. I used to have a passion for reading, but now, as I’ve gotten older, the digital age has come about with the internet and everything, I don’t read like I used to. I used to be in book clubs. I guess the fantasy of it. Having powers. Be able to do things that normal people can’t do. Kind of like an escape for me.”

What’s your favorite comic book hero?

“That’s a good question. I really don’t have a favorite comic book hero. The way I collect comic books is based off the writer and artist at the time. So if, like the X-Men — let me explain.” He pauses and pardons his “French” — “If they have a shitty artist and writer, then I lose interest. It’s basically based off the material that’s in the comic book at the time. It fluctuates. Off the top of my head, I think the most consistent comic book that I prefer is The Authority.”

Toby explains, “It’s based off this group of heroes… they didn’t follow rules. They did whatever it took to combat evil and [exercise] justice in the world. It’s kind of like they were the authority. They didn’t answer to anybody.”

Who is the most bad ass villain?

“I’d say Emma Frost, the White Queen.”

I recall the question the three friends (from Day 29) I had met on top of Stone Mountain. One of the questions they wanted to ask the next day’s Stranger was if people could be a super hero, what super power would people want. (See Stranger 29 story here.) So I asked Toby if he were a super hero, what super power would he want?

“Well, I’m nosy. I kind of have a control issue sometimes, so for me, it would be telepathy. Then, I could read your mind and tell you what to do.” He laughs. “That’s probably it right there.” Haha.

I mention to Toby how one of the friends from Day 29 wanted the super power to teleport. He responds, “You know, if you have telepathy, then you can just tell somebody to take you where you want to go. Let me on this plane. Take me to the pilot. Take me here. I don’t have to be there in an instant.” He laughs again.

I see you here several mornings, about the same mornings I’m here. First, do you enjoy working out?

“As I’ve gotten older, it’s become a necessity.” He admits, “I’m a little vain. I hate to say this, I just want to look good naked for no other reason. When I look at myself when I get up in the morning, I want to look a certain way. Kind of vain. Not for health reasons or anything like that. Just… just want to look good.”

That works! Plenty of people just want to look good, and that’s perfectly fine. We’re all motivated in different ways, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t, too, want to look good.

Is that the motivation behind getting up early in the morning most of those days?

“I get up in the morning because, like I said, I have control issues. So if you get here when it first opens, then you don’t have to be bothered by other people hogging the machines and stuff like that. So the earlier you’re here, the more you get done, and the more machines you can work on without having to weight or share. It’s more of a selfish thing.” He laughs. Those are the same sentiments I feel.

Any other passions?

“Besides comics, I’m an avid movie-goer. And I watch a lot of TV. A lot of TV.” He mentions he has other passions that he’ll “leave off the blog”. Haha, okay!

“Movies… I go to the movies at least once or twice a month. Like I said, I watch a lot of TV. My DVR is probably 80% filled right now.”

What kind of TV shows? What genres?

“Right now, it’s not a specific genre, but as I’ve gotten older, I’m more geared toward shows that have a very diverse cast. So right now, my favorite show is Queen Sugar. It comes on the On Network. It’s about a family — three siblings — whose father died. He leaves them a sugar plantation/ farm. It’s just the trials and tribulations of them trying to run that farm. I have no idea what they’re doing. It’s set in the south of Louisiana, and they’re black. So they’re dealing with the good ole boy system in that area, and just trying to survive, and doing something new they didn’t deal with. They all took three different paths in life. One is a wife of an NBA basketball player. The other’s an award-winning journalist. The third is an ex-convict. So it’s just all of them trying to get along. Also, I discovered a new show called Insecure about this black girl who works at a non-profit in L.A. It’s on HBO. But I’m just mainly geared towards shows that are more diverse. Not the typical Big Bang TheoryCSI…”

I mention to him how I felt like he was kind of an “escape artist” with all the comic books, movies, and TV shows. I was curious what he thought of that. I also asked him how he viewed himself.

“Quirky. Off-beat. I’m just… different. I’m the type of person who wasn’t in the ‘in-crowd’ or ‘popular’ or anything in school. I kind of came into my own as I’ve gotten older. I’m literally just now finding myself for the most part.”

“I probably couldn’t escape myself out of a paper bag if I had to,” he jokes. Haha

“So I don’t know, but I don’t think that’d be a good… I’m just learning how to fit in now.” He adds, “I’m not doing it well still, but I’m getting better at it.”

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

He thinks about this for a minute.

“Focus mainly on my career. I’m not doing what I want to do right now. I want to get back into QA. That’s what I would like to do. Not necessarily live in Atlanta. If I find a job focusing on QA, then I’ll stay. But at the end of the year, there’s a good chance I might be living in D.C. So focus on my career. Maybe finally buy a home. Would be nice to be in a relationship, but I’m not stressed about it. Came into the world by yourself, so if you die by yourself, oh well. That’s about it.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Considering that this is November and we just had an election, I probably would want to know…”

“Well, I guess it just depends what their answer would be. For instance, if you ask somebody who they voted for, and they said Trump. I would like to know how they reconcile the fact of all the things he’s said about people. How do you reconcile voting for a man like that? In other words, I’ve heard a lot of people say, (I watch a lot of politics) so a lot of pundits say it’s not about race because a lot of people who voted for Obama voted for Trump. Okay, that’s understandable. I get that. They say it’s about the economics. Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, those states… middle America has had such a hard time. So they look past what he said to vote for Trump because it was all about economics. But how do you reconcile the things that he said enough to, in your mind, vote for somebody like that? What makes you think that after he’s done the things or said the things he said about other people, he won’t say them about you?”

Toby recounts how Hitler first invaded Poland first. The European powers didn’t believe he would do anything else. However, then, he invaded another country. Toby’s point was that “he didn’t stop. So I think a lot of people don’t realize if you don’t stop somebody from doing something, it’s going to be sooner or later before they turn on you. I’d like to know how people reconcile voting for somebody like that, and to think sooner or later that person won’t turn on you.”

Hmm, that might be a tricky one to ask let alone answer. I may need to just step back and ask tomorrow’s Stranger to explain the reasoning behind who the Stranger voted for — assuming tomorrow’s Stranger voted. We’ll see!

After the handshake.

It was great to finally meet Toby. I see him most every Sunday on one of the machines near the squat racks where I start out. It’s been months, and I never said hello or met him. I wanted to, but yesterday running into each other at the mall was another great example of how we (most others) only reach out and meet when we’re out of the “normal”.

We talked for a little bit longer afterwards focusing on perspectives, and what it means to be an American. I enjoyed the extra time especially since typically at the gym, we’re pretty focused on our workouts.

Meet Toby. No longer a Stranger.

 

Stranger 70, Day 70 - Meet Bruce

Stranger 70, Day 70 – Meet Bruce, the “Sarcastic”

Today’s Stranger is a staple at the gym I go to. I see him there whenever I’m there, and I’m only there 3 times a week mostly. So today, it wasn’t a surprise to see him in the gym early the day after Thanksgiving. He’s typically lifting some pretty big weight, so I’ve noticed him for a while. He works hard. However, he and I are alike in that we get fully focused in our gym routines, and try to cut out as much social activity as possible. So as he and I were both wrapping up, I asked to meet him after.

So meet the beast!

Meet Bruce, 30

Who are you?

“Oh man… who am I?!” His eyes get big as he looks up and thinks.

“Let’s see, I was born and raised in Atlanta. Been here all my life. Spent a couple years outside like in North Carolina and Tennessee. I’m an accountant… accountant/ auditor — it’s my profession. Went to school at Morehouse. Went to graduate school at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Let’s see, what else?”

“Love to workout. Love to watch movies, play video games. What else?”

Bruce continues, “Let’s see. Who am I? I’m pretty passionate about everything that I do. I love to workout. It’s my number one thing. Helps me relax. Relieve some stress or whatnot. I like to play sports, but not as much as I used to mainly because I work out so much — too sore to do anything.” He laughs. “Play golf and stuff like that. And basketball when I can.”

Your main passions are working out, movies, and video games…

“Yeah, that’s what I usually do most of the time in my free time.”

What do you love (you can pick any one of those three) about it?

“Just working out… just push myself. I want to see how far I can go before it’s too late, I guess. So my main passion is building strength. Just want to see how strong I get. Aesthetics, I’m not too worried about that. Mostly building strength.”

“Video games — I’ve just been playing video games all my life. Nothing too special there.”

What’s your favorite video game?

“Oh, I don’t know… Right now, only games I’m really playing are first-person shooter games. So, I’m playing Overwatch, Titanfall. But I like RPG’s as well. So I’m about to play Final Fantasy when that comes out. I don’t really have favorites to be honest.”

Whenever I think about video games, I get nostalgic about playing with friends and family. What’s a good memory that you’ve had that is nostalgic for you?

“I used to play with my friends. College… when I first got into college when Halo first came out, man… that was the only time when you could really play four people playing on one TV. You got the four different boxes on the screen. But then you could also connect on the school network and play other people at other dorms. There was always competition out there. That always stood out to me, too. It’s very competitive during college for Halo.”

I mentioned to him how back in college, my friends and I started a clan (team) on a computer game. I asked him if he was part of clan, and what was the name of it.

“Yup! We changed our names very frequently. We ended up most of the time being The Sopranos. I think we had some other names.”

What was your name?

“I changed that a lot, too. I had really silly names like, ‘A Smurf”. So when you kill someone, it’ll say, ‘You got killed by A Smurf’, or ‘You got killed by Your Own Gun’. Stuff like that.”

I shared with him how my friends and my clan was known as “[WaD]” for War and Destruction. The name I primarily went as was “[WaD]in_my_pants”. Oh yeah, it’s true. We laughed at this along with other names we shared.

He shared with me how he had the game that I played installed at school, so he and his friends always played at school. He wasn’t sure how the game got installed on the computer in the first place, but he had fun with it.

Thinking about these days, I’m 31 and you’re 30. I’m finding it hard trying to get people together. (He nods agreeing.) If you could get the band back together, how would you do that? What’s stopping you to do that?

“It’s kind of hard. A lot of times, we’re playing online at our own homes or whatnot. Every once in a while, we do try to get together. Not as much, but we like to get together — used to always have tournaments. We’d go over to someone’s house, and we’d just play an 8-person tournament in Tekken. That’s usually the only time that we’re actually playing together. Other than that, we’re usually online talking to each through headphones.”

Is there any other names that your friends would call you?

“I don’t really have nicknames. Oh man…”

“I’m a little bit of a smart ass sometimes. So, I know one of my friends is always calling me smart ass… and just different variations of that.” Haha, right.

“Also, I have a very sarcastic humor, so it’s all fun and games.”

How would you describe who you are to your friends and family?

“I mean… who I am… I don’t know.”

“One being my family, they know I’m very, very sarcastic. I’m reliable. I have a little sister. When she was going to college, I was sending her money all the time because I was working at the time. Just help her out — get her through college or whatnot. Help pay for her books and stuff. We had a small family, but we’re very close, so I always try to help out.”

He shared how he liked “helping [his parents] out when he can”.

Where did you get that from?

“I don’t know…” he thinks. “That’s a good question.”

“Probably just because we’re a small family. I just felt pretty grateful. My grandparents actually took pretty good care of me and my sister as well. Once our grandfather passed away, I stepped up and helped my sister out where I could.”

“It’s just…” he thinks. “I just felt like it’s something I wanted to do. I needed to do being a big brother.”

Bruce tells me how he doesn’t have a family “of his own”, but he does hope to have kids one day. So I asked him what’s a value he’d like to pass on and ensure he instills as part of his kids’ values.

He’s struggling to find the word he’s looking for (“Having a brain fart right now,” he laughs). I’m seeing the gears work in his head. “Just always being there for them.”

“Dependable! There we go.”

“Being loyal. Family first. Stuff like that. That’s the number one thing…”

How has your family been dependable for you?

“When I was going through school, my mom was always there for me when I needed her. A little cash here and there. My dad’s always there when I needed to talk about things. Like when I was choosing what school I wanted to go to, career paths…” and even other life events today. “Stuff like that.”

“Their wisdom, I guess, for, you know, being around for so long — just something I really depend on.”

When you were a kid, you would dream about everything you could have, possibly do — big house, cars, families, and all this great stuff. What would you do to attain that? How far will you go? What steps would you take to make that dream to absolutely happen and they didn’t get lost? What would you do to make sure all those dreams you had as a kid happened? (Thanks to TK, Stranger 69)

I asked him to step back for a moment and share what was his dream as a kid.

“Probably being an astronaut. I don’t know why, but when I was growing up, I was just so infatuated with space. That was my big thing. Obviously, didn’t take any steps to get there. But until high school, I had 2-3 pretty good telescopes. I was always out in the country with no lights and whatnot, and looking up. That was kind of my thing. But never happened.”

That might be a hard one for him to take steps towards, but I was curious what steps could he take if he wanted to be an astronaut now. What were the first couple steps he’d take?

“There are so many ways to be an astronaut these days. I mean, they don’t really go up to space, but you could be any profession almost and kinda go into space as long as you have an idea, and what NASA wants of you. I guess the big thing would be focus more on science, definitely. I’m just an accountant, but just really excel in my field.”

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

“Piggybacking on that question right there, this is something I always ask my friends — if you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? Any point in time, what would it be?”

What would that be for you?

He admits, “I don’t know”, and thinks.

“For me, it’d probably be being a little more focused in college. I started off in math and engineering, but I kind of veered off a little bit. Finished with the math, but I didn’t finish the engineering piece. Pretty much just sticking with that piece.”

“That’d be the one thing off the top of my head.”

After the handshake.

Bruce and I talked a little bit longer after our Stranger meet. He thought this journey was very interesting, and he shared that he was interested in perhaps doing it, too. He may not write about it, but he likes the reasons for this journey. He didn’t say it, but I can see that he also appreciates the consistent practice, and he may see it as a challenge to try his own Strangers journey for a little while.

I felt this meet was slightly different from many others right as he started talking about video games. Playing video games just brought me so many memories with friends and family growing up. So as he mentioned his interest in video games, I was curious if he had the same experiences as I did growing up. Hence, the nostalgia questions. It was pretty cool to also watch him as he relived some of those college days thinking about how he and his friends would gather around the TV split-screen as everyone played. It was very similar experiences to me, too.

Also, I really enjoyed learning about his sarcastic personality. When I mentioned he could take any picture he wanted, he really wanted to do a funny one, so the picture here is what he was really happy to do. Gotta love people who can hit the gym hard and have a completely fun personality away from the iron.

Meet Bruce. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 62, Day 62 - Meet Kevin

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

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

Meet Kevin, 31

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How have you influenced her?

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

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

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

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

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

What’d you learn today?

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

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

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

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

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

“What are you doing this weekend?”

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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

Meet Kevin. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 61, Day 61 - Meet Mark

Stranger 61, Day 61 – Meet Mark, the “Enthusiastic”

I went on a little bit of a walk today around the office. Well, I went to do a random stop-in with a prospect down the street. On my way back, I was just enjoying the great weather. As I was walking I saw all sorts of people in their cars next to me sitting in traffic. Several were on phones. Several were honking for who-knows-what. It made me think about how great it’d be to just stop being so anxious and just… relax. Take a walk. Enjoy life.

That little thought then brought me back to people and this journey. So looking around, I found a man standing at the valet stand at a nearby restaurant. Perfect. I walked right up to him, and asked him to be my Stranger for the Day.

Meet Mark, 22

Who are you?

He smiles big. “Hard-working 22-year-old trying to figure out life as it goes.”

“Passion… I played sports my whole life. I love helping people. One thing, I’m very energetic. I just love and enjoy people, so I’m trying to figure out how I can turn that maybe into a career. So really, it’s who I am.”

What do you do today to help people?

“Well, as I’m working right now valeting, my energy.” He tells me how he has so much energy that he wants to greet people as they get out of their cars — “my energy transitions to them. I want to see people’s energy lift up when I do that. Not really a lot with valet I can really help them, so it’s just something that maybe I can help make someone’s day better. My energy doing that, not really what I say, but how I feel towards them hopefully creates their day a little better.” I like how he thinks about the little details can make big differences.

When and what was the last time someone’s done that for you?

“Top of my head… I’d say my girlfriend recently. She just does little things that in the past, I never had — something that makes me appreciate her a lot more. Just the tiny stuff from her telling me good morning. The way she says it from her making the effort to come see me. We don’t live close by, so ‘Hey! How are you doing today?’ Just the little thing when she does see me… just takes care of me. Makes you appreciate the little things, and makes me feel like a better person. So I do that. I reciprocate it to other people. She brings that to me, and I do that to other people. It transitions from me.”

When you’ve caught yourself being down in the moment, is there something that she or one of your best friends does/ knows on how to interact with you?

“They start telling me all the good I do, and I think about what kind of positive person I am. We’re our own worst enemy a lot of times. I am a big victim of that where I’m in my head. Recently, I started trying to empower myself by reading books, watching videos… when my best friends see me like that, they kind of know the process I’m trying to do. So they see that.”

Mark shares how his best friends keep him positive and motivated by always providing words of encouragement. “I keep it a close circle now. I have a very tight circle. From before, I had a bunch of different people telling me, ‘No, no, no, no.'” He goes on to share how his close friends are all about helping him.

Thinking about that long-term how you want to help people. Do you have any idea of what that might look like?

“Well, I played sports my whole life, and I’ve worked in a lot of gyms. So personal training is something I’m trying to dive in now. I’m actually getting my certification. It’s not just the fitness aspect of it. I want people’s mindsets to change. When I’m helping them get a healthier life, I want them to think, ‘hey, if I did this, then the next steps going to be easy. It’s only going to get better.'”

“I want to help them health-wise. Train them. Make their mindset more confident because the more confident a person is, the better the person they are. To me, that’s just how I can help the world. I learned from a young age sports and training all the way up. So ‘hey, why not translate that into personal training and help more people be more confident?'”

When you come across someone who hasn’t worked out, who hasn’t trained, what’s one piece of advice you give them?

“If you want to change your body, you have to change your mind. Like I said before, we’re victims of our own mindset. We’re so negative. You look in the mirror for 15 seconds, people are so negative to themselves — ‘oh my face… my chest… my body…'” The moment you change that to positivity is the moment you can change your body to whatever you want.”

“So first off, I say, ‘hey, this is a lifestyle change, not a body change.'” Mark continues to tell me how he wants to help people appreciate the difficulties of changing the mindset and the body. He cites how sometimes it’ll hurt, but he wants people to embrace the pain because of the positive outcomes. “It’s all about falling in love with the process basically.”

What is the one thing you’re doing to change the world? (Thanks to Kathleen, Stranger 60)

“Spreading enthusiasm. Spreading passion and spreading love. For the longest time, I was very insecure about who I was. I looked like I was very confident, but I was very insecure. I feel like spreading my positivity, spreading my enthusiasm, and spreading my passion just for, ‘hey, if I can drive this, then you can do it’… people seeing that… actions speak louder than words. So if they see me constantly day-by-day, I feel like it’s better that I do that and people see it. I feel like I affect a lot more people that way.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“That’s a tough one, because I really want to make it a good one…” He stands there thinking…

“What kind of person do you want to be tomorrow? I feel like it’s a big question because you ask yourself who are you today and who are you going to be tomorrow? Are you going to be better? Or are you going to be the same. The best thing you can be is better than you were yesterday. So you evaluate yourself… who are you today? And how can I make myself better? If you ask yourself that everyday, you’ll continue to grow. That’s how I feel personally.”

After the handshake.

When Mark said he had energy, he really means it. As we were talking, he was confident in his voice. He was smiling — wait, he was beaming at moments. He was super friendly. I can only imagine as he opens car doors, he’s warm, friendly, happy, and courteous.

I very much appreciated now only his enthusiasm, but his view on changing mindsets as part of personal training. As a fitness enthusiast and certified personal trainer myself, I can say that there’s a lot of emphasis on exercise. Then, there’s a lot emphasis on diet. There’s not much on the mind. Perhaps because that’s such a fragile place that we need some doctorate in psychology. However, Mark’s right in that it’s the people’s mindsets that is paramount to achieving goals of healthier selves. Not only that, but Mark is a big proponent on the process. With his experience, he understands that achieving goals will take time. It will be hard. You will sweat. You might even get hurt. However, you must stick to the process and trust yourself and trust the process.

Great to meet Mark, and I have no doubt that the small interactions he makes with simple gestures like smiles and hellos, he’s affecting people’s moods. When you affect moods, that could have grand ripple effects.

Meet Mark. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 56, Day 56 - Meet Joey

Stranger 56, Day 56 – Meet Joey, the “People Person”

I’ve met today’s Stranger before, but I knew nothing about him other than his name and he went to the gym. We see each other often, and it’s like many other Strangers. “Hi!” then back focused on my workout. That’s it.

So when I saw him today, I was excited to share with him the project, and to get to know him better through it. Happily, he accepted.

Meet Joey, 23

Who are you?

“I graduated from Georgia last December. I grew up in the Atlanta area my whole life. After graduation, moved here, and started working at Hanover Insurance Group in the spring. So I do insurance underwriting. I interned with the company last summer. So that’s what I do for work. I’m training right now, so it’s still… six months or so. Sometimes, it’s boring, but it’s no stress. But yeah… hobbies, I’d say, obviously fitness. I played sports. I played baseball and soccer growing up. College football. I mean, Georgia.” Joey points to his shirt with the big UGA logo emblazoned across the chest.

“I love the dawgs… Braves. Pretty much any Atlanta sports team — pretty passionate about.”

“I’m trying to think.” He admits, “Creativity is not… there yet.”

So you grew up in Atlanta your whole life. Why’d you decide to stick around?

“The company that I told you I interned with — I really liked the culture. They’re all about helping people. I mean, other than the work, they take care of the employees, but… the way that they care about the community and other people. There’s a lot of others-minded aspects to the company that really stood out to me. When they said I could start out full-time here, I was like, ‘oh yeah, that’s great!’ So then next year, or I guess more in the summer, they’ll put me full-time somewhere else. It could still be here, but it’s up to whoever. I was like, ‘yeah, I’d like to stay for a year or so’ then after that, I’m up for an adventure. I have nothing tied down to me, you know. We’ll see what happens.”

“Like I said, that first year out of college, I was a little, ‘I’m going to get my feet under me real quick, and then I’ll move if I have to.’ That’s pretty much the reason — just wasn’t ready to go away yet. I think it works out.”

Now that you’ve got your feet under you, and you’re thinking about your long-term trajectory in some ways, what are some of your aspirations? Do you have any Dreams? If so, what are they?

“I guess from a career standpoint, I’m not 100% sure yet what I want to do. I like this underwriting career path for now and maybe in 5-10-year goal. As for the rest of my career, probably not. That, I’m still kind of figuring out as I go on — narrowing down my interests, and what am I more passionate about. I’m still in that discovery phase. You know, I like working with people. Because half my job, I’m able to talk with people… get to know them. Take them out for whatever. I like that aspect, too. There’s that analytical side, too. Definitely, I’m more of a people-person, than sit-behind-a-desk and analyze risk.”

“Back to the original point, I guess it’s really pinpointing what I am passionate about it. I think it is ultimately people. Something in that regard. It’s not more so what… How can I make the most money. That’s nice, but at the end of the day, it’s not rewarding. For me, I think it’s too early to tell what exact path I want to go down, but that’s the gist of it from a work and personal standpoint. As long as I’m working with people, and if I can make their day, then I think that’s a pretty successful day. Or life, you know.”

“That’s why I said this project you’ve got going on… that’s cool you thought about it yourself, it’s not like… even if it was part of a bigger organization, everyone has this individual challenge to try to meet. That’s cool. It’s creative. I like it.”

I share with him how he’s Stranger 56, and how the Strangers’ stories have been inspiring others in so many different ways. I tell him it’d be very interesting for him as a people person.

“Oh yeah. If I have access to them all… I’d see other people’s inputs. How are you similar? How are you different? What ideas can I take from these other people.”

“Like I said, that’s a cool concept.”

You like working with people. You like talking to people, but that means people will need to interact you. So in many ways, they have to like you as well. So what is it that you think about you that people like?

“One, I’m very laid-back. I’m easy to approach — approachable. I can talk about a lot of different stuff. Even if I’m having a brutally, painful, awkward small-talk with someone, I can still find a common ground to keep a conversation going. And like, yeah, I might be out of my comfort zone, but I can still have a conversation with someone, and end up being fruitful. Yeah, you can talk to your friends or coworkers who have similar interests, but it’s easy for me to talk to anybody about something. I’m not going to sit there and just, ‘hey, how’s it going?’ Definitely, some mornings, don’t talk to me. I’m tired. But I think it’s that approachable aspect to me. I’m not turned off to certain type of person based on whatever. I’ll talk to anyone.”

“It seems pretty basic, but I think a lot of people need to be like that more. Just open and accepting of that… everyone. That should go without saying, but things are, these days, rough.”

I talk to him about some of the things I’ve learned and noticed since starting this journey including how odd it is how we don’t connect or know many of the people around us day-to-day. Or how Simon Sinek pointed out in his book Start With Why how we are open to connecting with other Americans abroad even though they’re complete Strangers. Yet, at home in our day-to-day, we’re reticent to open up to the person next to us we don’t know.

“It’s interesting. Yeah, when you put it that way. Because I mean… it’s the same when you see someone with a Georgia or a Braves shirt somewhere else. Here, you don’t think anything of it. If you were in Texas or Virginia, you go to them and you’re like, ‘hey, you know, we have this mutual connection here!’ But then here, because it’s so normal or common, you’re numb to it. So it’s a good point. You can get to know the people around you on a deeper level, than just ‘hey, gym-goer’.”

What is your earliest memory? And why do you hold that as your earliest memory, and remembering it now and articulating it, what does that mean for you today? (Thanks to Natalie, Stranger 55)

“Earliest memory… man, that’s a deep question,” he laughs.

“I have a pretty good long-term memory. My short-term is pretty bad. You know, there are certain experiences I remember when I was 5 years old, 4 years old. While they’re simple and whatever, it’s still the house I was at, the friends that were around me. Yeah, those were obviously good times. I was 4 years old. Those people I ended up growing up with. Some moved away. Some I’m still kinda friends with. Some, unfortunately, passed away. It’s crazy to think 20 years later, how much… I mean, 20 years is a long time. A lot is going to change, but then you think about it, ‘like wow, everyone’s passed… went in very different directions.'”

He goes straight into his question he wants to ask…

“Bouncing off that same topic, how do you maintain your relationships with people?”

“How much do you keep in contact with your everyday friends? Your old friends? Because you never know… it’s hard to keep up with people you grew up with, went to school with, you worked with, switched jobs or something… relatives… Personally, I try to reach out to people as often as I can. Maybe once a month or maybe even sooner. Even if nothing’s going on, just like, ‘hey man, how’s it going?'”

How do you do that?

“I’ll text or, ‘hey man, I’ll give you a call or something sometime. Whenever your schedule’s free, just to catch up for 10 minutes.'”

“I think it’s just strained in some ways that relationship with friends and family. Like my grandparents, they’re obviously family, but they live 10 hours away. So I see them twice a year, but they’re getting pretty old. I think I do a better job now calling them more often rather than when my parents told me to. Now, it’s personally, I need to, and I want to, because time’s ticking. I think the same thing can do with your friends. ‘Hey man, how’s it going? Everything okay? Anything I can do for you?’ I think people…”

He catches himself, “rabbit’s trail, for sure…”

“But going back to it, I’d say, I think everyone should kind of do a better job of keeping in contact with each other. Watching out for each other. Stuff like that.”

After the handshake.

It was great to hear Joey take to this journey. He totally gets it as he’s a people person as well. Or perhaps more importantly, he values relationships and how we can all cultivate stronger relationships — with friends, family, and just those in our community.

I really didn’t know Joey much other than the big guy who lifts a good bit. Now, I get to know his passion and what fuels him beyond the protein. (Yes, that was a terrible, corny joke.) It’ll be great, too, for Joey to check out some of the Stranger stories here as he’ll likely recognize several from the gym.

Meet Joey. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 53, Day 53 - Meet Tyler

Stranger 53, Day 53 – Meet Tyler, the “Achiever”

Okay, I finally hit my first rejection today at Atlanta Tech Village. So sad as I actually went around the building looking for someone to be today’s Stranger. He wanted to remain private.

As I walked to another floor, I found a man heating up some chicken and brown rice in one of the microwaves. He was open to me interrupting his meal, and was happy to be today’s Stranger. That’s impressive considering he’s a bodybuilder, and I just got in the way of his meat and carbs.

Meet Tyler, 25

Who are you?

“I’m someone who’s, I guess, more goal-driven. The only two things I do are work and bodybuild. Someone who’s been told no pretty much my whole life. That’s kind of what’s driven me to this point.”

“… I guess that’s me in a nutshell — just driven.”

You mentioned being driven “to this point”. What is this point?

“Long story short, in high school, my guidance counselor told me like… when I asked about college, he laughed at me, and was like, ‘you’re not going to college.'”

“Right after high school, I didn’t go to college. About a year set in, and I was like, ‘you know? Screw this. I’m going to prove this guy wrong.’ Went to college. Graduated college — had to go to community college first — then went to a big university.”

“Graduated — first person in my family to graduate from college. Other than that, I always think that you just get a job, but I wasn’t happy with that either. Somehow, I stumbled upon Acuity at a career fair. But I mean, I’ve been told no for bodybuilding before and school, and so, it’s just… just been what motivates me.”

So you took a year off school, didn’t go to college. Did what the guidance counselor said influence you to not go to college?

“It was a combination of maybe I wasn’t meant for college… That, and I just worked. I worked at a minimum wage job. Started off washing dishes, and became the kitchen manager. Then after, I just couldn’t. I was like, ‘I can’t do this’.” He looks down and shakes his head recalling the experience.

Was that a Life-Defining Moment for you? What was the moment for you that said, “I gotta go do this, or I gotta get into bodybuilding”? What was the Life-Defining Moment for you?

“I think it was just seeing all my friends succeed. Them all going to college.” He thinks. “Just looking at them and my surroundings and the people I was with at the time.”

He tells me about the difference between the people he was surrounded with and who he wanted to surround himself with.

He recalls his counselor, “And he actually went to the University of South Carolina. I thought about, maybe debating sending my diploma to him. But I’ll that one go.”

Where you are right now — are you happy?

“Yeah! I love it! I started at Acuity as an SDR. Five months in, they allowed me an opportunity to be promoted to an Account Executive. I didn’t get it, but I think my boss at the time was like, ‘you know, you still have a ways to go.’ At the time, you want to reject it, ‘No! I’m ready now!” he motions with his hand in feigned enthusiasm.

“Looking back on it, it was the best decision she did. I got promoted over the summer-time. So it ended up in its own way. But yeah, I love it.” He shares his company’s leaders as “awesome people to work for.”

You went through a life full of no’s, and looks like you’re doing pretty well from bodybuilding, and you were the first person in your family to have graduated from college. That’s a lot of great successes. What’s your Life Lesson to share with others who may also encounter a lot of no’s?

“Don’t listen to it.”

“No matter what. You know, when you’re a kid, and you’re like, ‘oh, I want to be an NFL player!’ I mean, I’ve heard other people say, ‘oh no, that’s ridiculous. You can never be an NFL player.’ But to me, that’s stupid. Why not? Why not you?”

“Why not me in graduating from college? I say go for it.”

Anything else that you do right now that encourages others in that way?

“I haven’t done it in three months, but for a long time, I was watching kids at a gym. I get along with kids really well, so just watching them. Anytime they talk, ‘school is stupid!’ You know when you get a bunch of kids together. I always like to sit there and coach them up. Just tell them, ‘hey, college isn’t bad.’ That’s about it.”

Why do you think there’s so much animosity and hate in this world? Why can’t we get along? Why we can’t unite as one front and be happy? (Thanks to Rhonda, Stranger 52)

“That… is a really tough question,” Tyler laughs and thinks for a while.

“I guess if I could solve that… I don’t know.” Indeed, that’s a tough question. So much in this one you could say.

“I guess it goes back to treating everyone the way you should be treated. I think everyone’s done it at some point like treating someone in a bad way.”

I ask Tyler about his experiences being told no so often. Did they do it out of animosity? Why did he get so many no’s? Did they want to doubt you? Want to be mean?

Tyler recalled, “No, I think they saw what was on the piece of paper.” He’s alluding to his counselor again from high school.

“The counselors always saw my grades. That’s all they saw. The people who told me no in bodybuilding, all they saw was what was in front of them. I think in order to know someone, you really have to dive into who they are. It’s just not what’s on the front of the cover.”

To this, I asked Tyler if part of the rejection he’s felt was because of that initial judgement — looking at him as a piece of paper with grades versus understanding who he really was and how he could achieve greater things.

Tyler responds, “Yeah, definitely… Definitely taught in that way,” as he refers to that initial judgement without asking more questions.

What would you like to ask any Stranger? (Tomorrow’s.)

“I guess… if you could go back and remember a time when someone told you no, would you treat it differently?”

“I think when that teacher told me no, I just accepted it at that point.”

After the handshake.

When I started sharing how some other Strangers have taken pictures including his coworker who was a Stranger before and did a handstand, I thought he would do something bodybuilding-esque. Instead, he surprised asking if it’d be cool to lay on the table in the kitchen. I didn’t know where he was going on that one, but said sure. Then, he said that he wanted to lay there like “Rose from Titanic“. Ha! Okay, that, I did not see coming. (I was tempted to title this, “Stranger 53, Day 53 – Meet Tyler, the “Rose of ATV”.)

It was good to hear Tyler’s story, and how he’s consistently overcame and achieved in areas he was otherwise denied/ rejected/ laughed at. Sad to hear that his high school counselor did not provide him with the support to go to college and find the right one for him. However, sounds like Tyler takes these situations and feeds off them to continue to achieve.

Meet Tyler. No longer a Stranger.