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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 67, Day 67 - Meet Amy

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

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

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

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

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

So, we officially kick this off.

Meet Amy, “Grown and Sexy”

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

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

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

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

What drove you into radio?

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

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

“…Turned into my passion.”

What about radio really drew you in?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What brought up aerial DJ’ing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you think you’ll ever close that?

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

Has that impacted some of your relationships today?

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

“I didn’t… I just left it alone.”

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

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

Meet Amy. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 66, Day 66 - Meet Andrew

Stranger 66, Day 66 – Meet Andrew, the “Man with the Vibe”

I met today’s Stranger walking around my office again. This time, I stopped by the coffee shop to say hello to Kellie, Stranger 31. Then, I continued walking around, and stopped by one guy working on his computer. I walked up and started talking to him, and he was immediately game on. In fact, he had an interesting energy about him from the get-go. He had an air of optimism, confidence, and just… something, I’m not sure. However, it was a great vibe from him, so let me introduce you to today’s Stranger…

Meet Andrew, 26

Who are you?

“My name is Andrew. Graduated from Hampton University in Virginia with my MBA. I’ve always been very entrepreneurial. Just moved down here to Atlanta about three months ago to expand the marketing agency that I have — started in the D.C. area. We like this market so we’re growing here. We have a new product that we’re releasing. That’s why we’re here at Atlanta Tech Village.”

“But yeah, been an entrepreneur for… going on four years now full-time. Really, really excited. I love what I do. I love meeting people. I think I’m pretty good at what I do, too, so I’m excited to take things to the next level.”

What got you into being an entrepreneur four years ago?

“I’ve always been very entrepreneurial, number one — just the knack for it. Started when I was young trying to always flip things or sell things on the school bus or whatever it is. Trying to always make a dollar. Have very frugal parents — Asian parents. So I had to get it on my own. If I want it, I had to get it. So I had that mentality when I was pretty young.”

“When I went to college, my freshman year, I set up a barbershop in my room. Started cutting everybody’s hair. Started making $5 an hour. I’d book out the whole day, and make a hundred bucks or whatever. After that, I saw another opportunity to actually become a DJ at my school. The DJ there was DJ Tay James. He was a senior, and I was a freshman. I was like, ‘hey, this guy’s graduating. This means there needs to be a new guy.’ So I kind of jumped in, learned the trade/ the craft, bought speakers and equipment shipped right to my dorm room, and learn a little bit under him. He ultimately left, and in a few years, became Justin Bieber’s DJ. The DJ before that was DJ Baby Drew which is Chris Brown’s DJ. Before that was Envy who’s with the Breakfast Club. Hampton has a pretty long lineage of very successful DJs. So I was right there behind them. I came in, did my thing. I took over. That allowed me to make a lot of money in college. That was cool. I was grinding and working every single night. Also gave me a lot of business experience, too — networking, business development, partnerships, when also throwing events and having equipment and renting those out. Just a lot of different business transactions. Just a lot… good and bad. Been sued. Sued others. Lost tens of thousands of dollars. All that when I was still 18, 19, 20. Ultimately, still doing what needed to be done, too. I was doing what I wanted to do which was finishing school. Getting my MBA.”

“Graduated. Went to work at Pepsi right after. I still wanted a bi-weekly check, so I said, ‘hey, let me go work for a Fortune 500 company’, with the intention to understand the system, the backend, the processes, the sales structure, all of that good stuff, financing of a big company. Take all of that knowledge and start a new company which is where I started the O Agency at the same time. This was back in 2013. So I started it at the same time. That was probably one of the hardest years because I was working from 4/5 AM to 4/5 PM at Pepsi. Then, go home and put in my time for the O Agency — 6 till 12/1/2. Wake back up at 4 o’clock, but I was still DJ’ing at the time, too. So I’d have contracts at different schools — basketball, football games. I would drive an hour. If it was a 6 o’clock game, do that. Double-header, 8 o’clock… that finishes at 10. Drive an hour back home. Try to put in a couple more hours for the agency till 1/2/3. Then, wake back up at 5 o’clock. I did that for an entire year, so that I could quit Pepsi.”

“And been doing this full-time ever since. Now, we have a new project we’re working on, and we’re pretty excited about it!”

So your project has opened up a space here in Atlanta, and you have a product.

“So we’ve historically always been a services-based industry. We’re working on moving towards the product-based industry now which has allowed us to get into the Atlanta Tech Village with a more tech/ product-focused business. So now, we haven’t launched, yet. Plan on launching early 2017. It’s basically a platform. The goal of it is an educational and media play. We’re talking about lots of users — daily active users. That’s the main metric, right? After that, converting whether it’s an upsell, downsell, or subscription, whatever it is. We’re helping a lot of… well, I guess the difference between us, we’re attacking a market that really, really needs it. It’s an educational platform, but we’re helping to teach and diversify the tech and entrepreneurship industry. I’m talking about minorities, everybody — African Americans, Asians, Latinos. All of that because there’s a niche where, I want to say it’s under-tapped, but we know that’s where the world is going. We know by 2040, Americans will be a minority-driven nation. There’s a lot of opportunities for a brand to come in and capture that market and build relationships in that field and grow as the economy and as the market grows with it for this sector of education and tech and entrepreneurship.”

You’ve grinded pretty hard for a while there. I’m sure you’ve had some opportunities to be a DJ for someone sort of like your other Hampton alumni. Why go down the business route? What kind of advice would you give in that way?

“I think that I became really good at DJ’ing. That was a skill, but the reality is, I really didn’t like DJ’ing. I really, really enjoyed branding and marketing myself as a DJ, and growing that. The reality is that I wasn’t even the best DJ. But I had the best relationships. I had the best brand. I had the best connections, etc. etc. which really allowed me to get booked every single weekend, and become the face of that school and all of that. That led onto me working with some of my friends — testing my skills. Next thing you know, we’re on an East Coast tour doing all types of stunts. Getting on TV and all that stuff. Again, as the journey continued, my true love and passion is in branding and marketing. Good thing is, whatever business I pick now, I can pretty much use those skills to take you really, really far.”

“I think most people get… I forget. There was a really, really good quote from Steve Harvey.” He forgot a while, but then went and Googled it.

“Do not ignore your gift. Your gift is the thing you do the absolute BEST with the LEAST amount of effort.” – Steve Harvey

“He was talking about the difference between your gifts and your passions. I think a lot of people get trapped into this whole ‘passion’ — follow your passion, love and all that good stuff. But people will sometimes, I don’t want to misinterpret, but sometimes, your gift isn’t necessarily your passion. What he said, ‘do not ignore your gift’. It’s natural. You’re innate to it. The road is bumpy, regardless of the road you take.”

“I know it’s very, very similar when you talk about passions and gifts and following your dreams… all that good stuff. I think a lot of people get confused. Sometimes, I say, ‘don’t pursue your passion, pursue with passion.’ A lot of times people don’t know what they don’t know, too. You think this is your passion till it gets hard, it gets tough, and you quit or whatever. A lot of times, you really, really gain clarity on what your life’s purpose is, or what your gifts are — this will allow you go with life a little easier. There’s the whole dream, and what you want to do, but then, there’s also the reality. What you need to survive. You have to make money, and all that good stuff, too. You have to be able to just coordinate it and balance it correctly. Don’t get lost in the sauce!”

If you could describe yourself in 3-5 words?

“Humble, confident, and faithful.”

What are the happiest moments of your life, and what are the saddest moments? (Thanks to Victor, Stranger 65)

Andrew laughs for a moment. “Oh man… literally, I’ve had the happiest and saddest moments of my life this year.”

“This year… literally, the highest of the highs, and the lowest of the lows. I guess it just comes with the amount of success plus also — and this is why I said faith is so important to me because ultimately (and this is just to me) when I put too much faith or trust in things and people, and just some worldly stuff, it can tend to fail you. So for me, personally, I put my faith to something that’s higher and above me.”

“That was my lesson this year, but I’ve had the highest of the highs, and the lowest of the lows with just the success of the business. But also, understanding at any moment, it can get taken away if I’m not just humble by everything that goes around me everyday, and just appreciate all that good stuff.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I guess I would say… just want to throw something out there… have you ever been betrayed? And what did you do?”

After the handshake.

I really enjoyed meeting Andrew. I’ve gotten along great with many Strangers, and have had some good connections. However, there was something real special with Andrew, and I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps because I appreciated how much he grinded working such long hours, but doing things that he really enjoyed. He set himself up for success, or at the least, the attempt at something greater by working long in the morning and into the night. He was good at what he did before, and he saw how he was following in the footsteps of some notable DJs making good money. However, that wasn’t his passion. That’s something big and telling… something I can really get behind.

I also appreciated his realization of the difference between what you’re good at and your passion. He said, “don’t pursue your passions, pursue with passion”. Not sure if I fully agree, but I can see his point. I suppose in a perfect world, you would do both. In fact, I like to say that you should find yourself in the intersection of three circles — what you love doing, what you’re good at, and what you get paid to do. (I have this in a Venn Diagram drawn up somewhere, but I can’t find it. D’oh!)

Great to connect and meet Andrew, and I’m excited for all the great things to come for him. Today was just the beginning at ATV. Will be great for the entire community not just here at ATV, but in Atlanta.

Meet Andrew. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 55, Day 55 - Meet Natalie

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

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

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

Meet Natalie, 23

Who are you?

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

“I love Kanye West, too!” she laughs.

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

Thinking about what you like, what are your passions?

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

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

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

What is it you want to build?

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

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

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

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

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

Being identifiable and empathetic?

“Yes, certainly! Being empathetic.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Natalie. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 41, Day 41 - Meet Diamond

Stranger 41, Day 41 – Meet Diamond, the “Future Legend”

I met today’s Stranger at the office. I went around the building after work looking for someone, and I’m so glad I found today’s Stranger. I didn’t realize how much I’d connect and empathize with him. I won’t go into detail; instead, how about you…

Meet Diamond, 23

Who are you?

“Such a simple question,” Diamond says while taking in a big breathe and thinks.

“I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m definitely an entrepreneur. I think I’m more so just trying to figure things out. I’m a wanderer, I feel like. Like a nomad.”

“… I… well, that’s the deeper part of it. Who I am… I guess on paper, 23 years old. I go to Georgia State University. I study political science. I plan on doing nothing with my degree. My passion is what I’m doing now — my business, my app. And I’ve been in Atlanta for about 4-5 years. I’m originally from Jacksonville, FL. I was a Navy baby, so we got to move around a lot. Then yeah, that pretty much sums it up… on paper.”

What are your passions?

“My passion’s definitely helping other people not make the same mistakes I did in entrepreneurship, specifically.”

Diamond continues, “Really, that’s my biggest passion. Reaching out to other people, and trying to figure out what they’re having problems with business-wise, and maybe personal, but really business, and say, ‘hey, these are the mistakes I’ve made. Here’s how I can help you not make those same mistakes.'”

So how do you help them exactly? What do you do?

“It’s really in-the-moment kind of thing. It’s really me getting to know them. It’s random, and it’s this weird thing that always happens. Typically, it’s just the right place, right time kind of thing. We’ll just randomly talk, and then they’ll bring up something, and I’ll say, ‘well tell me more’, and really get to know them as a person. From that conversation, I’ll know whether they need some of my advice, or honestly, maybe I need advice from them. It’s not always a one-sided thing. I’m just trying to figure it out like everyone else is, honestly. Yeah…”

You said you’re a wanderer, and you’re trying to figure things out. However, you do have a focus to help others in entrepreneurship. What have you done in the past?

“Fell on my face and got back up. Try it again. Literally, that’s the best way to describe it.”

“… Goodness! I’ve made so many mistakes with how I thought the entrepreneurship journey would work as far as, oh, you have an amazing idea, and you put it out there in the world, and then you think, ‘it’s not going to be that bad. How hard could it be trying to get it out there?’ It’s really hard!” Diamond laughs.

“For me, it’s been extremely hard, and especially because I don’t have a team. I’m not saying that as an excuse, but I find myself trying to fill the role of marketing, customer service, complaints, developer… all those roles that normally different people… they fill those shoes. I’m trying to be all those people in one. But it’s finally starting to come together now as far as where I’m starting to go and where I’m headed.”

Where are you headed?

“I’m headed to become a Legend, I hope. Yeah, I want to be Legendary. I want to be someone people look and say, ‘wow, he really did it.'”

What were a couple of those mistakes?

“Marketing was definitely one of those. Because I felt that you could just throw the money out there and get instant results like Facebook ads, or putting your company in an editorial. Anything with advertising, really. I was making these huge mistakes because I was putting out money where it didn’t need it. It just needed effort. It didn’t need me to put money into it. So I learned really fast that hey, if I just put forth that effort, something could actually come of this instead of spending $3000 on one section of a magazine that no one ever really looks at. That actually did happen.” Diamond laughs again.

“It was definitely Marketing. And then from a developer/ app standpoint, I didn’t realize one of my biggest mistakes was I didn’t realize how apps seem very easy to a lot of people. They’re not. Especially on the developer-side. I have a developer now that I outsource to, and just the language is completely different. You make a lot of mistakes by not knowing what you want up front. That was my biggest mistake. I had an idea, and I reached out to him and I said, ‘hey, can you do this?’ He’d say, ‘yeah’, but then I kept adding on. ‘Oh wait, I need this’, and he’d say, “… okay… we can do that, too”, and then I’m like, “oh wait, I think we need to do this instead!’. He was like, ‘make up your mind. You’re making my job a lot harder for me and you.’ It was really costly on my end because I was adding in stuff that had I had told him upfront, he could’ve given his input, and we could’ve avoided a lot.”

“HUGE learning curve.”

Thinking about entrepreneurship has a funny way of teaching us through failures and mistakes, things about life… Is there a Life Lesson you’ve learned going through this?

“To keep going. As cliche as that sounds… to keep going and that you’re more powerful than you think.”

How do you keep going?

“I keep going by being present. By putting myself, even if I don’t want to come up here… some days, I really just want to stay in bed, but I’m like, ‘get up. Be present. Put forth the effort.’ My biggest thing I tell myself to keep going, is to prepare myself for tomorrow. Read that book, or reach out to that client, or just do one more thing so when tomorrow comes, you can say, ‘I’m ready to do this.’ And you’ll thank yourself for all the days before that you’ve set yourself up for the moment you’re in now.”

He looks away and thinks… smiles… “yeah… that’s definitely it…”

You don’t have a team working with you. But I’m sure you have a team that’s just Team Diamond.

“I do somewhat. Honestly, I have a lot of people who believe in me, but they just… for one, I’m probably one of the few people they know who has an app. I’m the only one that I know who has it. And two, I have the developers who stand behind me, but they’re in Texas, and they have other clients.”

Diamond starts smiling as he thinks.

“Yeah, I will say I do have a lot of people who are Team Diamond in the sense of like… some of the people that we have on the app, and just the people I meet out in general. Yeah, you’re right. I do have people. I may not realize it, but I actually do.”

As you’re thinking about this now, who is someone who is on Team Diamond?

“Definitely, it’s this guy named DJ Silver. He’s dope! He’s amazing! He’s one of the vendors on the app, and he’s supported me since Day 1. A photographer named Dame (sp?). It’s amazing how now that I think about it all these people who I’ve met through business have supported me a lot more than even outside of there. I don’t realize it till just now. That’s like… pretty amazing!” He’s smiling big as he thinks and makes this realization.

I talk to him about how it’s important about being present is also about stepping out and seeing the grander picture — appreciating the people all around us who really support us that we don’t realize as we focus on our startups.

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s rare that I think about it. But now that I am, I have a lot more people who are supporting me than I thought, or than I normally think.” He’s smiling real big again, and just thinking. It’s like his wheels of gratitude are turning now.

What do you like to eat, and where do you get that in Atlanta? (Thanks to Jake, Stranger 40 — sorry. I forgot to ask this at the beginning!)

“I like to…” Diamond thinks before he comes to the revelation.

“I know the place I like to eat is Flying Biscuit. I eat everything…like salmon. SALMON!” He slaps the table.

“Flying Biscuit has the best salmon scramble ever!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“How do you keep going? How do you get up and do whatever it is that you do that day? What is the thought that comes to mind that says, ‘this is the reason why I’m getting up’?”

After the handshake.

A lot of what Diamond talked about struck chords with me. For one, he mentions so much about failing to which I have once been dubbed, “The Master of Failure” having written a book on Failure (Postmortem of a Failed Startup: Lessons for Success) and I give talks about failure and entrepreneurship often.

I also shared with him after our little meeting about Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly and this notion of “shame”. For Diamond, I could see he felt shame, and he, like I did, identifies himself with his startup. As he’s failed in the past, he ties failure to him… We talk about how he should shift that perspective. It’s not that he’s a failure. Instead, he didn’t do somethings as well. For the marketing side, he did not allocate budget correctly. As he distances himself, the person, away from the decisions and actions he makes, he can move forward knowing that he can correct those. This is important for him as an entrepreneur, but also as a person moving forward. Distance who you are from the actions you make.

So meet Diamond. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 27, Day 27 - Meet Brooke

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

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

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

Meet Brooke, 33

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

How did you find your voice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s someone I’d love to meet.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

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

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet Brooke. No longer a Stranger.

 

Stranger 8, Day 8 - Meet Steve

Stranger 8, Day 8 – Meet Steve, the “Musician”

Looking over the past several Strangers, I actually approached today looking to build a little more diversity. But early this morning, as I do almost every Saturday morning, I stumbled someone at the summit of Stone Mountain who didn’t quite fit was I was “looking for”. However, he was actually the perfect Stranger.

As I hiked up the top of the world’s largest granite deposit, I noticed a young guy sitting there with a GoPro camera on a tripod, with a book next to him, music softly playing, and he was buried with a pen writing in what looked like a journal.

This man looked like he had some purpose… something about him, so I walked up, introduced myself. His name was Steve, and immediately, he started sharing so much about himself. He had a story. He was eager to share, and I was eager to listen.

Now, I did tell Steve I had some questions I typically liked to ask, but Steve was like an open book. He had so much he wanted to share that I didn’t want to stop his flow.

Hope I can share and do justice Steve’s story…

Meet Steve, 26

First, Steve shared that he was taking part of #21earlydays. I read about this on LifeHacker.com. Steve and others wake up at 4AM for 21 straight days. The goal here is to create positive habits.

Steve was documenting in his journal “how fitness came into my life… better life… better habits.” I knew Steve was going to share some deep life experiences, and he was comfortable being vulnerable.

Our conversation zigged and zagged — his story weaving through his marketing background and how he and his friend, a 2-time Olympic Gold medalist in Sydney, wanted to bring their skills and talents together. We talked about his desire to become a full-time musician. Then, we got to relationships…

Steve talked about how he was “finally” single. That was interesting. He had ended an 8-year relationship just four years ago, and then a few months later, jumped into a relationship that lasted two years. It was the 2-year relationship that Steve went into detail about.

During the two years, he was very unhappy. It wasn’t necessarily about the girl, either. The couple had moved into a place in Norcross that was not in a good neighborhood. He commented how he couldn’t even bring his instruments to the neighborhood because “people were waiting to steal them”.

So, at this point, Steve didn’t actually expound too much about what happened in the relationship, but I share this because this time was his Life-Defining Moment. I’ll get back to this in a second.

So Steve starts to take the conversation in a new direction sharing his battle with alcoholism. Steve talks about how he started drinking at a young age. He used other drugs, too, namely pot. He also shared how he was eight years clean until he relapsed November 2015. During this night, he found himself at a bar, and had one drink. He called his friends and family telling them he needed help, but once he had the one drink, it quickly became 12. He had gone for years without a drop, so to go to 12 drinks was much more than he had a tolerance for.

His friend picked him up outside the bar (after being kicked out) and brought Steve home where his sister and brother were. He was going on and on about how much he hated himself and his life that night. His sister, afraid for herself and for him, called the police. She wanted to have the police take him to a center for care, but the police saw him as a “drunk nuisance”, and instead, took him straight to jail. It was the first and only time Steve had spent in jail. He described the experience succinctly, “horrifying”.

Steve went straight back into rehab. He saw his experience at the rehab program as things they should’ve “taught in preschool”. They taught him about general thoughtfulness, about life… about being “mindful”. Steve also went to AA meetings, and said one of the most important lessons from all of these programs was being able to speak with those older than him. They would share how they would be decades clean, but then one drink lead them to “lose everything”.

Steve realized that his struggles with alcohol would be a constant practice. He didn’t “want to be one of those guys” who had lost everything because of alcohol and other substances.

Steve now started to piece things clearer as it all came full circle… his time during the 2-year relationship and not being able to play music, it was his Life-Defining Moment because that’s when he realized that music was his key to happiness.

With relationships, with substances… they were all his way of denying the truth of what brought him happiness — music. He was chasing “instant gratification” before vs. the longer, harder route of pursuing music full-time. Or in his case now, starting a music studio.

He comments about how he wants to prove all the nay-sayers wrong. He has always faced nay-sayers from those who didn’t believe in his skateboarding abilities in the past, being a musician, and his studio business now.

It seems to me that Steve has come to the realization of what matters most and what makes him happy. But also of importance is realizing what does NOT make him happy. He refers to the path he doesn’t ever want to go down again as the “negative imprint”.

Steve is an open book, and we could have go on for days. So we wanted put a cap on it and answer Elizabeth’s question (yesterday’s Stranger) — “If you could change one thing, what would it be and why?”

Steve thinks about this and smiling — it’s a challenge. He takes a second, “Good one, last Stranger!” (I’ll have to make sure Elizabeth sees this.)

He finally responds, “lack of closure with the one who got away.” He shares with me briefly a girl he had met between the 8-year and 2-year relationships. There was one girl who he dated briefly including attending the Stone Mountain sunrises like this morning. He smiles realizing this, but he continues that he wished he was not so “hasty” in trying to push the relationship. The girl was used to abusive relationships, but Steve wanted to move quickly.

So for tomorrow’s Stranger, Steve wanted to ask, “What’s your purpose? If you don’t know, what is your negative imprint?”

After the handshake.

I realize that I probably didn’t do Steve justice in everything that he shared. If this writing seems choppy, it’s on purpose. It’s how Steve started flowing, and I think it’s important to realize this.

For me, this is an indication of how honest Steve is, but also there is a greater story in him. He probably has not strung his story together as well, but I’d imagine he’s getting there by journaling and as part of the #21earlydays process.

And almost as perfect as Steve is as a person, a woman walked up to us during our talk and asked one of us to take a picture of her — “arms out wide to let people who are hurting know I’m right here”. She had some story, and wanted to, in the least, assure others with a picture.

Steve looked at me after taking the picture and reflected, “You meet all sorts of people who come up here for all different reasons”. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Steve.

Meet Steve. No longer a Stranger.