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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet Me, 31

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

“You forgot to ask for my birthday.”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Definitely not.” I laugh.

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

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

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

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

“Yup! Yup…” I laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

“So, I’m happy about that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think the biggest approach is being open.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

Anything else you want me to ask?

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

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

Cool.

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

Yeah, what is a question?

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Meet me. No longer a Stranger.

 

Stranger 81, Day 81 - Meet Tesh

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

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

Meet Tesh, 28

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… towards obrima.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, all the time!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

So meet Tesh. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 58, Day 58 - Meet Christina

Stranger 58, Day 58 – Meet Christina, the “Impact-Making Scientist”

I met today’s Stranger just before yoga class. In fact, I’ve seen her a bunch of times before, but we’ve never spoken to each other. Today might’ve been the same except I was holding a book that I was reading called Primed to Perform. I was fortunate enough to meet one of the co-authors Lindsay McGregor at a conference recently, and she kindly sent me a signed copy of her book. The book is about company culture, and aligning it to what drives people — largely, maximizing Total Motivation through maximizing Play, Purpose, and Potential and minimizing Emotional pressure, Economic pressure, and Inertia.

To book caught the eye of today’s Stranger as we briefly talked about her fascination around WHY and PURPOSE before I shared with her this journey, and asked her if she would like to be today’s Stranger. She happily accepted.

Meet Christina, 36

Who are you?

“Who am I… I am a scientist. I am a woman. I am an athlete. And I am a ballerina.” Ooh, I haven’t met a scientist or a ballerina, yet.

What do you love about being a ballerina?

“I love the balance of it. I like balance. I like being able to balance on my toes. I like how graceful it is, and it takes my athletic background which was swimming, and from that, I feel like I use my athletic background for art form.”

She mentioned that she used to perform in New York City of Joffrey Ballet.

So you’re doing yoga in addition to ballet. I’m guessing that yoga fits into that balance equation?

“Yes! Yoga… certain postures definitely fit in that equation as far as how I felt when I was in ballet. Yes, absolutely. I think that’s the other part. I think I like yoga a lot, too, because I feel like, in a weird way, it feels similar to the way I felt when I did ballet. And also, it kind of feels similar to swimming because you flow with some of the yoga classes, and in swimming, you flow.”

I wanted to jump back to how we started talking in the first place today. Can you expand again what’s your interest in motivations and purposes?

“I find motivation, in general, to be very interesting. What is the motivating factor for somebody to do something when the steps to that goal might be very uncomfortable and painful. There has to be something that overrides that pain and discomfort, or they’re willing to put up with it. I find that to be very interesting. Because a lot of work I do is very boring and mundane and long hours, and you know a normal 9-5 person will be like, ‘I’m not doing that today.’ You know? But I look at the overall picture, and I know that this is an important piece to my end-goal puzzle for me, so I have to do it.”

“I guess I’m able to override a lot of the boredom and mundane parts of it because it’s something that really interests me — the work does.”

And maybe because I watched Black Swan, I imagine being a ballerina was pretty tough, but you kept doing it, and you still do it.

“I only do it for fun now,” she points out.

What’s driving you to continue to be a ballerina?

(Side note: I asked her if there’s a verb version of this like, “ballerinaing” to which she laughed and said, “no. Ballerina.” Good to know.)

“What drives me…? Well, I like the way my body feels moving, and I like the way I feel balanced up on my toes, and I don’t want to lose that — the ability to do that — even if I may never perform again. I feel that it brings me to a place in my brain where I’m happy because I remember in ballet being happy a lot… even though it was hard.”

You mention work is mundane but you still do it because you’re interested in the work, being a ballerina… what else in your life do you have some sort of dream or goal? Maybe not so much that you struggle with, but what’s something that you continue to work towards?

“Well, I finished with my Masters. Originally, I was doing my PhD, and I didn’t complete my PhD. I have one year left. So almost everyday I wake up thinking about finishing my PhD. I’ve come very close to going back to school, but haven’t yet because it is a very long process. I’ve been struggling coming to terms with what I’m going to do professionally.”

Do you have any idea of what that might be? What you want to do professionally?

“Be a scientist… I either want to work at a biotech company or at the CDC or work in a research-type lab. I like cutting-edge research. When I was in New York, I worked for Rockefeller University.”

“So I did DNA sequencing and RNA sequencing and analysis for them. And I focused on this cutting-edge science. It was a lot of fun to be a part of something that like… you know, is a big deal. Yeah.”

I think the other part that motivates you is being on the cutting-edge where things could fail, but could also have a massive…

“Impact!” Yes!

“The sequencing… when I first started sequencing, it wasn’t a big deal. And then it grew… it literally, ASTRONOMICALLY grew within 5 years from where it started. It was crazy. Even normal people who weren’t science people knew what sequencing DNA was. It was crazy!” She was visibly excited… smiling.

When you realized where DNA sequencing is today from what it was, do you take a particular pride in being a part of that?

“Oh yeah!” She practically glowing thinking about this now.

“I feel like… that I definitely had… I saw it from the beginning to where it is today, and how it’s impacted humanity. I find it, in medicine, I find it to be really interesting.”

Is there a part of that where you’re like, ‘THAT part of sequencing, I did that”?

“Yeah. I did a lot of epi-genetic studies, which is part of your genome. So now, anytime somebody talks about epi-genetics, or I see an article about it, I’m like…” she breathes in, “that was me.” That’s pretty awesome.

Shifting gears slightly… Any other ways you’re really proud of doing? Could be even something small that you do everyday? What was an impact you did yesterday that you take a lot of pride in?

“I would say that I have a very determined mindset. Typically, if I’m going to do something, I will always follow-through on it. I show up, you know. I value that because I’ve noticed there are a lot of people say they’ll do something, but they never follow through on that. It can be very frustrating when you’re on the opposite end of it… requesting that somebody’s going to show up.”

“So that is probably one of them, and I’m very interested in the body and how the body works. I’ve been working with my husband on diet, and helping him get rid of a lot of allergies, and things like that. It’s nice to see it actually start working.”

I bet he’s very thankful about that right now as the leaves come raining down.

What makes you feel alive? (Thanks to Claudia, Stranger 57)

“Moving my body, and using my brain. I think that’s why I like ballet so much because I had to move my body and also use my brain as far as balance and technique goes. The same thing with swimming, and I guess yoga as well.

And yoga is about being mindful…

“Yeah, I love that part of it because you’re focused. Your brain’s not anywhere else. You’re focused right there. Yeah!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What’s their purpose? What they feel their purpose on earth is for because everybody’s here for a purpose, right?”

“… and I struggle to finding my exact purpose sometimes.”

What do you think it is?

“I think it has something to do with science, but not exactly in what manner, yet.”

After the handshake.

As I mentioned the six basic factors motivating people (see very beginning), it was clear that what drove Christina was Purpose. She wanted to be a part of the cutting-edge for the potential to do great things. I could see it in her enthusiasm through her smile and her eyes as she lit up talking about her pride in shaping DNA and RNA sequencing. That’s inspiring to see, and I’m so glad I got to see that in her and about her.

I shared with her my purpose and my Personal Mission. (“To change the world for the greater through entrepreneurial endeavors.”) I highlighted this very journey as one of those endeavors to which she instantly understood the potential to create meaningful interactions, and inspiring others to also connect with those in their communities. It was great to talk to her about PURPOSE and WHY — what drives her.

Meet Christina. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 54, Day 54 - Meet Samantha

Stranger 54, Day 54 – Meet Samantha, the “Traveling Spirit Animal”

Another “conclusion” to the work day had me walking around my office and then to the coffee shop on the first floor to find a Stranger. I still find it strange that I feel shy to walk up to people despite doing this for so long. Nevertheless, I walked straight up to a woman sitting at a table reading her phone. I approached her, and shared with her 100 Strangers, 100 Days to which she was very interested in. When I mentioned some of the “rules” or what being a Stranger would entail, I got the initial sense that she may not be comfortable, especially around the picture, but she accepted anyways. Little did I know that perhaps her initial apprehension would give way as part of her journey…

Meet Samantha, 26

Who are you?

“I’m a traveler. I’ve been traveling the U.S. for the last — what month is it? November? — four months! I’ve been kind of all over — up the east coast, out west, and now, exploring Georgia and the Carolinas. I’ve been here for two hours, and it’s already been a really interesting two hours…” she busts out laughing. “… in Atlanta. My first time in Atlanta.”

What’s making it interesting?

“Well, this is a positive interesting. But I was mildly groped at a gas station earlier. This big, buff guy had to run to my rescue and chase the guy off. And I was here, and I was asked for money again, and cussed out, and all of that… and now you! So, you’re the positive one!” She laughs again.

Other than the big guy who rescued her. “Yeah, and him!”

I told her that was a sad representation of the city I love. Terrible. C’mon, Atlanta!

How long are you here?

“I haven’t quite decided, yet. Maybe 24 hours. Maybe 36. Maybe 48.”

So many questions, but first, why?

“Why?” she thinks.

“I graduated from college a couple years ago, and did the whole ‘work 70 hours-a-week thing’, and I realized I wasn’t happy with myself. I felt like I was trying too hard to be an adult, and it didn’t feel authentic. So I pretty much changed my whole life, and sold all my stuff, and saved a bunch of money over the past year, and kind of traveling indefinitely to figure out where I want to call home. So that’s what brings me to the Carolinas and Atlanta — kind of the last stop on the trip.”

I shake my head again. Great showing so far, Atlanta. Haha. She laughs, too.

She tells me how she’s staying a friend of hers who lives down the street from Atlanta Tech Village. She “Googled coffee shop near me to hang out until he gets off work. I don’t like to do the whole Dunkin’ Donut or Starbucks thing, I actually like to go to a local place. I feel like you get more of a vibe of the area you’re at. That’s why I’m here, and not at Dunkin down the street.”

100 Strangers, 100 Days is all about meeting Strangers and finding out what motivates them. I’m imagining you’ve met a few Strangers (“YES!” she says). So what’s been a revelation you’ve had or learned from meeting Strangers?

“Really, just how rich your life becomes when you open yourself up to people and experiences. In my natural life, I’m pretty Type A, and like to have everything organized and in a box. I really challenged myself the last few months to not be like that. So I kind of go into areas and situations with no plan, and it’s been amazing. It’s been way better than anything I could’ve organized.”

She adds, “I love what you’re doing. I think it’s amazing!” Thanks! Flattery makes me happy. Haha, no, not needed.

I tell her about how this project has had a great effect on readers and the Strangers themselves. Everyone’s story seems to trigger some inspiration in another. For Samantha, her story may trigger someone else to travel or take a solo trip around the country or the world.

She shared, “I was told I was someone’s spirit animal. So that was pretty cool… a pretty cool compliment. Even though so many people think they have to do this to live authentically, I think it’s really about loving where you are in the moment, wherever that finds you. A lot of people think traveling is super glamorous, and that I’m doing cool shit everyday…” She laughs.

Then, she admits, “There’s a lot of moments that aren’t glamorous. A lot of motel rooms. I’m almost getting too good at being by myself. So I think living authentically is important in however that means for you in your own life versus what someone else is doing.”

What’s been another lesson you’ve learned in your travels?

“Opening yourself up to people is probably the biggest one. But then also, kind of trusting yourself, and what’s best for you, and just knowing you can handle whatever comes your way. I’ve learned I can change a tire by myself!” She laughs.

“I learned that today, that guy that groped me, I would’ve been able to handle that by myself. Was it great that someone came to my rescue? Yes. But did I have that situation under control? Absolutely. So just back to learning how to be confident and secure in yourself and your own abilities is important, too.”

When you think about your confidence in your own abilities, and how you left the safety of… everything, what gave you the strength? Or what gave you that violent push to do it? What part of that gave you the strength in that moment to believe in yourself?

“I don’t know if I did when I started out, to be honest. It’s just been something that’s been in my heart for so long that I knew I wanted to do. It just got to the point where I knew it was more important to do it than the idea of safety… well, not necessarily ‘safety’ but ‘security’. I was really scared the first day. But now, four months in, cake!”

Is there a way you’re hoping this trip will shape your life? Is there another goal you have in mind?

“It’s hard because I’m still in it. It’s kind of hard to see what I’ll get out of it 10 years from now, or down the road.”

“It’s always easier to look at that stuff after, and right now, I’m still in it.”

You talk about being in the present. Have you taken yourself out to take a look at your experience thus far? How have you taken a step back to realize everything that’s happening while you’re in it?

“I think that’s what is driving me to this area. For so long, people are always like, ‘oh my God, west coast! You should move there.’ I’d never been to the west coast. So, I went out there, and I realized that my family and friends are one of my biggest motivators, and they’re all on the east coast. So much about what I love about the west coast — the mountains, the hiking, the wildness of it — I can have here in the mountains, but still have my family and my friends. I can find a job anywhere. I’m in Finance, so that’s kind of universal. It’s not location-specific.”

If you could go back and remember a time that someone told you no, would you treat it any differently? (Thanks to Tyler, Stranger 53)

“If people… I don’t really listen to it. I’m very ‘ask for forgiveness, not for permission’, and again, what’s the worst someone’s going to tell you? No? Okay, move onto the next thing. If someone says no, it’s not a door you’re supposed to walk through. I don’t feel like no is a big deal. So I wouldn’t ever change it, I guess.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What is holding you back?”

After the handshake.

As we concluded our little meet, Samantha stopped me wanting to ask me a few questions. I answered her question about what’s holding me back. I told her how there were two ways I could answer that question. Both, she realized, were about searching/ finding a partner. I’ll leave it to you to decode the content in between.

It was fantastic to meet Samantha today as she was on her journey. Also, I find it great to be the positive part of her otherwise less-than-stellar two hours in Atlanta. She’s one of those individuals you’d find in a coffee shop that you wouldn’t realize has scrapped security for adventure ad to seek something greater. As she said, she’s met several Strangers along the way. I’m now curious if our interaction will shape anymore Strangers she encounters on her travels.

Meet Samantha. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 51, Day 51 - Meet Even

Stranger 51, Day 51 – Meet Even, the “Sincere”

I was excited today because today’s Stranger would push me into the second half of this journey — 51! It’s been a pretty long journey so far, and I’m just barely over halfway. Some days, it seems so fast; while others, I feel like I’ve been on this journey for a long, long time.

I was back at Starbucks working today — not a surprise, but I did get out a bit to have lunch with a colleague and get some yoga in. First, I was turned down at Starbucks in the morning due to the picture. As I walked around later in the afternoon, I asked a Stranger sitting at a table doing work. She was game to be today’s Stranger. However, I learned she was 17, and her parents weren’t nearby. I didn’t want to take the chance. So onwards!

I did finally meet today’s Stranger at my yoga studio. Upon telling her about this project (and asking her to be the Stranger today), she excitedly accepted while diving straight into how she connects with others. So let me start from there…

Meet Even, 34 (pronounced āvən)

Before we start, Even shares how she and her husband try to sit at the bar as much as possible to engage with others. She recognizes that we, as a community, are so focused on what’s in front of us — largely our phones. Then, she recalls a trip she recently took.

“I remember one experience I had in Amsterdam, and I was with my cousin and one of my girlfriends. We were chatting locals. We were actually in Utrecht, not Amsterdam. We were at a bar, and just hanging out. These guys were like, ‘what’s the point of saying, ‘hi, how are you?’, if you’re always going to say, ‘good.’ What’s the point? You’re so insincere.'”

“Well, that’s kind of like how we greet one another, and it could spur on another conversation. For the most part, we’re like, ‘good, alright, bye!’ It’s just so insincere. If you’re not going to sit there and start a conversation, why would you even say anything to begin with?”

“That has always stuck out in my head — why do we do that? Why isn’t there anymore depth to it?”

She goes on to share how she likes more substantive (substantial) questions — “just so much more intimate”.

Who are you?

“Who am I?” She starts laughing. “You’re deep, dude!” Haha, I guess! I like more substantive questions, too.

“That’s a really hard question…”

“I am a passionate, cheerful, loving, and loyal person… who loves everyone,” she laughs some more.

Why do you love everyone?

“Why do I love everyone? Because we’re all the same. No one is better than anyone else. I think we all have our own vices that we hide behind, and we all put up a representative instead of just being ourselves. I think that that if people can get past that, then they’ll realize that we’re all the same. We might believe in different things, or think different things, but we’re all the same — when it comes down to our bones.”

Is that why you say hello to a lot of people, especially in your travels?

“Yes, I do. Because not only do I like to say hello because we’re all the same, but because I learn a lot from those people. I learn different perspectives in life, different ways of thinking, different habits and activities. I like to learn about different cultures, and what people want to do and how they think. What is their perspective might be on a similar subject of mine. Because it kind of expands my own mind, and helps me see things differently.”

So what are your passions?

“Well, number one is helping others. I like to give back to the community. I like to give my time. I think sometimes I get distracted, though, and giving too much to others instead of taking care of myself. That’s one of those struggles I’m trying to work on. But for the most part, I like to give back, and help people in whatever way, shape, or form that is.”

Thinking about how people work, or “tick and tock”, how do you work?

“That’s a very complex question,” Even laughs.

“How I work… I like to look inside and find the root of a problem or a cause — why am I being positive about that, or why am I being negative about that? And try to be active and introspective with myself. I definitely have a hard time accepting help from others. I can be very independent, strong, kind of like… ‘okay, I got this’ kind of thing. I guess I think by being surrounded by people in positive situations, but at the same time, I do like to retreat and have quiet time and rooted. I guess that’s when I go introspective. Because sometimes, the chaos can be too much. I guess that’s how I tick!”

I notice Even’s got a tattoo of “Be Still” on her wrist. Thinking about being introspective about everything, what’s the inspiration behind your tattoo?

“The inspiration behind that was… about 5 years ago. I really had a hard time with control and letting go. Just letting things be. Accepting the way things are. I really got into the church and Christianity. There was a Bible verse with, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10. It really just spoke out to me. So there’s something else — control this, and I can just trust in that and be okay with it. It was more about acceptance, and try not to control things or situations or people or the way people think or whatever. Just be. Just really hard to do. It’s really hard to be still which is why I love yoga because it helps you practice that.”

I mention that’s why certain yoga classes are hard for me — being still. She agreed, “Pigeon is really hard because I cannot sit still in that pose.”

How do you feel you’re able to fulfill your soul? (Thanks to Danielle, Stranger 50)

“That was a really deep one. I like it, though.”

“I would say knowing your character strengths and living them. Doing things that can help you with those, so like, for me, one of character strengths is appreciation of beauty. So with that, I need to make sure I’m out seeing things that I think are beautiful — go to the mountain. I think travel is beautiful — make sure I travel. Because if you don’t do those things, you won’t be fulfilled.”

“Or like me, I like to help people. So guess what? That’s why I volunteer.” Even goes on to tell me that if she doesn’t, then she won’t feel fulfilled.

So in summary, know your character strengths, and be deliberate in the actions to meet those strengths.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Why do you think people discriminate in private, and why do you think when you’re riding on MARTA, nobody has that anger and frustration out in public? They’re not yelling at each other, calling each other names? Why do they do it in private? If that’s really how they feel, why don’t they just tell somebody. Let’s not hide behind it.”

“Everyone can get along in public, but then we all have to hate each other on the computer? What’s the point?”

After the handshake.

Even and I talked a bit before my class started about this whole project. Specifically, she was curious about how this project came about — can read About 100 Strangers, 100 Days. She was fascinated most because, I think, she really enjoys connecting with others. She talked about how she liked meeting others to also expand her perspective which has been a perk I’ve realized through this journey. In fact, part of me wants to ask what everyone does, and their top 3 challenges they face — they’d be quick customer discovery sessions to seed a startup idea! I digress…

Even also shared how much she, too, has diverse friend groups. Her challenge is bringing them together. She shared how she connects better in more intimate settings — with 1-2 others rather than larger groups. I think all of this gives her a chance to really get to the substantive aspect of people rather than the surface-level questions and interactions.

I think there’s a lot to talk to Even about, and I’m fascinated by people in much of the same way. Looking forward to connecting with her in the future more at the studio and just around.

Also, note that Even chose her picture to be of the very yoga pose she struggles most with — pigeon. Cool stuff.

Meet Even. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 38, Day 38 - Meet Erik

Stranger 38, Day 38 – Meet Erik, the “Thinker”

I thought today would be really difficult to find a Stranger to talk to while I’m out hustling and bustling at a trade show. Instead, it’s turned out to be wicked easy. Not just because I’m in a conference full of sales people, but because there are just so many people walking around EXPECTING to be talked to. So despite having a full plate of everything to do between setting up my company’s booth, speaking to lots of people throughout the show, setting up side panels, etc., meeting people with no motivation to sell but to connect was quite easy. At least, it was today — the first day of the conference.

So here’s a fellow vendor that was near my company’s booth.

Meet Erik, 47

Who are you?

“Oh, that’s a fascinating question. I like that. I like that opening.”

Erik continues, “I’m at a trade show, so my first answer is Vice President of Product Marketing… but that’s not who I am. That’s a very American-centric perspective where we define ourselves by our jobs.”

“I could go in… I’m a father of two, or I could say I’m a husband of one for 24 years.”

“Or I can say I’m just me.”

“How’s that for a fuzzy answer?” He laughs. I respond that the purpose of this answer is to let the Stranger take me where he/ she wants to take me.

“Yeah, I know! That’s why I was laughing about it… because of the situation we’re in, my initial reaction is to talk about my company. I can talk about the products and stuff. So if I go down the professional path, I’m a dilatant who’s been playing in incentive compensation for two-and-a-half decades. Finally telling people what to do or creating technology to fund it, and take care of it. But on the flip-side, that’s just more because I fell into it. I enjoy science. I enjoy data. I enjoy analytics. I enjoy what motivates people. So I’ve chased down the incentive side of motivation as opposed to any part of motivation, and I find that interesting, but how does that drive things. But again, I wouldn’t say that is WHO I AM. Who I am is a much more complex answer. I do a lot of different things. I am everything from a Scoutmaster to a church leader to a father to a husband to a guy who would like nothing better than to sit in a pair of shorts and kick back on a couch reading a random book!”

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

“My passions right now are probably focused on family. I’ve got one son who is a senior in college, and one son who is in 8th grade. So if I think about the things I really care about, it’s going to be my immediate family more than anything else. After that, in terms of passions, what gets my attention, then it’s the next-next circle of the network if you think of the monkey spheres — you know communities you can reach out and touch… immediate family. Then the best of friends. I just came off my 25th college reunion where I got to see my best friends who truly changed my life at different stage… critical, crucial developmental stage, and that’s huge. So I’m passionate about that. I’m passionate about understanding things… the data side of my work, or even articles in the newspaper. Or for that matter, reading that Today I Learned column and read it. Because I like gathering information and finding out how and where and why things tick and why they happen. We get overly simplistic answers to complicated questions, and overly complicated answers to simplistic questions. The more I can jump in the data is always fascinating.”

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned by understanding data and how things work?

“Most of our assumptions are wrong, and some of them are right. If you start with individuals, I can’t tell you how to motivate a single person, but I can tell you ways to motivate 100 that will work on 70% of them. That’s a key things to realize — we are all individuals, but if you put enough of us in a group, you’ll start to find patterns. Patterns are fascinating! There are so many patterns in the world you can track. Even in the same sets, think of the worst, most negative behavioral patterns you’ve met. If you found 100 people that acted in the same way, I bet you can find some underlying causes and effects and patterns within those 100 people. So instead of saying, ‘Fred over there is a horrible individual’, say, ‘wow, people like Fred got there because of the following reasons…’ The more we can understand that, this is where we are getting the larger picture… can be so fascinating to me. If people were like, ‘oh, I don’t care about that’. No, you might not, but if I get 100 of you, I can get something.”

I started thinking about those who committed a crime (“criminals”), and how easy it is to point the finger at the person, and analyze and judge them on what they did. However, we’re quick to ignore the history and how that person comes to that position. Erik jumps in…

“There’s a documentary on Netflix right now called the Thirteenth that actually covers that subject. Talks about the incarceration of African Americans at a higher rate than any other group. When you did into that, and [my friend who is Senator has pushed on this subject], as well on the issue of they called it the ‘get rid of the box’ where you have to check a box if you’ve ever been convicted of a felony on an employment application. If not, you run into a situation where you mess up at 17, you have no money to defend yourself, so you cop to a felony so you only get a couple years. And for the rest of your life, you cannot get a white collar job. That doesn’t work. So once you can’t get the white collar job, and you have trouble getting the blue collar job, the only jobs left to you are to continue in crime. And now, you’re just another statistic of a repeat criminal.”

“That’s the type of patterns we can talk about. Yeah, you can look at individual occurrences whether it be Black Lives Matter and someone says, ‘well, look at that one person, maybe he deserved to be shot’. Yes, but if 1000 were shot, are you telling me every… single… one of them deserved it, or can you look at the larger group. This is the thing that interest me is the individual cases are there… I want to look for the larger sets of numbers and hold it and maybe we have something here.”

“Criminality is huge. Judging somebody because they slipped once? Even twice? Maybe three times?! Especially many of us, if we led an interesting life, we’ve probably done something that arguably could’ve put us in prison. Maybe a good attorney can get us off, maybe not. But when you look at the numbers and what it costs and availability to get a good attorney, and the threat of pleading down and getting something versus risking 20 years in the pen. What do you do?”

Thinking about that, and being human, we have those quick judgments — good and bad. How do you take all that you’ve learned with patterns, when you meet someone for the first time, or 4th time, how do you continue to have an open-mind?

“First, that’s hard because I want to categorize you within the first 5 minutes of meeting you. I need to know whether or not I wish to continue talking to. There’s also something Mr. Ben Franklin said, ‘Upon your death bed, there will only be five people who matter to you’. It’s an ugly statement but there’s a certain accuracy as you start looking at your own group of friends — the people you truly consider soulmates. The types of friends. And there are good friends, and it keeps going from there.”

“Or if it’s a business, if this is somebody I’m going to be do business with or not. That could be work for, work with, hire… I have to make snap judgement. I have 30 minutes to decide if I want this person to comeback and spend five hours with my team in different interviews before I hired them. I HAVE to make snap judgments. I have two minutes with the resume. 30 minutes on the screening call. Five hours in a review for someone I’m going to spend 40 hours a week with.”

“Part of that, though, I would say is having more than one person. I will tell you one of the best things that’s saved me, in my case, is a strong marriage. We meet somebody, and we will argue with each other — it’s not in a negative way. It’s we basically agreed on rules of engagement — whoever goes negative first, the other one has to look for positive. Sometimes it’s a pain because we both want to despise someone out there. Let’s step back, breathe. Is there anything good here? What are we missing? What part of the equation have we not contemplated? What part of the experience have we not thought about? Because there’s so much you don’t know about people. You have no idea if I have a terminal disease. No clue. You don’t know anything about me other than what I told you in five minutes. But we’ve still been talking off and on for 30 minutes. I can go down the path and you’re like, ‘where in the heck did that come from?’ You don’t know. We don’t know either.”

“But… whatever is in my background can trigger behavioral pattern by me that you might just categorize me as an a$$hole. But if you actually knew more about me, ‘oh, I see where that come from. You still shouldn’t talk or act or behave that way’. But now that I see that source, there might be something interesting to play with there.”

Thinking about that snap judgement — what are you trying to get out of it? How do you try to make that judgment whether or not you want to keep talking to that person?

“You make the judgment automatically until you decide to make the judgement.” I ask him if there’s something he’s looking for.

“No. I just listen. Just curious.”

“… I try to be, at least. Again, unless I’m in a specific or narrow situation where I’m having to… if I’m doing a hiring decision, are they interesting? Are they nerdy? Can they write? I’m in product marketing — I need interesting, nerdy people… who can write. Three characteristics I need. I try to figure that out as quickly as possible.”

“But there’s that whole aspect — can I spend 40 hours a week with this person? Can I go on a road trip with this person? Can I go to a trade show where I’m spending 18-hour days with him? Am I going to want to see this person at 6 o’clock in the morning after setting up the booth? And 9 o’clock at night as we’re leaving a reception? The answer is no, I have to think it. And I don’t have time to test it.”

Who (and why) are two people in your life Giovanni should meet? (Thanks to Giovanni, Stranger 37)

“Ooohh, that’s a fun one!” He appreciates not knowing Giovanni, so he has to really think about two people. He thinks on this for a while.

“I’m trying to think two fun ones randomly to meet knowing nothing…”

“Adrian. Who was an attorney. Left law. And wrote a book on soul food.” I ask him why Adrian — what made him so fun. “Complete change in career to chase something he loved. He went from one thing and went to another.”

“Joe. Decorated marine in the first Gulf War. Ended up with a drug habit, and is now a preacher.” That’s fitting because Giovanni was a former Marine, too.

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“You have 10 grand. You can’t keep. Who or what do you give it to and why? And you’ve got to do it in 24 hours.”

After the handshake.

Okay, so transcribing and capturing Erik’s meet was a lot of work and probably not as “clean” as some of the other Strangers. Erik is a real thinker. He’s observing the world, and he doesn’t take what’s in front of them at straight face. He sees what’s in front of him, and he wants to understand the full story behind people. It makes sense then, that despite “falling” into incentive compensation, he’s very much kept himself in incentive compensation. In many ways, the psychological and, perhaps more importantly, the sociological elements of companies and teams are fascinating to him. I use the word “fascinating”, too, because he used the word often and as he said it, each time, I could really sense that he meant it. He was really drawn to understand the whats and the hows and the whys of people and actions.

So meet Erik. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 28, Day 28 - Meet Sarah

Stranger 28, Day 28 – Meet Sarah, the “Olympic Boxing Hopeful”

As I was leaving the office today, I was stopped in my tracks by a “hey!” A gentleman in the parking deck asked if I had jumper cables to help a woman on her motorcycle. I kind of lit up inside — I’ve been wanting to help someone jump his/ her car (or motorcycle) for a while. I ended up getting these cables when I helped jump a friend’s car. I was actually really excited about buying the cables because I had wanted to get them to help others on the road or in situations like this, but I never stopped to get the cables. My friend’s situation just “forced” me to. So here was the first chance I got to help a Stranger, and I was so excited to do so. And yes, the stranded motorcyclist turned out to be my Stranger for today.

Meet Sarah, 36

Who are you?

“I am… that’s a funny question…”

“I’m a mom. I’m a boxer. I’m a biker. I’m an artist every now and then. And I’m an insurance agent.”

What would you say are your passions?

“Boxing and creativity are my passions.”

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

“I really would love to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in boxing. I really would love to spend my days helping people accomplish their goals.”

How are you doing that right now?

“Right now, I help small businesses do branding and marketing and figure out how to grow. I build websites. I do fun stuff like that to help other people build their goals.”

What’s a Life Lesson you want to share?

“The biggest Life Lesson I’ve learned has come from boxing. It’s not really about how hard you get hit or what happens. It’s about what you do afterwards. Do you get back up? Do you cry about it? What do you do next?”

She mentioned how she had “been through some stuff. You just keep fighting.”

How did you get into boxing?

“Divorce.” I asked if she boxed him out. She laughed and said, “No, no.” 🙂

“My ex ran a basketball organization. When we split, I was like a gym-rat without a gym. I just needed a new gym, and it just became a new sport.”

Sarah’s been boxing for 2.5 years.

How do you feel about your life choices? If you could have the life that you want, what would that be? (Thanks to Brooke, Stranger 27)

“Brooke, I feel like all of my life choices are what make me who I am now. So where if some of them were really stupid, I don’t really regret them. If I could live that I want to live now, the only thing I’d change is I don’t get to see my kids everyday. That’s it! Everything else, though… for me, rolling out of bed is pretty amazing.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“I’m always curious why people do what they do — what motivates them. Whatever it is they love to do, I would love to know the backstory of why did they get involved in that. What’s the driving force?”

After the handshake.

So this was actually a pretty short meet. I felt like she had somewhere to go, and so I didn’t want to hold her up. I was happy to help her, and was thrilled she would be Stranger 28. And no, I don’t think she agreed just because I was helping her out. In fact, she works for the same company that I’ve already spoken to THREE others already! Sure, we’re in the same building, but Sarah and the last Stranger from the company I interviewed… I met on a different floor in different circumstances. There’s a building of 1000 people, and I somehow run into Sarah and the others. Ha. But she pointed out how that the world really is much smaller than we think. Totally agree.

This was a brief meet, but it came with helping a Stranger. How great is that? I was so excited to help her out and use my jumper cables that I took a picture of the jumper cables and sent them to my friend. Ahh, good day!

So help a Stranger. Say hello. And meet Sarah. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 9, Day 9 - Meet Andrea

Stranger 9, Day 9 – Meet Andrea, the “Yogi Teacher for Children”

Surprised that even in my short time meeting Strangers so far, this connection was my first one at my yoga studio. I wouldn’t be surprised if many more of my Strangers are yogis from Infinity Yoga. The culture bred at the studio is one of great community and open relationships.

Today’s particular Stranger embodies the very spirit this project. She had great energy and an interest to connect. So…

Meet Andrea, 28

Who are you?

“I’m Andrea the daycare teacher and yoga teacher.”

She’s thinking now and laughing, remarking, “tough question, but should be… so many versions of me.” This point about versions is scattered throughout our talk, but before moving onto our next question, she describes two versions: “enjoying life version of Andrea… dainty and prissy version of Andrea.”

Her laughter bubbles up again.

What are your passions? Dreams?

“My dream… I want to do yoga therapy at children’s hospitals.”

She further adds how her passion is all about helping kids, describing this as her “basis of entire life”.

As she describes her love for helping and working with kids, I can feel her passion. The way she lights up talking about children. Her arms wave and she emphasizes the impact. She maintains a big grin while going on about her love of helping.

Andrea takes a moment to share that she has had this passion for helping kids since she was even young at daycare. She would also shuffle kids around and help her peers. And through her experience with yoga growing up, she’s realized its power and effect that can be made on adolescents.

What is your biggest regret?

Without much hesitation, Andrea points out, “engaged after high school instead of dancing and singing on the Disney Cruise Line!”

Looking back at this now, she realizes how short-term the relationship was (less than a year), but in the moment, she felt certain deference for her then-fiance. She recalled he “didn’t let me go.”

Thinking back at the chance, though, she fantasizes about it for a split-second saying it “would’ve been so dope!”

What is a Life Lesson you’d like to share?

“Independence is beautiful and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise… I thought I need others to be happy.”

Perhaps because I led this question with the regret piece, this was the lesson. However, I got a sense that this was very much a principle of her life now – to be wholly happy with herself and not need the influence of others.

If you could do ANYTHING in the world right now, nothing holding you back, what would that be?

“Travel and help children everywhere… feed children… build houses… provide them with things.”

“… stay-at-home version, I would have all the money in the world, and adopt all the babies.” She glows as she shares this little fantasy. It’s apparent how much children mean to her and being able to provide children everywhere with love and attention.

Did you have a Life-Defining Moment? If so, what was it?

“Yes, kind of as a child – could’ve died seven million times.”

Andrea continues realizing “this journey… this is why I am here.”

She shares with me how she was very sick as a child and was consistently in the hospital including a 5-week stay in ICU when she was 5-years-old. She tells me she remembers the entire experience including her mom having spent a lot of time with her in the hospital.

She also recalls one particular moment when all the other children in the ICU came together… it was one of those moments of community and connection. It’s this very memory that Andrea wishes to recreate more often – for the children in the hospital, but also with their families.

“I wish there was yoga for my mom and me,” she shares.

So since this moment, she’s been striving to help more kids. She received her certification to be a teacher. Then, she received her certification to be a personal trainer. Each certification brought her into a new career path, but having spent time doing both, she abruptly exclaims, “f*** all that.” However, she also realized that both of those certifications “fueled my yoga certification”. She was able to leverage the experience and certifications of both teacher and trainer into a strong foundation and platform to which to build a career as a yoga teacher.

(She just completed and passed her yoga teacher certification course at Infinity just weeks ago.)

What is your purpose in life? What is your negative imprint? (Thanks to Steve, Stranger 8.)

“Purpose is to help kids learn yoga to help them cope, and learn how to cope to take with them in their lives.” She stresses the importance of teaching children on the how piece.

On the negative imprint, she immediately says, “diffusing being ‘nasty’”. She shares how she can have an “attitude for days” and how she can sometimes be “not as accepting of other people… judging.”

She realizes, too, that working on her negative imprint is a constant practice – “working at it everyday”, and she uses her learnings from yoga.

What question would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What are you doing today to make the world better?”