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Stranger 85, Day 85 - Meet Travis and Briana

Stranger 85, Day 85 – Meet Travis and Briana, the “Couple Who Builds On Each Other”

I got up this morning to take my car to get its regular 120K service at the local Toyota dealership. As I was finishing up some other work, I noticed a couple sitting next to me. I was thinking all morning about potentially meeting my Stranger this morning at the dealership. It’d be different than my normalcy. So as I noticed the couple next to me, I decided that today would be the day I would speak to a couple Strangers as part of today’s meet. Though, I would count them as a single Stranger much like I have when speaking to multiple people before.

They happily accepted to be Stranger(s) 85.

Also, our talk was a constant back and forth, so I’m changing up the style to better reflect our meet.

Meet Travis, 28, and Briana, 34

M(e): Who are you?

T(ravis): So, I am a 5th-year PhD student in a neuroscience program.

We get interrupted for a little while as my service advisor comes to tell me some news.

T continues: Male. Obviously. *Haha, yes, obviously.* White male from Ohio. I guess if you want to ask for some personality traits as well what makes me a person.

M: However you want to go.

T: I would say I’m a very curious person. Very compassionate person. I consider myself very open-minded. Very interested to learn about people’s cultures and backgrounds. I’m just kind of curious about life, in general — just kind of like the driving force for me being in science as well.

*I turn to Briana.*

M: Who are you?

B: My turn?

T: She’s a little more shy than me, I think.

B(riana): So, yeah, I’m Briana. Regulatory coordinator in continuing medical education. That’s pretty much it for right now.

T: I can describe her maybe.

M: Describe her, and then, you can describe him.

T: She’s very sweet and a soft-hearted person. She’s very compassionate. I said I was compassionate, she’s very compassionate. She’s the one who keeps me tame and focused, I think. She’s very loving. So yeah, just a very… a great force to have around and keep you balanced.

M: How else would you describe him outside of what he said?

B: He’s doing great.

B: … this is awkward. *Haha, maybe just a little. She’s a little shy.* Yeah.

T: She agrees with me.

B: Yeah, I agree with all his stuff… of what he said about himself.

M: Okay.

T: She’s just more nervous.

M: How’d you guys meet?

B: We met at a Halloween party, sort of. Then, I became friends with his lab mate, and hung out with her a bunch. Then, I met him again after meeting him at the Halloween party through her and other friends.

T: So it was a random, like very disconnected friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, you know? It was a long line and chain of people. We seemingly kept ending up at the same place.

B: Yeah. We were at several occasions together. And then, we started dating and stuff

T: Yeah, so, it was interesting. We met at this Halloween party, but just briefly. She was actually seeing a friend of mine, but he kept saying, ‘Man, I met this girl, but like, she’d be great for you! She’d really be good for you!’ I was like, “oh okay.” So it was this awkward “my best friend’s dating this girl kind of, but he keeps saying, ‘man, she’s great for you!'” *he’s laughing* Okay! So we met, and we all agreed that it’s better for me. *He keeps laughing, and she’s smiling* So it all worked out. We’re still best friends. It’s all good.

M: So, when did you guys meet?

B: That was Halloween of 2015.

T: So just a little over a year ago. It was our first interaction.

M: What were you guys dressed as?

B: At the first meeting? He was the Incredible Hul– Or he was the Sexy Hulk? Slutty Hulk? *Travis is laughing hysterically*

M: The Slutty Hulk?

B: Slutty Incredible Hulk… *Travis is still laughing.*

T: We were an Avengers group. So, let’s just call it that.

B: He was like painted green. And he just had these little shorts on. His best friend, the guy who I dated for a very short time, he painted his whole body green.

T chimes in: Well, no…

B: Well, all the visible parts, I guess.

M: Real best friends…

B: I was supposedly, sort of Cleopatra because I was with one of my friends who was my house mate. He was dressed as Caesar, so I was Cleopatra at that party.

M: So let’s be honest — was it the shorts? *they both laugh, especially Briana* Were you like, “you had me at your shorts.”

T: They were pretty impressive shorts.

B: Yeah, maybe… *she’s laughing*

M: So how long until you guys went on your first date?

B: Between Halloween and our first date?

T: Well, our first date was… Julllyyy?

B: At the sandwich bar?

T: Yes, at the sandwich bar.

B: Sort of. No, yeah… I guess July. So it was sort of… March, but then sort of July. So…

B: It took a long time between the Halloween party and where we are now. We started officially, Facebook officially, dating in August.

M: Oh, well, that’s the only thing that counts really.

T: Yup! If it’s not on Facebook, it doesn’t matter.

B: And then, we went to the same Halloween that the girl who hosted the Halloween party which is one of his friends — she’s from his program. She hosted another Halloween party this year, so we went to the same one hosted by the same girl.

T: … One year. But between the October and August, there was a lot of just like dating casual.

B: Yeah.

T: … spending time together, but that was really us officially dating.

B: … from August, yeah.

M: Well, you’re here at Toyota at 7AM on a Saturday, so I’m going to take it that this is real serious. They say there’s this “airport test”, but I kind of go with the “7AM at Toyota test”.

T: Yeah, I think that’s a fair assumption. *Briana is laughing hysterically next to us* I’ll agree to that.

M: What are a couple of your passions? I’ll let you guys kind of talk…

T: Passions… So, at this point, I’ll make it on the superficial level. I’m passionate about science, obviously. That’s why I do it.

M: And you have a tattoo of it on your arm. *It’s of some chemical bonds, I believe*

T: Yeah, exactly. *He chuckles for a moment* It’s the discovery part. It’s the creativity of coming up with ideas. Testing them. Seeing something for the first time that no one else in the world has seen before. This type of thing is really an intrinsic drive for me to get up everyday and to go to work, and do these things that I do. Keeps me motivated and keeps me focused. On kind of the outer level, I would say discovery is what I’m passionate about. Going a little bit deeper, is more passionate about, significant others. Kind of developing this relationship.

M: Aww. *I look at Briana.*

T: Well, you know, we come to this test! *Briana laughs* You know, it’s to the point now where I kind of get in this bubble where I was just doing work all the time, all the time, all the time. I was like I need step out in a way and discover things outside of that — not just sitting in a lab all day. Like in the last year is when I’ve been trying to work on personal relationship cultivation, things like that. So I’m getting more passionate about other people… about others and developing these relationships, and not just clicking and working all the time in the lab. Something I’m passionate about now is making sure that I’m not doing that all the time. I’m doing other things with people and developing relationships.

B: So, let’s see. I’m passionate about a lot of things. *Travis nods* I’m very excited about change, and evolving education that we can do as individuals. And then us… relationships whether it’s parent-to-child or brother-sister or these types of relationships *she motions to herself and Travis*, but also on a national scale within a company, national scale within a state. All the different ways we can identify little areas of improvement and slowly make them. That’s something I’m just becoming passionate about based on my current work, and also seeing our nation and how it’s developing, whether it’s backwards or forwards. That type of thing, I think, is really exciting. Both in that current way but also when I’m learning about our history or like right now, I’m reading about dead bodies, actually. And all the different things I can learn about those. I really like learning, but I’m really excited about problem-solving and change, specifically. How change happens, and how people can embrace change. How you can kind of… right now, I would say my current passions are communication issues and process improvement issues. I think everything from whatever’s happening now to the Palestine conflict can be taken down to communication and process issues, and identifying where those little areas of potential change and intervention are, is really exciting. That’s what I’m excited about right now. Might be something different tomorrow. *Travis takes a sip of coffee from his bottle*

T: That just kind of reminded me because my brain’s slowly waking up. But yeah, and also to say education is something I’m passionate about. Not just for myself, but educating people on all social, political world issues just so everyone can make an informed opinion about whatever they feel strongly about. Let’s say educating one’s self to looking at educating school children — first graders, second graders — teaching them correct information, not just biased, personal, influenced beliefs, or something like that. To an old grandma that’s going to be voting (or this election or whatever), they kind of understand the situation. Look at the issues, not just from one side, but both sides. We’re all guilty and biased in beliefs — some more than others, sometimes. I think it’s important to educate yourself about the issue and all the components to it. I’d say I’m passionate about education on all issues.

B: I’d latch onto one thing to that. In terms of informing the populace or informing ourselves, I think education from first grade to grandmother, I think the most important thing is critical thinking. Like facilitating critical thinking, creative thinking in the mind from the young to the old. That, going back to the change thing, that people that are quite old and set in their ways can still learn and change. I think embracing that idea as a people can help us a lot. I just think much more than filling up somebody’s brain with information, I think that critical thinking is just so important. So no matter what is thrown at them, they can take it, process it, and be able to make a decision from that material. That’s another thing I feel passionate about. There you go!

*we laugh. Travis takes another sip of his coffee*

M: How do you guys communicate and support one another?

T: I got one more thing about the passion thing that I wanted to speak about. One more thing. *Briana is laughing hysterically again* Is that okay?

T: So the other thing… like I said I’m slowly waking up. I’m drinking my coffee. Every time I take a sip, I’m like, “oh yeah…”

M: Every sip is one more enlightenment.

T: Yeah, it is. I’m going to have one more enlightenment here before I go. *he takes another sip* MMmmm. Something else I’ve become more aware about/ aware of and possibly more passionate about is sustainability as far as climate change. How, what can I do at an individual level and also what nations can be doing to kind of reduce waste, reduce emissions. Thinking about the future of the planet where I think it’s starting to become something that’s more and more critical. You know, the more and more I read about it and think about it — reducing carbon footprints. Even just learning about sustainability. How do I grow my own food a bit, and playing around with these things is something I’m becoming more passionate about. That’s important.

B: So our question now is how we communicate and support each other… You can go ahead.

T: She kind of already touched on it a bit with her passion. She’s really good at communicating, but I’m relatively poor, sometimes, at communicating. I think it’s like one way that we — what? *He looks over at Briana who made a little face at this*

B: No, keep going.

T: So when I get mad, I used to not talk much. Kind of more of a cold person sometimes. But like, I’d say that’s something I’ve worked on quite a bit. Our communication — just open communication — addressing issues immediately helps support each other because we can move and progress through things fast and get over things. Move forward quickly where it’s not holding on to things and not talking about it for days, and this type of thing where I think could really be destructive. *He looks at her again inquisitively. Briana laughs a little* Is it? No?

B: You also have to talk about how we support each other.

T: Oh! *Briana laughs*

M: Or, you, Briana%2

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 80, Day 80 - Meet Aaron

Stranger 80, Day 80 – Meet Aaron, the “Intersection of Technology and Medicine”

I met today’s Stranger at my office. He’s a coworker of a friend I met from yoga who works at at startup in the building. They actually just moved onto the floor my company’s on. When I asked today’s Stranger to be today’s Stranger, he was showing off some homemade guacamole to our mutual friend. So aside from now knowing he was a guac chef/ preparer/ enthusiast, I knew very little about him. Great he took a few minutes to meet.

Meet Aaron, 29

Who are you?

“So I’m Aaron. I’m basically a… MIT graduate in chemical engineering from 2009. Originally grew up in south Georgia. Here, right now, just kind of exploring what it’s like to be in a startup. I’m really interested in a lot of different things. One of the things I’ve been interested in is software. But another major interest of mine is medicine. So, I’m actually in school as well. Or, I was in school, and I’m taking some time off school to do more programming and learning more about development.”

“I’m Puerto Rican. My family, a large majority of my family, are still in Puerto Rico. But my dad was born in Chicago. My mom was actually born in Puerto Rico. I don’t know how to define myself,” he laughs.

“Let’s see. I’m a pretty excited person about… like, I think, technology’s really exciting, and the types of things you can do with it. I’m always trying to think of new ideas, and ways I can be learning things that allow me to contribute more to the intersection of different fields through technology. I’m really passionate about learning. A lot of what I do is, ‘okay, how am I going to learn this quickly? How am I going to become a more effective learner?’ How to leverage some things that I already know to learn this more effectively.”

“Let’s see… what else?”

What have you learned about yourself as to what’s one of the best ways you learn?

“I learned about myself and the best way I learn is from hands-on experience. I like reading about different things. I’ve always liked reading technical books, or books about different things — learning through books. I feel I learn the quickest from hands-on learning, and actually experimenting with things and working with things with my own hands. Messing around with them, and experimenting, and trying to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

What’s something that you learned last week? Maybe professionally?

“Something that I learned, maybe professionally…” He thinks for a while on this. “Well… I’m trying to think,” he shares.

He admits, “I’m drawing blanks right now.”

“Just, like, integrating frontends and backends. Just how to… I don’t even know what to say,” he admits. “I’ve just been kind of going at it. Can’t really think of anything actually.”

You probably have learned something, but maybe because you’re so deep in the weeds, you’re still trying to figure it out. Maybe you have to take a little time to reflect?

“Yeah! I haven’t really reflected on it much. Been just trying to keep it going. Trying to keep it active.”

That’s always a tough thing — you’re working at a startup. You want to think about the strategic and the bigger picture, but you’re also very deep in the weeds. Do you take explicit moments where you step back and assess everything and get back in? Say, “okay, this is what we learned, and let’s iterate on that.”

“I do think I have those moments, but they come a lot of times when I’m stuck on something. And then I’m forced to go back and think, ‘okay, what exactly it is that I’m doing, and what happened?’ Like, ‘where am I right now? And how do I get to where I want to be?’ I think that is usually what happens.”

“I haven’t really made any time in my schedule specifically for doing that. It’s probably a good idea, actually, to do something like that. Like right now, things are just changing so fast. Constantly changing. Especially being in a startup, new things are constantly being presented to me. New ideas. New ways of doing things. Which is very different, I think, than probably most places. So, it’s probably something that I should do.”

You also said you’re taking a break from school to do this. Sounds like at some point — are you planning to plunge back into school?

“Yes, I would like to plunge back into school.”

First, what are going to go back to school for, and then, when you do, what is it that you want from this specific startup experience that you really want to bring and leverage?

“I would like to finish my PhD and my MD. I started them, and I’ve done several years in both of those degree programs. I would like to finish my PhD in biomedical engineering. And a MD, just a medical degree — to be a medical doctor. I’m really interested in being at the interface of medicine and technology. I think there are a lot of doctors who are out there who aren’t really that familiar with programming and working with different languages and building things. So a lot of the tools doctors use in clinic are very… just… they don’t look that great. They’re not that easy to use. They don’t make intuitive sense of what a doctor’s trying to do. They don’t really support the work of a doctor. I would like to be somebody who contributes to the development of things in that field.”

“So that’s what I’ve been trying to work on — is to develop the skill sets that have been…,” he thinks. “Like, previous to this, all of my experience has been more like working with backends and doing Python programming. Doing a lot of backend engineering where I’m trying to build services and do data parsing with Python and building databases full of data that I can pull from, and do different things with. But I haven’t been spending that much time on how the user interacts with this. So right now, I’m working more doing the frontend engineering with React and Redux and these newer frontend technologies that are really interesting to use. I’m hoping to get a better understanding of the UI/ UX side of things, I can contribute to what is the most lacking area of a lot of medical apps — the frontend. That’s what I’m hoping to do. If not programming myself, I’ll be able to at least build the conversation that is conducive to build something that is easier for users to use.”

Who inspired you to do what you love to do? And why? (Thanks to Dmitri, Stranger 79)

“What do I love to do… that’s a good question. Umm, personally, I really love medicine.”

“And you know, this idea of working with patients, and being actively involved with taking care of somebody, and how you’re able to overcome this division that exists between people to work collectively towards a goal of bettering someone’s health. You become a partner in their health. A person who has really inspired me has been Abraham Verghese. He’s like my favorite author.”

“He’s Ethiopian of Indian descent. Doctor who’s working at Stanford right now. He does a lot of interesting writings. He wrote a book called Cutting for Stone, and also two non-fiction books that I really found enjoyable. One of them being My Own Country, and the other one being Tennis Partner. Just from reading his books and experiencing the things he experienced through his writing, like he gave me to have a better appreciation for what medicine is. How we can make a difference as doctors if we’re empathetic, and we try to understand the cultures and the people better that are around us. I think that’s something he illustrates really well, and how he describes people. He just talks about things. He really gives me a sense that he’s been exploring these cultures, and tried to integrate himself in a way that enables him to care better for his patients. I think that’s really inspiring to me.”

If you could ask anyone anything, what would that be?

He thinks about this for a little bit. “Anybody, anything.”

“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?”

After the handshake.

It was cool to learn Aaron was taking time off school to learn programming. As we spoke, I kept thinking he seemed like a smart cookie having briefly forgotten he’s also an MIT graduate. He’s got a background grounded in science, and he’s really pushing the computer science bit more now.

Additionally, I thought it was interesting that his inspiration, Mr. Verghese, and why he is inspired by Verghese also touches on his expansion from backend engineering to frontend. He is, in many ways, now integrating the art of computer science of UI/ UX to his skill set. It’s much like how Verghese assimilates to cultures and to his patients to provide better care. These parallels here are fascinating.

I led him a little bit on the question and answer about stepping back to assess what he’s learned. I don’t normally do that, I think. However, I was empathetic to how in a startup, it’s commonplace to keep running and plugging without stepping back to gauge where we’re heading and where we’ve been. It’s easy because we’re heads down so focused on putting out the fires in front of us. Stepping back seems like a luxury, but to prevent more fires and poor direction, it’s actually quite necessary.

Meet Aaron. 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.