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Stranger 91, Day 91 - Meet Kathryn

Stranger 91, Day 91 – Meet Kathryn, the “Always Bettering”

I finally met someone I had seen numerous times on my floor and throughout Atlanta Tech Village’s (ATV) halls for years. I joined my company just this year, but I have been in and out of ATV for years. So, I’ve seen today’s Stranger lots of times, including more recently as her company moved onto our floor. Truth is, I actually met her last week. Though, I only got her name as she left for a meeting. We made plans to finally meet today, and so this is where today’s Stranger story goes…

Meet Kathryn, 33

Who are you?

She’s quiet for a few seconds. “Oh man! What a hard question!!” she laughs.

She wants me to be more direct. “Does it have to be, or can I answer specifically? Or, what do you want?”

It’s up to you.

“My name is Kathryn.” She mentions her maiden name, too, which “aligns nicely” because it means 100 in Dutch. “Very much ties in with this.”

She continues, “My job is the COO at Rigor. And then, I would say who I am. I am enthusiastic. I’m really organized. I like to make things better. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention I’m super into triathlons, and nerd out on that.”

I’d like to ask questions about “what does making things better mean”, but also, “what drives you do this crazy thing of triathlons”. So, let’s start out with what does making things better mean?

She thinks about this. “Well, I’ll just turn it right into triathlons. I am taking a little break right now, but over the past seven years, I’ve done five or six Ironmans. So the distances are really long. It’s a race that takes you 11 hours to do, and 9-12 months to train for. So you have this big goal, but every single day, it gives you a reason to exercise. You can’t cheat the process. So you can’t, at the very last minute, say, ‘Oh my God! I’ve gotta get ready! Let me just cram it all in!’ You just have to be methodical about doing it a little bit every day.”

“I, for better or worse, see problems all around me.” She laughs. “Like, ‘Oh! That could be better. That could be better. That could be better!’ So making things better is like, ‘What’s the problem? What’s the pain we can fix either today, or what’s the big thing we need to work on that take a long time, but will move the needle long-term?'”

“Does that answer the question?” Sure!

You said you started doing triathlons for at least the last seven years.

“I think so, yeah.”

How’d you get into it?

“I… played sports growing up, including in college. Not anything special, but I played D3 softball. I was used to being a part of a team, and exercising with a purpose. I graduated, and I was kind of spinning my wheels a little bit because I wanted to be doing something, but I didn’t have a meaningful end goal, right? Like, being skinny only gets you so far,” she laughs.

“Like, you can be healthy without really pushing yourself. You can just, kind of like, check the box, and be like, ‘Yeah, I did cardio for 30 minutes’. So, I started running. That was really fun. I was training for running races. I had some friends that did triathlons, and I got injured running. So, it was a good time to add the cross-training of biking and swimming. And my dad was also a really big cyclist, which made it fun. I learned about riding, cycling with him. So that was fun. And then, started out slow. Did two sprint triathlons my first year. Just trying to finish. It’s funny because the swim is 500 meters. The Ironman swim is 2.5 miles. So it’s like SO much — but it just felt — I was like, ‘I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT! I’M NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!’ But then, you know, I just built on that over time. Then all of a sudden, you have this little thing that you’re doing Ironmans all the time.”

You’re working at a startup. You love triathlons. You love making things better. What do you see as the commonalities between doing the triathlons and, I guess, being the COO at a startup?

“It’s funny. So, I really believe that there’s stuff in your life that is always running parallel. Meaning, whatever I’m doing in triathlons, I’ll be learning from that, and be able to apply that to work, and vice versa. Same with relationships, too.”

“So to me, it’s good to remember in a startup, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. There’s always more work that you can do. You can pull an all-nighter every single night, and still not get all the work done. You just have to pace yourself. But, you also have to be consistent. If you work consistently all the time, it starts to build on itself. I feel like we’ve seen that at Rigor this year. There’s been super highs, and special things that have happened. More so, we’ve been working on, you know, finishing five projects per quarter. Now, finish every project. Now, you can build on that project — you’ve laid the framework or foundation. Let’s do the next iteration of that. If you do that consistently, over time, all of a sudden you turn around, and you’re like, ‘Holy shit! We have 40 people?!’ And everything is getting done the way we’re talking about it. I can’t believe a year ago, we didn’t even have team meetings.”

“It’s a lot like triathlon training to me because you don’t even realize it. But all of sudden, you’re like, ‘Holy shit! I’m running a marathon!’ Seems like a year ago, I was just doing a 10K.”

“So, it’s very similar to me.”

Kathryn and I laugh for a moment. As she shifts on the couch, the back cushion falls off causing us to laugh some more. Apparently, her laughing is quite strong.

So you love bettering things — making things better. You’re a triathlete, and grew up playing sports. Have you found, sometimes, it’s difficult to balance that sprint-sprint-sprint mentality? Curious as to what you do keep remembering to slow down. Or honing into that something that says, “Oh, I can’t always make everything better right now, even though I really freakin’ want to?”

“Like the couch breaking. This couch needs to be better!”

Haha, yes, exactly. Do you still sometimes struggle with, I guess, finding that balance?

“Uhh, all the time! But I think having — so for me, having important things, it creates tension, and it forces you to balance it. So, Rigor is important. Ironmans are important. My husband is important. Family is important. They’re all important, so I can’t do 100% of all of them. I have to stop working, so I can go home and see my husband. I have to stop working so I can get a workout in. I have to, sometimes, I have to work instead of workout. I think there’s a natural pull there that forces you to do different things.”

“One of the things I’m always working on is I have very high standards for myself. That translates into other areas. And also, I want to give 100% everytime, but that’s impossible.” She laughs. “So, sometimes, I make conscious decisions of, ‘Okay, for this stretch of time, this is going to be my priority. And for this other stretch of time, this will be my priority.'”

She asks me again, “Does this answer the question?” Sure!

So what is one thing you made better yesterday?

“Hmm,” she thinks.

I’ll allow you to cheat and pick throughout the week.

She laughs. “Well, I have 12 things I made better yesterday. But none of them are big, right?”

But does it have to be big? That is the question.

“It doesn’t have to be big. I guess that’s the point, right? Incremental.”

“So, I worked from home yesterday which is awesome. It was Rigor’s ‘Yoursday’. Thursday ‘Yoursday’. So you work from home — or, you can work from wherever. There are no internal meetings, which is awesome because you can get a lot of shit done. I talked to somebody on my team about doing a churn deep-dive review in January for 2016. That’s all about making it better — what have we learned?”

Kathryn shares with me another — “Small project, but I added leather ties to all of these utensils so we can that hang them on the wall of our house. We have a new house. So, it was a little project. Got it done!” She’s smiling big thinking about how great it was to accomplish this little project.

“And then, OH! I met with an executive coach yesterday who I’ve been working with. Every session is about, ‘how can I be a better leader? Communicate better? Be more patient with myself and others?’ So…”

Cool. I guess since we’re ending the year, I don’t know how you feel about New Year’s resolutions, but what do you feel you want to really get better at next year?

“It’s funny that we’re doing this. One of the things that I want to get better at is public speaking… which I don’t like doing.” She smiles shyly about this. “So that’s one thing.”

“I don’t actually do the New Year’s resolution thing that much. Because for me, the goal setting and achieving is really fluid. Some people are like, ‘here’s the goal, and I’m going to achieve it’. I know it sounds weird. Yes, I do Ironmans, but I don’t work that way. It’s more about every day getting better, and the right things happen. It’s fluid.”

She asks me how I feel about New Year’s resolutions. I mention how I felt for those like she and I, our resolutions are much more fluid. If we want to do something or challenge ourselves, we typically just go for it (this journey being an example of that). I felt that for some people, having a clear date to start and an actionable plan helps them get started. Then, as they progress through whatever resolution or challenge, it becomes more habitual.

She agrees, “Becomes like a habit. There is value, though, in sometimes you get so into it, that it’s easy to get distracted — so knowing what’s important. Those bigger goals help you decide what’s important.”

So, I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (that’s you), if you could ask anyone any question, effectively tomorrow’s Stranger, what would you ask? Before you have your turn, John, from yesterday, he wants to ask you —

“So does it pay forward to the next person? Ooh! That’s so fun!”

John wanted ask you if you could do one thing different, what would you do? And why? (Thanks to John, Stranger 90)

“If I could do one thing different…” She thinks about this.

“That’s a really broad question.” More thinking. “Umm…”

“I don’t want to miss my chance. I will say similar to the thing about goals and kind of being fluid, I believe that everybody’s doing the best they can in the moment. Even though I’ve messed some stuff up, I don’t look back and say, ‘Oh, these were mistakes’. And I kind of think if you want to be doing something different, you should just start doing it.” She laughs, “No sympathy!”

“But I would say if I were to do something different, I wish that sometimes I could let things go more. This is broken. I wish this didn’t bother me.” She motions to the couch piece that fell over earlier. But by doing so, she knocked off an adjacent piece. Haha. “Now, I broke another piece of the couch. Like why is the couch broken?!” Hahaha. She thinks it’s maybe actually a daybed.

“So, if I could do one thing differently, I would let go of little stuff more.”

Has that affected you day-to-day on certain things?

“Sometimes, I’m late because I’m like, ‘ah! I gotta get this place clean!’ So yeah.”

You’re turn! If you could ask a Stranger anything… what would you ask?

“This is a reused question. We went to Buttermilk Kitchen on Tuesday. We started this tradition when we have somebody new on the client success team, we go to Buttermilk Kitchen, and we have some really cheesy but fun get-to-know-you questions. So we ask — these aren’t all my questions, but we ask, ‘what’s one of your favorite holiday memories? If you could travel to one country, where would it be and why? And then, what’s your secret talent?'”

“So I think what’s your secret talent? Just to whoever’s next.”

She asks me who is John so she can “thank him for his question.”

After the handshake.

Yesterday, I met John who I’ve seen on my floor countless times. Today, I got a chance to meet Kathryn who I’ve seen throughout the years at ATV. I think, sometimes, that after a while of not meeting someone you see a lot, people tend to think it’d be awkward to finally meet. At least, I’ve noticed that I’ve felt that way in the past. Well, better late than never, as they say, and I’m glad I got a chance to sit down with Kathryn to actually get to know her.

Kathryn’s “always finding ways to do things better” mentality is very similar to my own. I’m always looking for ways to improve something, most especially myself. I love challenges, and Kathryn does, too. I think her thinking about all the stuff she even did yesterday to “do better” was very interesting. I liked how she could point out even the “small” things that she did better. Too often, we think we have to make do something big to make a difference or to talk about. However, even the smallest things can make a big difference. That can be a hello to a Stranger, a smile to a friend, or yes, leather ties on home decor. The details can sometimes affect someone’s entire outlook on the day which can then affect a whole week, and so on. Think: ripple effect.

When Kathryn talked about how she had challenges and goals set and achieved fluidly, it crystallized in my head about this notion of those who are easy to set in motion changes vs. those who need a little more structure. This was a simple, quick revelation, and one that I truly believe is common for people. There’s a spectrum here of those who can just start things at any time, and those who need more motivation. There’s not necessarily a good or bad to this. In fact, sometimes, it may involve extenuating circumstances that affects the abilities of someone to make change — think along the lines of resources, processes, and priorities.

I’m curious to hear more of how Kathryn finds ways to improve things. It could be valuable to think as an entrepreneur.

Meet Kathryn. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 71, Day 71 - Meet Alex

Stranger 71, Day 71 – Meet Alex, the “Apparel Designer”

I met Alex at a retailer in the mall this morning. I really don’t like going to malls especially so close to the holidays. However, I wanted to check something out, so I went to the mall before it opened. When the store I was interested in finally opened, it was slow enough to ask the associate I was working with if he’d be my Stranger today, to which he was happy to do so.

And mind you, I told him I wasn’t going to buy anything today. In fact, I had already scoped out the product for a while before saying I would wait. (Just in case you were wondering he accepted just to complete a sale.) 🙂

Meet Alex, 26

Who are you?

“Young, professional trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. Definitely still figuring it out. Day at a time. Not really knowing what’s going on. Not planning. Just jumping in, waking up, and just doing it.”

What are your passions?

“Apparel design. Outside of here, I, actually, have my own apparel design company that I’ve been working on launching for the last thee years.”

When are you going to do that?

“Hoping by the end of 2017.”

Why did you want to get into apparel design?

“My mom. I’ve always admired her, and she used to sew when I was a kid. I picked it up off of her.”

What did she sew for you?

“For me, Halloween costumes,” he laughs. “She did all of my costumes.”

What was your favorite?

“She made me a White Power Ranger costume because we couldn’t find my size.”

How else has she inspired you?

“Being the strong individual that she is. She’s very strong. Always motivated. Never negative. Smile on her face 24/7 even if she’s having a bad day. Definitely someone I aspire to be when I’m older, for sure.”

When you think about designing clothes and building that brand, are there any values or anything she’s done to inspire you that you want to make sure you carry over into that brand?

“Just passion and motivation. Make sure every piece shows there’s passion behind it and not have it as a second thing.”

What kind of fashion do you want to design?

“Women’s evening wear. I actually went to school for that.” He tells me how he went to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).

Meanwhile, I notice he has an Ohio State University bow tie on, and ask if he’s going to be supporting them for the game today (pretty much a given, but was curious where/ what he might add on to this).

“I am, and unfortunately, I’m stuck here!” he laughs. “The biggest game of the year, and I’m stuck here!” We’re referring to the OSU-Michigan game today in a Top-5 clash.

Why THE Ohio State?

“My dad went there. His whole family went there. I started my undergrad there, and then transferred to SCAD to finish it.”

Anything else that you’re really, really passionate about?

“Football!”

Why is football such an influential sport and part of our culture?

“Culturally, I’m not 100% sure. I know I do it because it’s the one thing that bonds my father and me. Yeah, football’s the one thing that bonds us together; whereas, my mom and I have always had a strong bond my entire life. My dad and I only bond on Saturdays during football season.” Alex laughs again.

Thinking about that bonding… what was your earliest bonding experience with your dad?

“When I was 10, he actually took me up to the Ohio State campus to watch the Michigan. We were at the 50-yard line.” So today was a real big day for Alex given today’s Ohio State game against Michigan.

“It’s a big day more so personally than it is actually for the game just because it is the BEST memory I had with my dad.”

Alex’s dad will be able to watch, and Alex will be at the store listening. I asked him if they were going to be texting throughout to which Alex responded, “Of course. Of course. As long as my other managers don’t talk to me, I’ll be good.” He laughs.

Going back to your passion of apparel design where do you see that going? Where do you want that to go?

“I mean, I’ll always aim big. Hopefully be a huge design like Dior and McQueen and all that. On a smaller scale, I, more so, want to work with different philanthropy programs, and work on maybe donating to different charities and use my name for positive instead of just fame.”

Why do you want to do that?

“It’s just always been something my mom’s instilled in me. Always make sure people know you came from humble beginnings. Don’t forget where you came from.”

I realize, too, that Alex is working in a retailer who really doesn’t have any apparel.

He admits that he hates folding clothes.

“And working with accessories and luggage, I’m learning a different side of the industry without having to hate the side that I actually love, if that makes sense.”

I asked him for some fashion tips given I have had some… constructive criticism at times. (Hey, I’m always trying to learn.)

“Style is something you acquire, not something that you learn.” Hmm, I hope I can learn something still!

So I asked him for a fashion tip for me/ men.

Alex instructs me, “Don’t wear flip-flops in public. Unless you’re going to a pool, a beach, or a gym locker room, don’t wear flip-flops.”

He adds, “hate when guys wear sneakers with suits. And then black shoes with a brown belt. Never do that.” *phew* I haven’t committed any fashion faux pas recently.

For me, I wanted some direct advice.

“I say always just go with what feels good on your body. Because at the end of the day, if you’re not confident in what you’re wearing, you’re not going to look good. Always make sure you’re confident in what you’re wearing, and don’t really care about what other people think.”

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? At any point in time, what would you change? (Thanks to Bruce, Stranger 70)

“That’s really tough. I probably would’ve stayed at Ohio State to finish my degree.” His degree was in early childhood education.

“And probably not be working in retail if I had done that. Probably stay and finish my original degree instead of transferring for a passion. And then, while working in that field go to classes for the passion. That’s probably what I would change.”

“Definitely, I would’ve focused more and stuck with the smarter route instead of… go with my head and not with my heart.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“That is so tough.” He thinks. “Just cut all the crap and go deep…” Of course, if he wants to go deep. Doesn’t have to.

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years? That’s a question I ask everyone. I feel like knowing someone’s future plans helps get to know them as a person now.”

After the handshake.

It’s been a few hours, but I’m still thinking about what Alex said about not pursuing his passion while in school, and instead, focus on the “rational” (or as he put it, “smarter route”). I think there’s a lot of commotion for people to follow their passions, and that’s indeed something I espouse. However, there’s also an element of diving into your passion without a safety net. The logic here is that you’re backed into a corner and have to make that passion/ business work. There’s no right or wrong answer here. Instead, it’s just making that decision and executing. For Alex, there is no reset button on college. He’s instead building his brand while doing what he needs to to live.

I also appreciated Alex sharing his earliest (/ fondest) memory with his father and how it coincided with the OSU football game. When I think back to one of my fondest memories with my dad growing up, I think about how we would go to a local baseball batting cage about 8PM. I’d be done with my homework, and he’d be done with work. We’d drive about 15 minutes to the batting cages (Grand Slam in Norcross), and I would practice for about an hour. After then, we would to a fast-food restaurant (The Varsity in Norcross) and order big things of ice cream in waffle cones (I would get simple vanilla while he’d get mint chocolate chip). We’d sit in my dad’s (and later mine) ’88 4Runner. We’d have so much ice cream that it’d start to melt, and he would show me to put the ice cream upside down in a cup so the ice cream wouldn’t drip everywhere. I’d then use a spoon to eat it. We’d sit there for about 30 minutes just eating. And I remember a cop walking up to our car sharing with us how much he loved his ’88 4Runner, and how he had taken off the fiberglass top to drive it convertible-style and had considered getting a “bikini top” for it. I include some details (just a small fraction) because that’s how vivid that memory was for me, and how powerful it was. I imagine Alex has a similar memory with his father at the game 16 years ago. Stories like Alex’s make me relive my own memories and recall so many great experiences and relationships.

Meet Alex. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 68, Day 68 - Meet Aiden

Stranger 68, Day 68 – Meet Aiden, the “Exciting (and Dangerous) Brother”

Today’s Stranger is a little younger. He’s the son of a colleague (/ boss) of mine, and though, I know of him, I wanted to get to know him from him. From what my colleague has told me and showed me, his son was a bit on the extreme side with sports. I was curious how his son would share and open up to me. Without further ado……

Meet Aiden, *young gun*

Who are you?

“That’s a hard question… who am I as a person?” He thinks for a while… thinks real hard — his eyes dart back and forth as he searches for an answer.

“Happy…?” He laughs. I laugh.

How would you describe yourself?

“Oh… fun! Exciting!”

What makes you exciting?

“I’m always trying new stuff even though it can be dangerous. Scary.”

What’s something you’ve done recently?

“I recently put two ramps (bike ramps) in my front yard, and I put my little sister in the middle laying long ways, and jumped over her on a bike.” Haha, nice. When he said he tried new stuff even if it was dangerous, I figured he meant for himself. I didn’t consider dangerous for another like his sister. I wonder if his sister willingly volunteered for this…

You made it?

“Yeah!”

Did she make it?

“Yes, she’s okay,” he laughs. “She was scared, but she made it.”

(Four years separate he and his little sister.)

What was the earliest stunt that you’ve done? (First stunt.)

“I don’t really know… when I was 6, I jumped over my mom on a bike. She was, not long ways, but sideways. I jumped over her on a bike when I was 6.”

Why do you like to do this kind of stuff?

“When I was really young, when I was 4, my dad got me a dirt bike. When I was 2, that was when I rode a bike for the first time without training wheels. I never used training wheels. My dad was like, ‘go!'”

“When I was 4, he got me dirt bike. He told me, ‘when you land your first jump, you can get a dirt bike.’ So I got a dirt bike, and he got a dirt bike.” Sounds like my colleague used his son as an excuse to get a dirt bike!

Aiden continued, “So we rode a lot up in a place called Durhamtown. I rode on a track for the first time when I was probably 10. I realized I was really into it. I was pretty good, so I started racing. That just really got me into it — started riding dirt bikes.”

Thinking about your memories so far (by yourself, with friends, with family), what’s a memory you’ve had that was really, really fun for you?

“When I was probably 12, I have a really fun memory — me, my little sister (she learned how to ride a dirt bike), my brother, my mom, and my dad… all of us got to go to Durhamtown, the riding place, and we all got to ride together. It was really fun.”

What about it was so fun?

“I could ride, and I would slow down, and I would let my little sister pass me. Seeing her go over jumps, and seeing my brother go over jumps, and just seeing my mom riding. It was really fun.”

I like to think of big brothers as people who look out for younger sisters and brothers. Is there anything you’ve done to look out for your little sister?

“When I was probably 7 or 9, and she was 5, there was this little kid — he was a boy. She didn’t want to play a game with him. He slapped her. And…” He pauses. “The kid ended up getting a little hurt.”

He smiles, “Like, I punched a couple of times.”

How would you describe yourself as a big brother?

“I definitely look out for my younger brother and younger sister. It’s a little bit different now because my brother’s an inch taller than me now. Looking out for him now is more like, ‘he’s kinda got himself.’ But I still look out for my sister a ton.”

Thinking about all the stuff you’re doing, you’re in military school, right? Do you have any thoughts as to what you want to be when you grow up?

“I’m not completely sure. There’s always that ‘I was to be a professional athlete’, but the chance of it, it’s probably not going to happen. I’ve been thinking about it. I was thinking about trying to major in business management, and trying to find something from there.”

“But, not really sure yet. Or major in finance management, and then, be a financial advisor or a sports agent.”

Thinking about being a professional athlete, it’d be fun, but you said “slim”. What would you like to be a  professional athlete in?

“My first pick would be a professional motocrosser and into supercross and stuff.”

Let’s say you have a chance to be that. What do you think are the qualities that will help you succeed in that?

“Always committing. Once I commit, not quitting, going for it, and all the way through it. Work and heart all the way through.”

Is that also how you would describe yourself? What do you love about yourself?

“Some of the humor, like the jokes I can make sometimes.” Sadly, he didn’t have a joke at the ready. He mentions how jokes come to him, but no matter what, it must come from the “situation”.

Do you plan on wreaking any havoc this Thanksgiving?

“Maybe a little bit. Me and my dad, every year, go and play football in the morning of Thanksgiving with his friend. I plan to wreak some havoc on them when I juke them out.”

No broken bones?

“Hopefully not!…”

Then he admits, “we’re not sure.”

Are you 100% happy with what you’re doing in life right now? If you’re not 100% happy, what will make you happy? And are you going to do it? (Thanks to Amy, Stranger 67)

“No… I mean, if I was 100% happy, I would probably not be at military school. For what I have to do and what I’m doing at school, I’m 100% happy with.”

I asked him what would make him 100% happy.

“I want to go to Wesleyan.” (A private school nearby.)

“So I want to go there. I want to be involved in sports there, but I also want to be racing dirt bikes on the weekends, and doing all I can with that. That would probably make me happy.”

Anything your mom and dad can do to help encourage you to keep pursuing your passions and your dreams?

“Yeah! Them sending me to [the military school] was definitely a big help. Last year, we had 100% acceptance rate to college, and over $5M raised in scholarships. Them doing that — sending me there — if I do the right thing and work hard, it’s basically a free ride to college. That’s something that they’re doing to help me.”

For college, where do you want to go?

“I’m not sure. If I was sure to major in business management, I would probably want to go to UGA because they have a really good business management program there.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Are you working, if you’re not 100% happy, to become 100% happy with your life?” Looks like I’ll piggyback with Amy’s question for Aiden.

After the handshake.

It was great to spend some time with my coworker’s son. He’s into his teen/ teenage years so he’s really becoming his own person. Yet, it was nice to hear how he involved his family in his interests including one of his most fond memories in addition to stunts with his sister.

What else I thought was interesting was the “slim chance” of becoming a professional athlete. I got the sense that his school was very much putting him on the path to pursuing business management. It makes sense, especially as Aiden spoke of the 100% college acceptance rate. However, it’s also not aligned to his passion and dream of being a professional athlete. I’m curious, then, how the school motivates its students to pursue education while also supporting the students in their passions. It’s an interesting thing being a part of the entrepreneurial circle and also meeting so may others who are seeking paths outside of the business world, and how they all buck the trends to pursue their passions. Or, how they can bring together passion with something less risky.

In any case, that’s great to hear Aiden is doing well in school, and he’s proud of what he’s doing there. I’m also happy to hear he’s still chasing and doing his passion often on the track on the weekends. Will be excited to hear how he continues to grow and shapes tomorrow.

Meet Aiden. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 61, Day 61 - Meet Mark

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

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

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

Meet Mark, 22

Who are you?

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

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

What do you do today to help people?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

Meet Mark. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 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 56, Day 56 - Meet Joey

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

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

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

Meet Joey, 23

Who are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like I said, that’s a cool concept.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He goes straight into his question he wants to ask…

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

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

How do you do that?

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet Joey. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 49, Day 49 - Meet Sara

Stranger 49, Day 49 – Meet Sara, the “Team Player”

I used to visit one of my good friends’ office at Atlanta Tech Village. Getting to his office requiring stepping through an intermediate office of another startup. So I would pass through this startup’s office saying the courteous hello, and just kept walking. Don’t know their names or anything. I must’ve seemed like a jerk.

Today, I got to meet one of the startup’s employees. Though funnily, I met her at my usual Starbucks as she was getting her car services nearby. And also coincidentally, my buddy was at the Starbucks, so he helped fashion the intro.

Meet Sara, 27

Who are you?

Her head cocks back as she gasps like she just saw a ghost.

“Who am I? Gosh… okay… I… $h!t! I don’t even know how to answer that.”

“Alright, well, Sara without an ‘h’. I’m 27. Atlanta-native. I joined the startup community in February of this year, and basically, took the biggest risk of my life. Left corporate America where everything was solid, and a good salary and benefits, and I said, ‘screw it! I’m not into it at all’, and join this startup company that had no money to its name, and said, ‘let’s do it!'”

“… and now, eight months later, I have a whole new network of friends, and on my way to Denver in two months to launch the business out there.”

“I have kind of just found myself in the past eight months, honestly. Just went into the startup community working at Tech Village meeting people that inspire me everyday.” She mentions how it’s “normal” to not say hey, and just “observe from afar”.

“I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle to saying hey to everybody. Talking to people. Getting to know people. There’s no reason not to be nice to people. No reason not to say hey to people. I learned that from learning with startups and working at Tech Village, and being involved with what’s a whole new community in a city I’ve lived in all my life. So yeah. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.”

Except, she continues. 🙂

“I’m also a massive advocate of team sports,” she laughs. “Kind of transitions into my lifestyle of working and building teams for our startup. Live, eat, and breathe sports in general. I grew up playing soccer. Massive football fan — RISE UP!… the Falcons. I do all of these soccer leagues on the side because I still love the game. Walk around swollen ankles left and right. So yeah. I take everything I’ve learned from sports. It’s one of those things I grew up knowing I can’t do anything without my teammates. Can’t accomplish anything that I want to do without them, without the help of someone else. That’s kind of how I put in all of the work into my team that I build out for work now. It’s what I live by. That’s kind of me in a nutshell.”

Sara laughs again. “Silly!”

You mentioned you weren’t really inspired from corporate America. What was the uninspiring thing that really… ‘I gotta go!’?

“Things that I wanted to create, things that I thought I could be good at, and things that I wanted to try and potentially fail at, and be better at it again, that opportunity wasn’t really praised a lot. It wasn’t something where the idea of failure being an option. In corporate America, something that’s so developed already. Processes already developed. It wasn’t something that you didn’t feel all of the support behind it. So it made me timid to try things new.”

What made you jump onboard with Sifted?

“Jess and Kimberly — our cofounders. The product… our product — chef-made lunches. It’s a cool concept. We always joke that it’s some ridiculous concept to bring lunches into corporate offices. We didn’t know what we were doing going into Atlanta, to be honest in the beginning. We just thought this was something cool. These are our people. This is what we want to do. But those two women changed the game for me. I can see it when they talked about it. Can see it in their eyes. Hear it in their voice. The way we connected as three people sitting in a coffee shop together. I was like, ‘these are my people. They’re going to let me make mistakes. They’re going to let me fail. And they’re going to teach me how to be great.’ So those two women are what brought me onto the team.”

So what’s something that you have failed at that you’re like, ‘at least I tried,’ and what was the learning from that?

“I’ve been tasked with hiring out one of the hardest positions of our company, and maintaining that position which is our host team.”

“So basically, when we go into an office space, and we sign a client. We have something like a perk that we offer. It’s professional, creative, on-site host to foster the client relationship and give a true experience behind lunch. Not just, ‘here’s lunch. Eat. Go on with your day.’ There’s an experience behind it. That’s what our host provide — the culture of Sifted. We kind of bring that into the office space.”

“We have to hire out part-time hosts. I can only really offer them up to 15 hours a week, and it’s in the dead-center of the day for lunch which is the most difficult time to give up just two hours in your day. And to transport food in your car, and to do heavy-lifting… it’s a very difficult job to hire for, and only minimal hours I can offer them. And so at the rate Atlanta’s growing, at the rate I believe Austin’s going to grow, Denver’s going to grow… in any city we tackle in 2017, I’ve gotta find a way to foster these employees. And you know, I had to hire one, and now we have 12, and I’m looking to get to 25. It’s all about finding the right candidate — quality over quantity. Hands down. It’s all about getting them invested in the culture of the company, and getting them invested in that they’re going to make a difference regardless of how small they may imagine the host part-time role of this fast-growing startup is.”

“Every single thing they do everyday is making a difference. They have a huge role in the development of the company. And so, it’s a lot of knowing that they have to understand… they have to know and have confidence in me that I’ve got their back every single time, and I’m going to help them grow in whatever they want to grow in. And that they fit the mold, and they feel they can find themselves in this team.”

“It’s much more than just being able to give them a high monetary value on the team. It’s much more than giving them as many hours as possible. It’s more like how they can personally relate to the company. I’ve hired some not-good fits for the team. I have lost people on the team. I’ve failed at that plenty of times trying to figure it out. Over time, I finally think I’ve got a grip on it. Now, we’re just hiring out really bad ass hosts. They’re really cool.”

What’s one of those characteristics that you have to have?

“So when I’m interviewing someone for the host position, I’m always, forever going to ask what’s their dream job. A lot of these hosts that we’re hiring are either straight out of college, or they’re young professionals willing to make a change, a career change. And they’re willing to give up everything they have, and just start somewhere. These people have huge dreams. College students come to us with the world at their fingertips. Young professionals who are looking for a full-blown career shift, and willing to go from salary to part-time… feels like they have the world at their fingertips. So there’s something driving them behind the scenes.”

“I always ask them what’s their biggest passion? What do they want to do most? How do they think that they can get something out of it through us. At that point, they tell me their full-blown life stories. You can hear it in their voice, even on a phone interview, and than saying, ‘this is everything that I absolutely love in life.’ If you can hear that passion in their voice just talking about whatever they want to do whether it’s food-related, startup-related, whatever-related, that’s the one key right there. If I can hear it in their voice on a call, I’ll bring them in to shadow, and see if they fit the team.”

We talk a little about a few books I read that would be great for her including: Simon Sinek’s Start With Why, Clayton M. Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Success, and Michael Useem’s The Leadership Moment.

What is your Dream? And what’s the biggest obstacle in that way?

“So my biggest Dream… something that’s been piling in my head. I don’t talk about it too much. I want to find a way to start a philanthropy aspect within Sifted. Long term, I’ve always wanted to do something campaign fundraising-wise. I never knew what it was. It was a very broad concept in my head. I remember when I was 18 freshman year, my teacher asked me what do I want to do in life.”

“”The only thing that I could ever come up with was to help people. They’re like, ‘oh, you want to be a doctor.’ I was not really digging the medical, you know? That’s always been the concept. So when I came on at Sifted, we were asking clients, we’re asking businesses to take back lunch, essentially. We’re asking them pause during the day, and enjoy time with coworkers and eat lunch with coworkers.”

“So I have this big, huge, long-term dream of being able to give back lunch. To children, to kids… where some way, shape, or fashion that every client we serve in the day — we’re on big-scale mode — we can account for how many meals we’re serving someone else who can’t afford to have a meal at home. Or a meal at school at lunch. At Sifted, a portion of our profits are going to based on how many clients we’re serving, how many lunches we’re feeding in a day… account for some meal that a kid eating in a third-world country, or just somewhere else in general.”

“That’s my biggest one. My biggest obstacle, about that, is honing that in and figuring it out. That’s super long-term. I have a lot more learning to do. I have a lot more development professionally to do that. But that’s kind of this big, huge dream, so now I just need to find the pathway to get up there.”

“Short-term, launching Denver!” she laughs. “Getting out to Denver!”

“That’s a big one for me. I’m an Atlanta-native. I’m leaving. The idea of leaving family. My brother’s out there so I’ll have some family network, but leaving the city limits that I grew up in — what I know very well like the back of my hand — tackling something new with a company that’s a startup, and new to that network, that’s, right now, the biggest challenge I have.

If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? What’s the first thing you would do? (Thanks to Meg, Stranger 48)

“Oh… that’s a great question.” She thinks. “If I think anywhere in the world right now…”

“… I would probably… I’d head out… my sister and I — I’m on vacation mode right now, thinking of vacation here — I want to go out to Thailand, to be honest. Be on the beach, and I really want to do an elephant conservation. Learn all about that. My sister’s really into that. She follows them, donates to them. So she’s always wanted to go. I want to travel with her, and support her with it. We’ve always talked about that being the big dream is to go out there and explore the wildlife conservations and stuff. Yeah, that’s kind of, sort of in my head always. Sounds silly, but yeah, definitely!”

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

“There was something you could’ve changed yesterday, what would it have been?”

After the handshake.

Sara brought the energy today! She was super friendly, and laughed quite a bit. While she was sharing the story behind her joining the startup, I could feel how much she enjoyed working there.  I sense that her enthusiasm and general passion for the business (and indeed having a hand in its growth) was very similar to how she felt meeting the cofounders that convinced her to join.

Now, I’m eager to meet the cofounders so I can get a direct sense of their passion. Though my friend no longer has an office at the Village, I’ll make the trip to meet more from Sara’s team just because.

Great to finally meet Sara, and I’m excited for her very-near future. Plus, she’s kinda impressive (and/ or crazy) to be playing on an ankle that is the size of a softball.

Meet Sara. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 46, Day 46 - Meet Jason

Stranger 46, Day 46 – Meet Jason, the “Fighter for A Better Place”

I’m traveling today in Boston (and part of tomorrow). I wasn’t worried at all about finding a Stranger — they’re everywhere, especially as I walked the dense city of Boston. If anything, the question was when I would pick the Stranger. Well, I decided to pick my Airbnb host. I’ve never stayed at an Airbnb before, and so in many ways, I was curious to learn more about him anyways. So here goes…

Meet Jason, 37

Who are you?

“I run UFC Gyms. I run several across the country. I actually ran the first UFC Gym in Nordic, California. Last year, I ran the UFC Gym in Manhattan, SOHO. I’m the Managing Partner here for about a year and half.”

How did you get into running the gym?

“I was a mixed martial artist in my late teens, early twenties. Then, I had some really bad injuries, so I focused more on the business… like going to college… working in corporate America for a while. When they started the UFC gym company, I had an opportunity to take everything I learned, and apply it here.”

“This is a smaller gym, but the gym I had in California was 40,000 square feet. So it’s a lot more.”

Jason continues, “Yeah, it’s been a good opportunity to learn and grow, and do something that I’m passionate about which is fitness, MMA, changing people’s lives…”

What are your Dreams? You’ve run many gyms, and now, you’re a Managing Partner.

“I think my Dream is just to have a positive impact on the community and the world as a whole. The way I try to do it is through fitness.”

Jason shares, “So we do a lot with helping the urban youth — like kids in the community with job placement, job training. The people I’m connecting with is actually opening in Dorcester that’s doing… doesn’t matter if you don’t have no money at all. If you’re a teenager, you just go there to train — jiujitsu or kickboxing. Just trying to have a positive impact on the community in any way I can — through my gyms, through fitness. It gives me a mechanism to be able to have a positive impact.”

I find there are a lot of people who love UFC, and another half who don’t care for it at all. Is there a misconception of UFC?

“I think so, but I think that’s going away a lot. I think the stigma is starting to go away. The more mainstream it gets, the more visualization of the sport. More people come into our gym become aware of what we are, what we do. That stigma is going away because it was very much a blood sport. But now, it’s becoming an actual sport. With $4B sell, it puts it right up there with most major athletic organizations in the world. It says a lot about the sport.”

I’ve always thought about running a gym/ having one. I feel like there’s just so much about gyms and working in fitness that really… wakes you up in the morning, right?

“Yeah, it’s one of those things that you tend to not mind going to work everyday. That’s the biggest thing for me. I’ve had a lot of jobs where really… having jobs for Fortune 500 companies, where I dreaded having to go to work in the morning. In the gym, even if we’re having a bad month, or having a bad week, I still don’t mind coming into work everyday. Sometimes, I look forward to coming to work. That’s the cool thing. It’s really the biggest thing… you change people’s lives here everyday. There isn’t one person who comes through this door that I can’t give them what they’re looking for for the most part. They can come in here looking to reach their fitness goals, and I can put together a plan to get them there. It feels good. If you can help someone get rid of Type 2 Diabetes… get them off insulin. I mean, it just feels good. You help someone lose 50, 60, 70, 100 pounds… their lives are changed.”

“I’ve had people that their wife left them. Took the kids. They’re losing their house. They’re 320 pounds. Two years later, they’re 210 pounds, and now they’re teaching spin class, and spreading the word of what fitness can do for your life. That’s the stuff that really inspires me. I think especially in this industry, the margins have faded over the last 10-20 years. So it’s not as profitable to work in this industry as it used to be. But the work environment’s great. You can make a very strong living, and you can meet a lot of amazing people along the way.”

Switching gears somewhat… you’re my Airbnb host. What are some of the cool things you’ve gotten out of that experience? How long have you been doing it?

“Airbnb here in Boston, just a couple months really. It’s cool, man. My family, we own some farms outside Boston. It’s really convenient for me to stay outside the city. Usually, it’s me or my roommate that’ll be there. But yeah, you’ll meet a lot of good people. It’s a great way to save on rent, especially when you’re in these markets where rent’s through the roof. It helps us out, and it helps people… rather than spend $300 on a hotel room, you get a 2000-sq ft apartment for the night which isn’t too bad.”

Most interesting Airbnb story?

“Couple Australians that went out partying, and… nothing too crazy. Yeah. Nothing too exciting.”

What do you think is the best way to succeed? (Thanks to Kirubel, Stranger 45)

“To take every opportunity that’s ever afforded to you and make the most of it. Doesn’t matter how small of an opportunity it is, because every opportunity leads to another opportunity. If you can take the smallest opportunity that others take for granted, you can turn it into something amazing. That’s going to turn into more amazing opportunities for you.”

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

“I’d like to ask them what they could do to make the world a better place?”

After the handshake.

How great was it that Jason, my host for the evening, was also an owner of a gym?! Well, I think it was pretty great. I wish I contacted him earlier, though, so I could have known to bring my workout clothes. In any event, he’s running a gym to which is somewhat of a dream of mine. It’s not a real serious dream, but it’s a thought, especially after working with so many coaches when I was doing sales for my startup Body Boss Fitness in the past.

I could totally see and feel Jason’s excitement (and responsibility) of running a gym. The way he shared his dream and his passion for helping others flowed so smoothly as he talked to me. It wasn’t bull. It was real authentic, and I was excited to meet him. In so many ways, the way he feels about fitness is how I also feel. The transformation he helps others with is sometimes… understated, I feel, when it comes to outsiders. Fitness is just… that important and that transformative. In many ways, though, it’s not just the fitness. It’s the dedication… the sheer hard work and focus to achieve goals, and everything that comes with that. Jason sees that. I see that. And I see that in Jason.

Meet Jason. 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 16, Day 16 - Meet Michelle

Stranger 16, Day 16 – Meet Michelle, the “Thoughtful, ‘Serious’ Book Enthusiast”

I was sitting at Starbucks working on some ads while keeping an eye around for someone I could interview. Not going to lie — I wasn’t “feeling” it today. However, I made a commitment… well, I have 84 more commitments.

Anyways, I spotted my Stranger today sitting outside in the beautiful weather. She was diligently reading a serious book (one that was thick, serious font on the cover, and what looked to be small font, too) — not exactly what I read. Haha. So I figured she was probably pretty intellectual which was interesting to me. I grabbed my stuff (I was sitting inside), and walked right up to her and asked if she’d like to take part in my project. She smiled and was up for it.

Yes! That right there just turned around my energy, and I was excited. I was excited to get to meet this Stranger.

Meet Michelle, 24

Who are you?

I’m from Johnson City, TN. I went to Wofford College for undergrad. I graduated May 2015. Didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but worked really hard to get a job at a consulting firm. Ended up getting extended the offer, so I was super excited. A little bit shocked because I was an English and Environmental Studies undergrad… double major. That’s why I’m in Atlanta. This is my home office. I guess that’s a really quick recap of how I got here.”

What are your passions? Your dreams?

Michelle takes a big breath in.

“I really like to read. I’ve always had an interest in that since high school. And I thought at some point that I might want to get my PhD. I haven’t really, I guess, given up on that — in literature. I haven’t really decided what that would do for me, but I’m kinda liking business as well. So it’s sort of like I have these two paths, and not really sure… business school is also an option.”

She smiles and is partially exasperated. “What was the beginning of the question?”

She continues, “I’ve also always wanted to run a half-marathon which I’m scheduled to do next April.” Her interest in running emanates from playing soccer growing up till college.

“Recently, since February or March, got really into yoga. I literally do it everyday now. Not something I thought I would ever do because I’m kind of a Type A personality that’s always going 1000%. It’s been super good for me, and I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger. Just overall well-being a lot better.”

She later added traveling, being outside, hiking, and COFFEE!

What type of reading do you like to read?

“Contemporary American Fiction. This is John Irving. He’s probably my favorite author,” as she points to the book. She tells me she’s trying to read more female authors as well.

Curious about the genre (I’m more of self-improvement and non-fiction), I asked her what she enjoys of the genre.

“There’s a lot of socioeconomic issues. You grow a lot in socioeconomic issues in the United States. You learn a lot about that. Also, I’m really into analyzing the text and seeing metaphors and symbols. Just getting really deep into the text. A lot of American fiction, you learn a lot about yourself and where you come from.”

Have you had any big life regrets?

Michelle sits there thinking and looking around.

“I try not to live with regret. It’s like cliche, but the things you regret the most are the things you don’t do. And I think I’m really afraid of that, so there’s definitely been times where I definitely would’ve.” She then mentions studying abroad at Wofford to countries like Turkey. She shared with me how several of her classmates cancelled traveling to Instanbul, Turkey due to instability in the region including the rise of ISIS.

“It was an amazing experience. One of my favorite places I’ve been.”

However, this wasn’t so much of a regret because she did end up going. So I asked her again if there was a regret she could think of.

“I think I might’ve limited myself. I loved my undergrad experience. It was incredible. It was where I was meant to be. But I think I limited myself. Back then, I didn’t think I could get into an Ivy League school… just really prestigious academic situations. I don’t know why. I didn’t even look.” She was the Valedictorian, and realizes she did well, and she laments how she could have expanded her options.

She admits she might’ve been afraid of what she “couldn’t” accomplish or how great she could’ve been.

Is there a big life lesson you’d like to share?

For the second question in a row, Michelle takes a breath and says, “these are really tough questions.” She ponders for a while longer.

“I’ve seen a lot of women get hurt in relationships. So I would say just ever thinking you need someone else to complete yourself.” Michelle admits she had not experienced this first-hand, but shares how she had several friends who went through “terrible” situations.

I asked her how she believes women and men could maintain their independence while still intertwining their lives. After all, that’s what happens in relationships, and what you want.

Melissa told me how she had been dating her boyfriend since she was 17 doing long-distance since graduating high school. For her, being apart was “one of the best things to happen to us. We don’t let our relationship take precedence over our independent dreams, but we find a way to remain in an important place in each other’s lives. Never crossed our minds to go to the same college.”

She and her boyfriend realize they must be in the same city at some point; however, “if for a while we have to be apart and come back together, that’s fine.”

She shares how if you start to do things because of another, you may end up resenting the other.

What do you love and admire most about yourself?

She stresses how these are “hard” questions. I smile. These probably aren’t hard as much as they can press for her to be vulnerable for a moment and think about herself.

“My mom has always told me that I’m a very thoughtful person. From her noticing that in me, that’s been something that I really hope to continue to be, and I’ve tried to put more into my life. I admire that about myself because I appreciate that in other people as well.”

She felt her thoughtfulness played a big role in being empathetic with others.

Given Michelle relayed what her mom thought, I was curious what she thought (or if she knew) her boyfriend loved and admired most about her. Her response, “I think he would say I’m a very optimistic person, a very positive person. Also, my drive…”

She said she would ask him this question later.

What is the most important part of your day? Your life? (Thanks Zasha, Stranger 15)

“Just happiness. It sounds easy, but we get caught up in the rat race. But at the end of the day, that’s all that actually matters — it’s making yourself happy. Everybody’s looking for that, too.”

I asked her what she does to strive for that happiness.

“I listen to a lot of podcasts. I listen to this one podcast. She’s big about making a to-do list at the beginning of your day. I definitely do that, and I know certain things are going to make me happy like if I exercise… over-arching goals of my life…” She shares about her grandmother having Alzheimer’s. She wants to focus on things everyday for the entire year including running and using the Charity Miles for Alzheimer’s.

“Everything that you do matters.”

She admits that today, she just wanted to read, and even thought, “maybe I’ll meet someone new”. Well, mission accomplished here!

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“If you could correct ONE wrong in the world, what would it be? That can be disease, hunger… it could be high-level, or something small for people to be more genuine. Anything.”

After the handshake.

Michelle was curious of the project, and admitted that she wanted to try it. She even suggested I “license” the project. It’s clear she saw the beauty of this endeavor, and how she, too, enjoys connecting with others.

After the first question I realized, too, that Michelle was not only open to talking to Strangers, but she wanted to share her thoughts even if she had to think about some of the answers. She’s very intelligent — that came across within the first several words. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised given her “serious” book.

Also, I think her story about coming out of college with double-majoring in subjects not typically associated with consulting is a great lesson for others. Having a degree is important, but the subject is less so. Working hard can bridge gaps.

I’m also smiling now recalling how she has said to herself that perhaps she would meet someone new today, and for 15 minutes, she did, and she got to share part of her story with the world. How cool is that?

Meet Michelle. No longer a Stranger.