Stranger 74, Day 74 - Meet Stan

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

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

Meet Stan, 30

Who are you?

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

Your email contains “imagine”. What is that?

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

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

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

What’d you love about rap before?

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

Then working out has since become a passion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your Dream and goal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a question you’d like to ask?

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

Meet Stan. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 29, Day 29 - Meet 3 Friends

Stranger 29, Day 29 – Meet 3 Friends, “Hulk, Fashion Designer, Teleporter”

Today’s meet was shorter in the number of questions, but I was more interested in having a group of friends who hiked up to the top of Stone Mountain. I’ve been interested in meeting groups of friends or even couples, and this morning provided a great opportunity. As I looked around the cloudy summit this morning, I saw a group of three friends laughing and doing push-ups together. Perfect.

Meet Tunde, 27, Tabitha, 28, John, 30

Who are you?

John: “If you were playing a video game, and I was scrolling through characters, what would your bio say?”

Tunde: “I’m the hulk… hmm, who am I? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Tabitha: “I am…” she’s laughing a good bit right now. “I am a…”

John jumps in: “… full of life. I just met her this morning. She’s great.”

Tabitha: “I am a… God-fearing business woman trying to leave my mark on the world. It sounds cliche, but I want to change at least one person’s life before I leave the earth. That’s who I am. That’ my main goal.”

John: “I guess I could piggyback on what Tabitha said. It’s not cliche… the world could use a lot more people who want to help other people. And I want to the same thing.”

How’d you guys meet?

John: “Our mutual friend — the Hulk!”

Tabitha: “Went to college with the Hulk!”

Yesterday, Sarah wanted to ask you what motivates you? Whatever it is that you love to do, what’s the driving force? (Thanks to Sarah, Stranger 28)

Tunde: “To go back to your question to who I am… kind of like what Tabitha said, I’m God-fearing. This is a man who is trying to change people as far as outlook on fitness, life… a day at a time, and try to make sure they better themselves. That’s what really drives me — just to see the change in them because when they actually change, you can see the joy and the happiness. That’s what drives me, to be honest.”

I asked Tunde if there was a reason why: “Well, it started off when I got into a car accident a couple years. When that happened, just how I felt being at home by myself and not being able to move.” At this point, John mentioned to Tabitha that he didn’t know about Tunde’s car accident.

Tunde continues, “It wasn’t easy, so I can only imagine when other people feel that they can’t really do things on their own. Just to see that change… it was… it was life-changing for me. It opened my eyes to see things in a different light. That’s kind of why I want to push people to do the same.”

“I didn’t think I was going to live from it. It was really tough.”

It was nice to hear Tunde share this Life-Defining Moment without having to ask the question explicitly.

Tabitha: “I am a fashion-designer. Christianity is a very big part of my life. My father named me after a seamstress in the Bible. When I was going to college, so it all clicked for me — this is exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Not only because I could do it, I enjoy doing it. I love doing it. I’m very big on purpose. I think things haven’t gone the way they should, or the way I thought they should have, or they have gone differently or better for me in that particular area… because that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I feel like the stuff I make… changes peoples lives! I know it sounds crazy, but it really does. To make a woman feel beautiful about what she’s wearing. To feel beautiful in her own skin. That’s amazing. Who could ask for a better job? That’s why I do it. I really want to make someone’s life better. If I can do that through clothing… my business is philanthropic based, so if I can do that through the money my clothing generates or whatever, then… by any means necessary.”

I had to take second and ask Tabitha a personal tip for me… What’s the number 1 fashion tip for guys?

Tabitha: “Number 1 fashion tip… is… less is more. Less is more.” She then explains about how outrageous some styles are describing some guys “peacocking”.

She continues, “… and be yourself. Fashion is nothing is you’re not comfortable.”

Then, Tunde jumps in: “How about the fit of clothes?”

Tabitha excitedly exclaims, “YES! Tailor everything! Clothes are meant to be altered.”

I’m laughing, and then need to shift gears back to John.

Back to John!

“I’m going to piggyback on what they both said. That was all my answers so far.” We laugh.

“I guess what drives people is ambition, or lack thereof.” I ask him what he loves doing. He thinks about this.

“At the moment, bettering myself. Kind of what Tunde said, you could build up your body. You can be proud about it because it’s something you had to work for. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something anybody can take away from you. It shows discipline. Shows motivation. Shows ambition. Shows respect for yourself. It says a lot. A picture’s worth a million words — if you have a great physique, it says a lot about you. The other half is who you are as a person, and how you act… your image will only take you so far.”

Tabitha jumps in pointing out that even if you look good, if you’re not “good” on the inside, it doesn’t matter.

“The inside and the outside both matter.”

What makes a great friendship?

Tunde: “Honesty.”

Tabitha: “Brutal honesty. If you really are someone’s friend, you know what they can handle, and you know how to deliver that.”

Tabitha adds, “…and trust!”

John: “going through the growing pains, that’s when you grow a better bond.”

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

Tunde: “What wakes you up?”

Tabitha: “I want to know if you could be a superhero, what would your superpower be?”

John: “Teleport!” I ask John what question he’d like to ask, but he didn’t have one then.

After the handshakes.

It was pretty cold this morning, and I didn’t want to hold up these three friends who were doing push-ups around the top of Stone Mountain, so this was definitely a shorter meet. It was great, though. I enjoyed getting to know the three of them. They had great energy about them and real camaraderie despite Tabitha and John having just met. However, that’s what happens, isn’t it? When you have friends of friends, their short degrees of separation means the friends will likely get along, too. It was fun to watch these three interact with one another and how they joked and interjected themselves while another was answering.

So meet these three friends — Tunde, Tabitha, and John. No longer Strangers.

Stranger 15, Day 15 - Meet Zasha

Stranger 15, Day 15 – Meet Zasha, the “Supportive and Independent Wife”

I really wanted to wait this morning to meet my Stranger for the day. I started my Saturday like 9 out of my last 10 Saturdays — hiking Stone Mountain to catch the sunrise. Well, this morning, I saw a husband and wife walking hand-in-hand down the mountain. Something about the moment was beautiful, and as I walked by, I told them that. But as I walked away, I realized that I wanted to interview BOTH of them for my Stranger 15. Sadly, the gentleman was no interested; however, the woman was very interested. But hey, by my looks from the outside, likely by speaking with the woman, I would also get a glimpse into the him.

In any case, I was grateful to hear their story (brief as it would be).

Meet Zasha, 45

What made you come to Stone Mountain in the morning?

Zasha looks at him and says, “well, he’s the one that goes in the morning, and he’s been inviting me. Today was the day I decided to do it.”

I asked for his name. His response? “Malcolm X”. He smiles, and redirects my attention to her.

I asked Zasha what she thought about the morning hike.

“I actually like it. Good to get the exercise.”

Do you do anything else for exercise?

“I do jump rope.” Ooooh, I don’t know about jump rope except there’s that one version where you swing the rope rapidly so that it crosses under twice to a jump. Well, I know that it hurt when I didn’t get enough clearance.

She adds, “singles and double.”

How did you two meet?

“We met more than a decade ago at work.” We didn’t go deep into this, but reinforces that the workplace is a very popular meeting place, even if sometimes frowned upon by the companies themselves.

Zasha shared that they’ve been married now since 2007

What’s the key to your success so far?

“I’m a loner, so I need my alone time and space. Need to have my alone time outside of work, and my family time.”

Zasha has two kids, and continues to share that it’s important for her to have her time alone to recover. She sounds like she’s pretty busy, but she realizes for herself to be at her best, she makes time alone a priority.

How was the proposal?

She smiles for a moment before saying, “he actually took a longer time with that.”

Zasha admits that they had a break in their relationship. She was ready and she loved him. During that hiatus, she recognizes, “he had time for his thoughts… He’s the type who wants everything to be perfect. I loved him, but he needed some time.”

At this point, “Malcolm” has left us to walk up a steep part of the trail a few times. He’s happy to let us talk while he gets his steps in.

When he finally did propose, he told Zasha he had gotten a necklace fixed that he had given her as a gift. He then asked to put it on her. She recalls the moment, “‘Well, let me put it on you’, and when he put it on, the ring was dangling on the necklace.” She’s laughing and smiling at this as she relives the experience.

She definitely did not expect it.

How do you two support one another?

“Lots of things… communication and TALKING.”

Zasha reminds me how she needs space, but despite that space, she knows that her husband is there to support her. It’s not about being right there all the time physically. Instead, she recognizes he is there in spirit, and he’s always there to support her.

“ACTIONS!” she adds. “Do things that you don’t have to be asked to be done in different ways of support.” To this, we talked about the 5 Love Languages which she laughs, again.  She’s a very happy person, and it’s beautiful to recognize this early in the morning. She and her husband’s primary Love Language is Acts of Service.

I mention to Zasha a psychologist by the name Laura Honos-Webb who describes people having three layers — Superficial Side, Daily Dose, and Core Essence. It is my belief the Core Essence of two people in a marriage should be aligned. Then, I ask Zasha what core essences she and her husband both align to.

“Spiritual… and we actually have different cultures so we had to work on that as well. He’s Guyanese, and I’m African American… we do not [do the same things].”

What is something you two compromise on?

“Being individuals and travel and work… all that type of stuff. It seems like it’s not a lot. It’s a lot. Families… holidays…”

What motivates you? What makes you happy? What starts your day? (Thanks Sandrika, Stranger 14)

“Knowing I have another possible 24 hours to live my life that because I believe in Jesus Christ, and he’s allowed me wake up and the birth of life to accomplish goals, and not just to be mediocre for today. To make something happen.”

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

“What’s so important about their life or day?”

After the handshake.

It was so great to meet Zasha who was obviously still very much in love. It was nice, too, to see she was there to support him and walk with on Stone Mountain this morning to which I’m sure he really appreciated. I wish I got to know him better, but based on speaking with Zasha and what limited interaction I had with her, he must be great guy.

It’s nice to hear stories of couples — how they found each other, how they maintain their relationship, and beyond. It’s not formulaic, but you can sense something great about admirable couples. Maybe I’ll get both partners in a couple to be open in the future. Till then, thrilled to have witnessed Zasha and “Malcolm’s” morning.

Meet Zasha. No longer a Stranger.


Stranger 8, Day 8 - Meet Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Steve, 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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

Meet Steve. No longer a Stranger.