Stranger 94, Day 94 - Meet Brandon

Stranger 94, Day 94 – Meet Brandon, the “Quiet, Accented Creative”

I met today’s Stranger in the kitchen of Atlanta Tech Village’s 3rd floor. We know of each other’s name, but not much else. In fact, I just know the company he works for, and that he drinks a lot of water. He knows me as, well, the guy with a big tub of oatmeal. I’m pretty sure most of the people on my floor think of me this way + I talk to a lot of Strangers.

I was excited to meet him, so asked my question early on in the day. He was totally game to today’s Stranger, and I’m thrilled he was.

But here’s a kicker… I typically use a recorder, so I can freely meet Strangers without having to worry about “memorization” or taking notes. Today, I did the same. Or, so I thought. Only at the end of our conversation did I notice my recorder was NOT recording. Uh oh. He had so many great things to say that even I was thinking in my head, “wow, I’m excited to share his story.” Have no fear, though! I’ve tried to remember the entire conversation, and I believe I’ve done a pretty darn good job of capturing the highlights. More on this after our handshake below.

Till then…..

Meet Brandon, 27

Who are you?

Brandon starts out telling me he’s a graphic designer and how he loves illustrating. He’s smiling as he’s telling me this illustrating how much he loves what he does. (Did you see what I did there?)

He goes on to share how he, like me, was born and raised here in Atlanta (or at least, in the greater metropolitan Atlanta). Awesome! I’ve met a lot of use few, proud, Atlanta natives on this journey. Happy to add Brandon to this “rare” collection of great people. Brandon shares how he went to “the Art Institute of Atlanta” for graphic design.

Brandon also shares with me his love for “sneakers, nice cars, and football”.

He then beams and tells me how he’s normally quiet, and does not talk to many people around citing, “this is funny”.

That last point piqued my interest, so I asked him, “What made you talk to me?”

Brandon shares with me how he only really talked to me because I wanted to take time to actually talk to him and get to know him. He cites, “you’re right, we get so caught up” — referring to my earlier pitch to ask him to be today’s Stranger when I shared with him how I started this journey to inspire connections with those around us.

Sure, I’m paraphrasing, but I promise you that Brandon was smiling the whole time as he told me how appreciated me taking time out to actually get to know him.

What do you love about illustrating?

Brandon tells me about how he loves taking people’s ideas and “bring them to life”. He talks specifically about brand logos. He tells me how many people have “these ideas in their minds, but can’t illustrate them.” He loves being able to do that for them.

I ask Brandon about the challenge of sometimes trying to create a logo for a brand he’s unfamiliar with, or he may not even appreciate.

Brandon tells me how he does a lot of research around industries and the company/ person to start to visualize what that logo and brand is. He sees this, sometimes, as a problem to be solved, and he enjoys the challenge and problem-solving nature of his work.

What is your brand?

“Quiet creative,” he tells me. He starts out telling me how he has many different facets to him. In fact, he says there’s more to him “than meets the eye”. (I recall this because I’m thinking he’s a Transformer.)

He then says something pretty funny that may forever be embedded in my mind — he tells me how he’s “not a peacock”. To this, Brandon is referencing the huge plume that male peacocks have. He’s not ostentatious with who he is. He’s happy being “quieter”. However, those who know him and are close to him know him much better, and know of the “peacock inside”. To this, I already get the feeling he’s a fascinating person with a great personality and spirit about him. This also about the time I was thinking, “wow, can’t wait to share his story and replay our conversation!” (Palm, meet forehead.)

He ends by saying he “has many layers”.

Like a cake!

“Yeah, exactly,” he laughs.

As he’s telling me he’s a quiet creative, my eyes are also drawn to his left wrist as he’s using his arms. Attached to his big wrist is a bright gold G-Shock watch. I tell how interesting it was for him to mention how he’s not a peacock while at the same time loving “accent pieces” like shoes and his gold G-Shock. (I bend down to check out his shoes — he’s wearing a pair of nice, black sneakers — not quite the louder pairs I was expecting).

Brandon sees me checking out his shoes and comments how he’s not wearing anything too flashy today. However, he’s “not shy about wearing bright pink shoes”. He doesn’t “want to fit into the “norm”. He’s comfortable and confident in himself to wear what he chooses would look good on him and allow him to stand out.

He smiles, and shares how he’s “been here for 3.5 years now” doing graphic design stuff. He appreciates the culture and flexibility in enabling him to express himself with his beard and non-corporate garb.

(Meanwhile, I’m sporting some slacks, black loafers, black polo, and black sweater. I am the antithesis of Brandon. Haha)

Curious, do you have a personal logo?

He tells me he does. In fact, that was part of college — he had to create his own logo and brand. His logo was a lime green circle with an upper case “B” and lower case”r” — represents his name.

Knowing logos and brands change over time, I ask Brandon if his logo would be the same, or how would it have evolved.

He thinks about this and laughs because of the loudness of the “margarita green” color. Definitely would not be the same.

Today, Brandon’s logo and brand would be much different — mostly gray or black with simple lettering of “B” and “R” (or “b” and “r” — all the same case). If there was an accent color, it’d be thin, and subtle.

He goes on to tell me how his skills are far and away better than what they were in school.

So, I’ll start to wrap this up. I like to ask the Stranger of the Day (congrats, your Stranger 94), what would you like to ask anyone, effectively, tomorrow’s Stranger? So, I’ll let you marinate on that for a moment. First, Mike, who I met at the gym yesterday, wants to ask you, “What’s the most down, or the lowest, you’ve been in your life? And what did you use or how did you get out of that rut… and keep moving forward?” (Thanks to Mike, Stranger 93)

Brandon didn’t hesitate answering going back to the time after he graduated from college. He cites, “wasn’t able to get a job”, and how he was wondering if he had “wasted” his time and money in college.

However, Brandon kept pursuing his passion, and knew that he would have to work hard. He grew up illustrating, and wanted to be an illustator growing up. It was in college when he learned he could adapt his passion for drawing into graphic design.

For Brandon, it was about being consistent and persistent as to why he’s doing this in the first place. “Never being complacent.” (How great is that to hear, too, after Mike’s story yesterday?)

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

“I’d like to ask what’s their life’s purpose.”

After the handshake.

I am/ was disappointed that I didn’t get our conversation recorded to better convey Brandon. However, I do hope I did him justice in sharing his great story. But with a recording and a fuller transcription, I don’t think I would’ve have captured who he was to how I know you’re all interested in knowing. He, like the previous 93 Strangers and indeed the next 6, has many layers that I only provide a glimpse of.

Brandon had great energy. I definitely got the sense that he was shy by his body language. However, he was smiling the whole time, and he was happy to share. I suppose what was great, too, about the recorder not on was that I am somewhat surprised by how much I remember from our conversation several hours before. I expect that memory to deteriorate some, but he hit a lot of notes that are both inspiring to me and connect with me. And while he said he was happy to talk to me because I made time for him, I hope he realizes that I appreciate him making time for me and opening up to me. By the amount I can recall from a very busy work day, I’m proud to say I was a decent listener, and got to know Brandon. So thank you, too, Brandon.

Meet Brandon. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 80, Day 80 - Meet Aaron

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

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

Meet Aaron, 29

Who are you?

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

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

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

“Let’s see… what else?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

Meet Aaron. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 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?


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 70, Day 70 - Meet Bruce

Stranger 70, Day 70 – Meet Bruce, the “Sarcastic”

Today’s Stranger is a staple at the gym I go to. I see him there whenever I’m there, and I’m only there 3 times a week mostly. So today, it wasn’t a surprise to see him in the gym early the day after Thanksgiving. He’s typically lifting some pretty big weight, so I’ve noticed him for a while. He works hard. However, he and I are alike in that we get fully focused in our gym routines, and try to cut out as much social activity as possible. So as he and I were both wrapping up, I asked to meet him after.

So meet the beast!

Meet Bruce, 30

Who are you?

“Oh man… who am I?!” His eyes get big as he looks up and thinks.

“Let’s see, I was born and raised in Atlanta. Been here all my life. Spent a couple years outside like in North Carolina and Tennessee. I’m an accountant… accountant/ auditor — it’s my profession. Went to school at Morehouse. Went to graduate school at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. Let’s see, what else?”

“Love to workout. Love to watch movies, play video games. What else?”

Bruce continues, “Let’s see. Who am I? I’m pretty passionate about everything that I do. I love to workout. It’s my number one thing. Helps me relax. Relieve some stress or whatnot. I like to play sports, but not as much as I used to mainly because I work out so much — too sore to do anything.” He laughs. “Play golf and stuff like that. And basketball when I can.”

Your main passions are working out, movies, and video games…

“Yeah, that’s what I usually do most of the time in my free time.”

What do you love (you can pick any one of those three) about it?

“Just working out… just push myself. I want to see how far I can go before it’s too late, I guess. So my main passion is building strength. Just want to see how strong I get. Aesthetics, I’m not too worried about that. Mostly building strength.”

“Video games — I’ve just been playing video games all my life. Nothing too special there.”

What’s your favorite video game?

“Oh, I don’t know… Right now, only games I’m really playing are first-person shooter games. So, I’m playing Overwatch, Titanfall. But I like RPG’s as well. So I’m about to play Final Fantasy when that comes out. I don’t really have favorites to be honest.”

Whenever I think about video games, I get nostalgic about playing with friends and family. What’s a good memory that you’ve had that is nostalgic for you?

“I used to play with my friends. College… when I first got into college when Halo first came out, man… that was the only time when you could really play four people playing on one TV. You got the four different boxes on the screen. But then you could also connect on the school network and play other people at other dorms. There was always competition out there. That always stood out to me, too. It’s very competitive during college for Halo.”

I mentioned to him how back in college, my friends and I started a clan (team) on a computer game. I asked him if he was part of clan, and what was the name of it.

“Yup! We changed our names very frequently. We ended up most of the time being The Sopranos. I think we had some other names.”

What was your name?

“I changed that a lot, too. I had really silly names like, ‘A Smurf”. So when you kill someone, it’ll say, ‘You got killed by A Smurf’, or ‘You got killed by Your Own Gun’. Stuff like that.”

I shared with him how my friends and my clan was known as “[WaD]” for War and Destruction. The name I primarily went as was “[WaD]in_my_pants”. Oh yeah, it’s true. We laughed at this along with other names we shared.

He shared with me how he had the game that I played installed at school, so he and his friends always played at school. He wasn’t sure how the game got installed on the computer in the first place, but he had fun with it.

Thinking about these days, I’m 31 and you’re 30. I’m finding it hard trying to get people together. (He nods agreeing.) If you could get the band back together, how would you do that? What’s stopping you to do that?

“It’s kind of hard. A lot of times, we’re playing online at our own homes or whatnot. Every once in a while, we do try to get together. Not as much, but we like to get together — used to always have tournaments. We’d go over to someone’s house, and we’d just play an 8-person tournament in Tekken. That’s usually the only time that we’re actually playing together. Other than that, we’re usually online talking to each through headphones.”

Is there any other names that your friends would call you?

“I don’t really have nicknames. Oh man…”

“I’m a little bit of a smart ass sometimes. So, I know one of my friends is always calling me smart ass… and just different variations of that.” Haha, right.

“Also, I have a very sarcastic humor, so it’s all fun and games.”

How would you describe who you are to your friends and family?

“I mean… who I am… I don’t know.”

“One being my family, they know I’m very, very sarcastic. I’m reliable. I have a little sister. When she was going to college, I was sending her money all the time because I was working at the time. Just help her out — get her through college or whatnot. Help pay for her books and stuff. We had a small family, but we’re very close, so I always try to help out.”

He shared how he liked “helping [his parents] out when he can”.

Where did you get that from?

“I don’t know…” he thinks. “That’s a good question.”

“Probably just because we’re a small family. I just felt pretty grateful. My grandparents actually took pretty good care of me and my sister as well. Once our grandfather passed away, I stepped up and helped my sister out where I could.”

“It’s just…” he thinks. “I just felt like it’s something I wanted to do. I needed to do being a big brother.”

Bruce tells me how he doesn’t have a family “of his own”, but he does hope to have kids one day. So I asked him what’s a value he’d like to pass on and ensure he instills as part of his kids’ values.

He’s struggling to find the word he’s looking for (“Having a brain fart right now,” he laughs). I’m seeing the gears work in his head. “Just always being there for them.”

“Dependable! There we go.”

“Being loyal. Family first. Stuff like that. That’s the number one thing…”

How has your family been dependable for you?

“When I was going through school, my mom was always there for me when I needed her. A little cash here and there. My dad’s always there when I needed to talk about things. Like when I was choosing what school I wanted to go to, career paths…” and even other life events today. “Stuff like that.”

“Their wisdom, I guess, for, you know, being around for so long — just something I really depend on.”

When you were a kid, you would dream about everything you could have, possibly do — big house, cars, families, and all this great stuff. What would you do to attain that? How far will you go? What steps would you take to make that dream to absolutely happen and they didn’t get lost? What would you do to make sure all those dreams you had as a kid happened? (Thanks to TK, Stranger 69)

I asked him to step back for a moment and share what was his dream as a kid.

“Probably being an astronaut. I don’t know why, but when I was growing up, I was just so infatuated with space. That was my big thing. Obviously, didn’t take any steps to get there. But until high school, I had 2-3 pretty good telescopes. I was always out in the country with no lights and whatnot, and looking up. That was kind of my thing. But never happened.”

That might be a hard one for him to take steps towards, but I was curious what steps could he take if he wanted to be an astronaut now. What were the first couple steps he’d take?

“There are so many ways to be an astronaut these days. I mean, they don’t really go up to space, but you could be any profession almost and kinda go into space as long as you have an idea, and what NASA wants of you. I guess the big thing would be focus more on science, definitely. I’m just an accountant, but just really excel in my field.”

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

“Piggybacking on that question right there, this is something I always ask my friends — if you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? Any point in time, what would it be?”

What would that be for you?

He admits, “I don’t know”, and thinks.

“For me, it’d probably be being a little more focused in college. I started off in math and engineering, but I kind of veered off a little bit. Finished with the math, but I didn’t finish the engineering piece. Pretty much just sticking with that piece.”

“That’d be the one thing off the top of my head.”

After the handshake.

Bruce and I talked a little bit longer after our Stranger meet. He thought this journey was very interesting, and he shared that he was interested in perhaps doing it, too. He may not write about it, but he likes the reasons for this journey. He didn’t say it, but I can see that he also appreciates the consistent practice, and he may see it as a challenge to try his own Strangers journey for a little while.

I felt this meet was slightly different from many others right as he started talking about video games. Playing video games just brought me so many memories with friends and family growing up. So as he mentioned his interest in video games, I was curious if he had the same experiences as I did growing up. Hence, the nostalgia questions. It was pretty cool to also watch him as he relived some of those college days thinking about how he and his friends would gather around the TV split-screen as everyone played. It was very similar experiences to me, too.

Also, I really enjoyed learning about his sarcastic personality. When I mentioned he could take any picture he wanted, he really wanted to do a funny one, so the picture here is what he was really happy to do. Gotta love people who can hit the gym hard and have a completely fun personality away from the iron.

Meet Bruce. 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?


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 65, Day 65 - Meet Victor

Stranger 65, Day 65 – Meet Victor, the “Always Learning”

Today, I waited a bit to find my Stranger of the day letting the search start late in the afternoon. I actually walked up to a man in his Navy fatigues, and he was interested. However, he was buying some Fitbit as part of some Craigslist deal at the moment. He said he was going to come back to me after he finalized his deal, but… he didn’t. Like a naval submarine, he disappeared and never resurfaced. Sadness.

So, I shifted gears into just sitting down at a table in Starbucks and working. There was a guy sitting at another table who I’ve seen before. Though, I didn’t want to interrupt his work then. I was thinking about asking someone else; though, I did make a mental note to meet him one day soon since I see him often. So I finally did ask him as he went to the bathroom. Kind of weird position for me to be in, but hey, it was convenient, and he happily accepted to be today’s Stranger.

Meet Victor, 27

Who are you?

“I’m a medical student here at DeKalb Medical Center. That’s what I do right now. I’m a 3rd year. Went to school here in Atlanta — went to Emory and Georgia Tech.”

I shared with him that I went to Georgia Tech undergrad before Emory for grad school.

“I started off at Emory. I did chemistry and mathematics there, and then I did electrical engineering at Tech. I did the dual-degree program. And then after that, I did medical school at St. Georges University in the Caribbean. But that’s only two years in the Caribbean, and then two years in the States.”

What brought you into the medical field?

“I’m in a family of physicians. My whole family are physicians. Made it easier for me to choose medicine, but also I’m very analytical. I love science, and I love to learn and help people.”

“I had a depression when I went to Georgia Tech. It is tough. I had to fix my depression, right? I was a super-nerd. I read books every week — read a book a week. So then I decided to read books on how to solve my problems. Kind of created this journey of self-development. Started exercising, meditation, stuff like that. I just wanted to emphasize the human aspect of it.”

I shared with him a little bit about Chloe’s story from yesterday, and how yoga was how she found her happiness and loving herself.

Victor responded, “yeah, yoga is amazing! Yoga can change you just as much as meditation in different ways.”

Thinking about all the books you’ve read, what are some of the books you’ve read that were really fascinating and why?

“Depends on what you want, or what you’re interested in. For me…”

“My favorite book/ novel that I’ve read — read it eight or nine times — is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. It’s very short — like a novella. It’s like 90-100 pages. Just a great book. It’s about life. It’s about suffering. That’s pretty much what it’s about — life.”

“Another book that I read recently is by Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He wrote this book called Anger. Really, really helped me with my relationships with people. It really helped me understand happiness, and how it’s important to be happily yourself so you can make other people happy. Because when you’re in a bad mood, it’s hard to be patient with people, right? You have to take care of yourself. And then, when you have yourself taken care of, then you can listen to people, and you can help people that need it.”

Take some people who are extremely compassionate about helping others even if they’re toxic. How do you help that compassionate person?

“I struggle with this myself. In a relationship I’ve been in, this person couldn’t handle her own happiness very well. She’s very negative in ways. You have to be patient. When you find yourself in that respect, you have to be patient. And to other people, it might seem like, ‘that person’s walking all over you’. Maybe that’s the story you can create. Maybe you can create a narrative, but it’s really what you’re okay with. If it doesn’t bother you on the inside, if it doesn’t touch you deeply that this person is taking advantage of you… but that’s not really the right perspective. The correct perspective is that this person can’t help but hurt other people. When somebody can’t help but hurt other people, you have to understand that no matter who they’re with, they’re going to hurt the other person. It’s a pattern of behavior this person has. If you’re not going to help that person, then who will? The kind of behavior — toxic behavior — they can’t handle their own happiness. You have to steer them towards that. It’s a slow… very slow process, but it can be done. Most people have had a personal transformation where they’ve had struggles they’ve had to overcome. And you know you can’t define people on their behavior. Everybody’s changing. Nobody is granite or a rock or whatever. You can make a change.”

Any other lessons that you’ve learned that’s helped you? Maybe from another book, but in general.

“I’ve had a few experiences…” Victor starts.

“… sometimes, we become so focused. We focus on one thing, and then, it kind of changes our perspective on things. Once we focus on something, we become a different person in a way. So if you’re focused on meeting people, you really, really focus on it. It’ll change you in ways that you’ll be like, ‘wow, that was great!’ But it could be pretty much anything. You focus on anything, it’s going to change you. It really depends on what you value, what kind of person you want to be. My whole life I’ve been changing. I’ve always been changing — becoming a different person.”

What do you think you’re changing into right now?

“What I would like to… right now, my focus is on my relationships, medicine, and happiness. And the gym! So I guess there are four things. Just trying to focus and become just a better person. There’s not really better, right? But just more athletic. I like to be happier. I like my relationships going better. Would like to do well in medical school.”

Anything you strive for in a relationship? Something you really look out for when it comes to a new relationship?

“Again, everyone has similar experiences that sometimes, you’ll meet somebody, and you’re like, ‘okay, I’m going to give my best of this’. Sometimes, you meet somebody and you’re not really feeling it. But you go with the flow just to have fun or whatever. When you’re committed in a relationship, there’s going to be hardships no matter what. There’s no way around it. There’s going to be times when you’re disgusted, or you’re turned off. There will be times you’re going to get angry. You have to make a decision — are you going to leave the relationship based on the first little thing that comes up? Or are you going to be committed? The thing is, if you leave, then whenever a similar problem in another relationship that you’re in, it’s going to be a similar scenario. The problems that led to you leaving the first relationship is going to repeat itself in your next relationship. You’ll really need to come to terms with it… you have to really study what you think.”

Do you love yourself? Do you love your life? Do you love what you’re doing? And if you’re not loving yourself or what you’re doing, what can you do? (Thanks to Chloe, Stranger 64)

“I would say, I love my life. Yeah, I don’t really know what to say.” He thinks about this.

“I’m not bursting with joy at this moment, but yeah, I’d say my life has been really great. I’ve had a lot of great experiences. Different experiences. Had ups and downs. It’s been good. And what I think people could do to enjoy their life more… anything could work. Some people meditate. Some people pray. Some people do yoga. Some people play sports. Some people go out and just talk to people or hang out with friends. Play an instrument. Anything can make you happy. It depends… just finding out what does, and including that in your life.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

He starts out, “That’s a tough one.” All the other questions, he rolled straight into. This one, he wanted to make good, so he gave it more thought.

“What are the happiest moments of your life, and what are the saddest moments?”

After the handshake.

It was cool to meet a fellow alum of both Georgia Tech and Emory. We shared that in common. Meanwhile, I really enjoyed him sharing the two books. I’ve got a couple books in my queue to read after my current one (Primed to Perform), but I’ve added these to my queue. They sounded like actually a couple books that I want to buy a friend, so yeah… that’s cool.

The question about helping someone who is very compassionate with others even when those relationships may be toxic hits home for me. It’s partially for me to learn and think about, but it was also for me to think about how to help a friend of mine who I recently sat down with and talked about toxic relationships. I was more of the person that said, ‘hey, I think you should walk away’ citing reasons like ‘you have only so much energy and if you focus on helping those who don’t want to be helped, you’re wasting your time. In fact, you might not be helping someone who could truly use your compassion.’ It’s a tough one, but maybe one of these books Victor shares will help shed more light on how best to help others.

So there’s Victor. Look forward to seeing him in the near-future, and knowing who he actually is.

Meet Victor. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 55, Day 55 - Meet Natalie

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

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

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

Meet Natalie, 23

Who are you?

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

“I love Kanye West, too!” she laughs.

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

Thinking about what you like, what are your passions?

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

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

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

What is it you want to build?

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

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

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

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

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

Being identifiable and empathetic?

“Yes, certainly! Being empathetic.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Natalie. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 48, Day 48 - Meet Meg

Stranger 48, Day 48 – Meet Meg, the “Host”

Today, I got to meet the newest member (I think) to the Atlanta Tech Village community team. I remember her first day, and we briefly introduced, but that was it. Since then, we’ve said hello. That’s pretty much it. Today, I took the chance to meet her. I walked up to her to ask her if she’d like to be the Stranger of the Day to which she happily said yes and postponed learning how to bake white chocolate chip cookies. I’m usually not one to want to interrupt someone baking such deliciousness, but 5-7 minutes to get to know her might encourage her to slide a few cookies my way one day.

Meet Meg, 27

Who are you?

Meg smiles, and replies, “I’m Meg.”

“I am in physical therapy school. I’m the youngest of 7 kids — come from a big family. And I just love being with people.”

She adds, “… and being outside.”

What are your passions?

“My passions right now are…” We laugh as people in the lobby get wicked loud. (Borrowing that from my last two days from Boston.) I now hold my phone closer to her.

“… are healing people. So that’s what led me to physical therapy. I like the idea of being able to heal people with my hands and with my words and with my encouragement. I like to cook for people. I think hosting people can be really healing. I think a lot of people didn’t grow up in an environment where they get to do that well, and share meals with their family. I love just to have my buddies over and to cook for them. It’s really fun!”

We laugh some more as the people in the ATV lobby have somehow increased their volume.

What is your go-to dish to cook?

“I make really good chili. And I love making baked salads. But mostly, I just like baked vegetables. Chicken and vegetables.”

And the occasional cookie?

“Oh, cookies always. I guess that’s really my go-to dish. I used to deliver cookies to people.”

She’s learning out to do chocolate and white chocolate chip cookies, and she says she’s going to bring some in tomorrow. I definitely volunteered her to please share some with me.

What are your Dreams?

“My dreams… oh gosh…!”

Meg shares, “I would love to be doing a job that lets me heal people. I would love to do that all over the world. It’s my dream to have a really beautiful, welcoming home. It’s my dream to just be known for loving people well. And to be outside all the time.”

Do you think your best friends do love that about you very much? What are the top three things they would say about you?

“I would say understanding, funny, and adventurous.”

How does the adventurous play out? You like to be outside…

“I like to be outside. I just like to explore. I like exploring new places and doing new things. Just kind of the unknown is very interesting to me.”

Why is it interesting?

“Because I don’t know it yet! I want to know all of the things. It’s fun to discover them.”

How do you make time for that when you’re in school, you’re here at ATV, etc.?

She nods. “It’s a lot harder now than it was when I was just working.”

“… but I have a list of eight or nine things that help me to kind of get away from school and do my own things. I try to do two of them a week. It could be like 10 minutes of going on a walk somewhere new. Or it could be a whole morning exploring somewhere or reading a book. I’m trying to do two of those a week.”

She admits, “I don’t do that very well, though.”

What’s a lesson you want to share?

“Just to be kind, and to welcome people really well. You never know what someone is experiencing that day, and it’s always better to just assume the best of them than to jump to conclusions.”

“That’s like four different ones,” she laughs.

Why did you agree to accept this interview? (Thanks to Robbin, Stranger 47)

“Well, I’m at the end of my workday, and I didn’t really have anything going on. And I always see you, and I’ve never really gotten to talk to you.”

“… even though all I did was describe myself the whole time! Sorry!” She laughs big at this. I tell her it was less about me, and more (all) about her.

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

“If they could go anywhere in the world right, where would they go? And what’s the first thing they would do?”

After the handshake.

Okay, let’s be honest here… she agreed to share with me chocolate and white chocolate chip cookies. That’s pretty much a win. Add on top that I got to know her as today’s Stranger, that’s pretty much icing on the… cookie. 🙂

Now, I’ll run into Meg as I do around the office, and we’ll actually connect on something more than “hi”, smile, and go about our ways. I’m excited to have met yet another physical therapist. She like being a host, too, so it’s nice to know someone of such great value here at the office. (I seem to get hurt a little more often these days, and I’m always hungry.)

Jokes aside, Meg is such an enthusiastic and nice person making her a great fit with the rest of the ATV team. The Life Lesson she shared echoes what a few other Strangers have said. Namely, we do not know what is going on in others’ lives, so to be receptive and respectful to others as we meet them.

Meet Meg. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 45, Day 45 - Meet Kirubel

Stranger 45, Day 45 – Meet Kirubel, the “Technologist”

I met today’s Stranger at my office. I just walked around one of the other floors in the building looking for someone I didn’t know. Again, in an office of 1,000 people, it’s really not hard. Today’s gentleman was sitting at his computer watching a game or a film, I think. He kindly accepted a chance to meet.

Meet Kirubel, 21

Who are you?

“I mostly do robot design, development… and design robots for real estate agents that takes 360 (degree) pictures. I’ve invited three more people to work with me. Right now, we’re just going to each office of the real estates, and try to implement this little technology that we have going on. It allows agents or apartments to take 360 pictures of buildings and post it on their website.”

How did you get into this?

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been tinkering with technology. My uncles works for Ericsson in Europe, and I used to write him this little VBA script. It was for his work, and every time I would get finished with his project, he would give me Oreos. Ever since then, I was able to discover more that go along… meet new people who have the same interest as me — it’s cool. That kinda stuck with me until now — what I’m doing now.”

How long have you been doing this?

“Ever since I was a kid. I used to tinker with micro-robotics… make gates that automatically open, like toy gates. This was before Legos were cool.” (I always thought Legos was cool, though. Hmm…)

I asked him if he had a robot with him.

“I’m currently doing the designing part. I’m currently designing drones that takes pictures of buildings with a high-range of view.”

Including that, or outside of that, what are your passions?

“My passion is anything having to do with technology. ANYTHING. So Microsoft is the best company that I think is out there promoting open-source projects. They used to be not like that, but in their recent years, they’ve tried to implement open-source projects. I just look forward to working with them in the future. I’m already working as an evangelist… like a software evangelist for Microsoft. That’s what’s going on in my life right now. Trying to land a job at Microsoft.”

Why do you want to land one vs. keep doing what you’re doing and grow that?

“That, too. Everyone needs to have something they can fall back on. So what I’m doing is in case that doesn’t work out, I still have this company that I’m trying to start up. If it works… you know, technology companies nowadays are like a lottery ticket. A lot of people assume that you can just start somewhere. There’s no clear point to get to success. There’s no formula that you follow. It’s always better to have something that you can fall back on, and I learned that in a really hard way. There was a certain time in my life when I was pushing so hard for one specific task. I just like let go with the things that I was supposed to do, and found myself in a really terrible place.”

Who’s been your biggest supporters on this?

“Those people would be my parents. My parents were able to give me a lot of good guidance. They showed me a way of life that a lot of people don’t have the luxury of knowing. And books. I read a lot of books. Could be some little self-help books. Anything written by Richard Dawkins… all those popular people.”

What is your Dream?

“My Dream would be to change the world. Change how most people interact with each other. It feels like nowadays, we’re losing track of… when it comes to technology, it’s consuming too much portion of our lives. We’re losing track of that old communication that we used to have with people. I’m trying to rejuvenate all of that into a way that a lot of people are living like… how humans were supposed to live. I’m not totally against transcendence, but you gotta keep that little natural formula to live life… to maintain your soul. Every person needs to have some sort of… humans are social animals. So we always thrive on relating to others to better ourselves. So I’m trying to crack that little code that make that how people relate to people so we can communicate a lot better.”

What’s a lesson that you’ve learned doing all of this trying to live up to that Dream?

“Consistency,” Kirubel says as he nods.

“So, you can achieve anything if you have a high consistency of what you’re doing. And get prepared of failure. If a person’s trying to succeed at something, if he or she is okay with failing, I think you would increase your chances of being successful… be morally prepared for failure.”

What is the one thing in life you had a chance to do that you didn’t do that you regret? (Thanks to Patrick, Stranger 44)

“That would be a job opportunity that I missed by not asking the right questions.”

“It was a friend that I had… I postponed it [the request that I had for the job interviewer]. I just postponed it because of laziness, I guess. So I was not able to get that really important job. But the good thing I got from that is that, again, consistency. So you failed in something, learn from that, and get to the next level, and grow from there. That’s the first thing I kind of regret.”

Kirubel continues, “…but I’m okay with it now because I learned from it.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What do you think is the best way to succeed?”

He realizes, “I don’t want to be a hypocrite because I said there is no certain formula for success. But what do you think in your opinion is the best way for success. I, myself, believe it is consistency, but what is it for him or her?”

After the handshake.

Kirubel is an example of the young entrepreneur who started his passion many, many years ago as a young kid. He was inspired by his parents and uncle, and has continued that inspiration into building robots today. I’m always fascinated by these individuals, and in many ways, wish I had figured out what I really enjoyed when I was young. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Outliers, the opportunity and repetition would have had great dividends now in my 30s.

I’m also curious of how Kirubel wants to continue his passion with robotics — design and development — at Microsoft. We didn’t go into this detail. However, I hope he continues to follow in his passion with robotics if it’s at Microsoft or otherwise. It’d be a shame to join a big corporate and then pigeon-holed into a role that does not allow him to exercise creativity.

Meet Kirubel. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 42, Day 42 - Meet Mallory

Stranger 42, Day 42 – Meet Mallory, the “Planner”

I ran into today’s Stranger at the coffee shop in my office. As I walked around looking for someone, she looked up at me, and asked if I wanted her table. Hmm… In those few seconds, I realized that she was a genuinely nice person. She sat at a four-person table alone, and upon seeing me look at her, she assumed I needed a table (in an other “busy-ish” day at the coffee).

Nope. I just wanted to meet you…

Meet Mallory, 19

Who are you?

“Who am I…?” She starts laughing. “Umm… such a broad question…”

“I am Mallory. I am a student at Kennesaw State University. I’m a sophomore. I’m an accounting major. I work for a babysitting company – an online babysitting company called the Sitter Tree. I do that part-time.”

She laughs again citing she doesn’t know what else to say. Except, she continues, “I’m in college… obviously, I already said that. I love Jesus. I like to hang out with my friends. I… like to cook. I like to go to coffee shops. That’s me basically! In gist!”

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

“What are my passions… that’s always a hard question for me. I guess my dream is… my passion is my family. So obviously, to have my own family one day. I’ve always dreamed about owning my own business. Don’t really know what it would be. I’m not really a creative person. I’m more of a do-er, so I’ll get behind you. I might not own my own business one day, but I would love to work with someone and be the administrative do-er side to someone’s dreamer-side. So that’s kind of my dream. I feel that’s my end-goal as far as career or job.”

“I love organization. I’m an accounting major, so I like working with numbers. I like organization and budgeting and stuff like that. I want to do that, but for something that I like. Maybe I’ll work in the corporate world, but I like small businesses. I would love to do that.”

How did you pick Accounting as your major?

“I never really knew what I wanted to do. I never had a dream growing up as a kid like, ‘I want to be a doctor’ or ‘I want to be a dentist’ or ‘I want to do this’. I never really had that. I always thought, ‘I have no idea what I want to do’.”

“When I went into college, I obviously had to choose a major, and what I wanted to do. So I started looking at what I’m good at, and realized I’m really good at math. I’ve always been good at that. I’ve always been more of a math person than a writing person. Very type A, organized, planner, stick-to-my-schedule kind of person. I thought business would be good, so I started taking my lower level division business classes, and took accounting and really liked it because it’s just adding numbers, basically, and spreadsheets. I love that, so that’s kind of how I chose!”

What was a challenge for you as you entered college?

“When I first started college, a big challenge I faced was finding friends. I think that’s everyone’s challenge when they first come to college. I’ve always been a kind of home-body, so I really missed home a lot even though I only lived an hour away from where I grew up.”

“I had friends, but I didn’t have that feeling of home. That really took a while. That was probably my biggest challenge.”

“I lived on campus for first year, and after a few months, really started to feel that ‘homey’ feel with the people I was around. Then, this year in August, I moved into an apartment off-campus, and I faced it again even though I was living with people who were like my best friends. It was just this weird transition from such a big environment to a smaller… not-as-involved in school. I wasn’t always on campus, always around people. That’s definitely been a big challenge for me because I’m a small-group person, and I like the feeling of home. This is really a big deal for me. So that was a challenge for sure.”

What’s a good lesson you’d like to share for… anyone? College or otherwise?

“For college, this has to do with me choosing my major. I think the biggest lesson I learned, when I went to college, I felt like people always told me growing up, ‘oh, you’re going to do something so big… you’re going to do something to change the world’. I’ve always had that pressure on me like I had to do something crazy, or I had to do something bigger than some average human-being. And then, I just realized my purpose in life is not tied to whatever career I have. Your career can be super fulfilling, but just because you have an average job, doesn’t mean that you’re not fulfilling your life’s purpose. For a long time, I felt like I had to get some awesome job or do something really big to be successful. Then, I realized I don’t. I just have to focus on the person in front of me and the people around me. Just do what I’m good at, and then, I’m successful. I really learned that when I first went to college. And I feel like that was just a really big stress-reliever for me, and kind of changed my whole mindset on… life.”

What are two truths and one lie about yourself?

“Two truths and one lie…” She takes her time to think about this. She wants to make it good, but simple.

“Okay…. My favorite color is blue.”

“I don’t like dogs.”

“… and I have never broken a bone.”

How do you keep going? How do you get up and do whatever it is that you do that day? What is the thought that comes to mind that says, “this is the reason why I’m getting up”? (Thanks to Diamond, Stranger 41)

“This is honestly the first thing that came to my mind – I have a planner because I’m… a planner… that breaks down my day into 30-minute increments. I have it all filled out and stick to it pretty closely. So whatever I have to do that day determines what time I have to wake up and all that good stuff. It structures my whole day. So I think knowing, ‘okay, I have thing to do today’, let’s do it! Let’s get it going. I guess that’s what gets me up, or else I’ll just lay in bed all day if I didn’t have a plan!”

How does this throw off your plans?

“Actually, it doesn’t much.” She told me how she had a “few hours to kill” before meeting someone later. Instead, she was just sitting and enjoying some free time.

“It’s kind of perfect!”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“Why are you where you are right now?” I think she’s asking for where the Stranger is presently, physically. However, I’m going to ask just this, and much like the rest of my questions, let the Stranger answer how he/ she wants to.

After the handshake.

Much like our meet started, I came to appreciate Mallory’s general positivity and her always-laughing attitude. She was sincere. She was open. She was the type of Stranger who was/ is never really a Stranger. I thought she might be older than her age, but that was just her own maturity for 19. (Geez, I feel old as I say that being 31.)

There’s really not much more for me to say here other than it was a pleasure to meet her, and it’s great to know she’ll be graduating in a couple years, and will be helping shape tomorrow.

… well, tomorrow + 2 years.

Meet Mallory. No longer a Stranger.