Posts

Stranger 101, Day 101 - Meet Me
,

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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet Me, 31

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

“You forgot to ask for my birthday.”

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Definitely not.” I laugh.

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

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

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

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

“Yup! Yup…” I laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

“So, I’m happy about that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think the biggest approach is being open.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

Anything else you want me to ask?

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

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

Cool.

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

Yeah, what is a question?

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

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

After the handshake.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Meet me. No longer a Stranger.

 

Stranger 50, Day 50 - Meet Danielle

Stranger 50, Day 50 – Meet Danielle, the “Balance Seeker”

I met today’s Stranger a couple days ago briefly. So just as I said in my Rules of Engagement, she’s fair game. 🙂

Today’s Stranger was pretty fascinating to me in many ways in what she shared with me, how she shared with me, and generally how much of our talk resonated highly with me. So much so that I almost gave her homework to check out a few readings because I felt they’d be so great for her. I promise I don’t do this often, but I think she’ll appreciate, too, because of her grander dream.

Before I leak all the details of our meeting, I’ll let you get to know her.

Meet Danielle, 27

Who are you?

“I am a 27-year-old Libra… and a teacher… and a dog mother…” she says this slowly, and laughs.

“I am searching for balance and happiness.”

At first, I thought she said “pants” rather than “happiness”. I had to get clarification, but at the moment, it sounded weird but made sense as it was slightly cooler outside where we were talking, and she was wearing a dress. We laughed about it.

When you say you’re searching for balance, what is that?

“Balance with… like everything. Balance of alone time, with time with friends, with family, to develop new skills to…,” she sighs. “I don’t know.” She thinks some more.

“Balance feeling complete, I guess. The only way I feel complete is when I have my hands in many things, not just all in one. So spiritually, emotionally, physically…”

Why are you searching for it right now?

“I don’t think it’s ever going to stop. I think I’m always going to want to be better at it. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it so far.”

I propose a philosophical question to this because if she’s reached balance, wouldn’t she not be looking for it anymore? Wouldn’t she be satisfied? To that, she responds, “Yeah, but at the same time, you can actually create more things to like say, ‘I’m really good at balancing my work and home life. Well, what if I want to be good at my work, home life, and fitness life’? Or what if I want to be good at the work, home, fitness, charity… or work, home, business, travel… you can always broaden that scale.” That made sense as she continued to add.

How do you think you’re going to continue to broaden that, but find balance and putting enough effort to each one of those facets? … so that you can actually make a difference?

“I think with this whole trying to find balance, I’m going to figure out what I feel is most important, and so when you say, ‘you’re probably going to reach a point where you are balanced’, that’s probably when I’ll know what I’m truly passionate about. And I’ll explore that more. I’m still figuring out who I am and what I care about, so I think that mirrors this balancing act that I’m creating.”

Thinking about you’re trying to find what you’re passionate about, I’m sure you have passions. So what are they?

“My passions are writing, I think helping others find their inner truths, exploring mine… I’m passionate about, obviously, children, and helping them figure out what their dreams are because I figured out mine a little late.”

How do you measure success for yourself?

“I think I measure success when I no longer feel like I’m working. I think I’ll feel success when I feel… peace. I don’t measure it on money. I don’t measure it on the things I have.”

“I think it’s success when I have things to write about, and I think success for me is having a muse and having… At the end of the day, I want to be a writer. So I think that my success is going to be completely linked to the experiences I have and to write about.”

I was glad she shared her dream to be a writer.

So far of what you’ve written, can you tell me about the most powerful writing that you’ve done?

“So what I’m writing right now, actually.”

“I really like poetry. It’s what comes naturally to me, but I wanted to challenge myself a little bit. My dad passed away 5 years ago, and he left quite… a… mark… on me… in my life.” She says this with the conscious pauses as she thinks. I can see in her eyes and the way she speaks how important this piece is as well as the difficulty and potentially transformative this writing can be, especially for herself.

“And I haven’t been really able to face it until recently, until I took on a project to write a non-fiction novel in his point-of-view. So I’m writing it as my father. It’s hard, and it brings up all sorts of emotions. But it’s therapeutic, and it’s moving, and I hope that it helps others understand addiction and depression. So yeah… it’s probably my toughest work.”

… and most rewarding.

Perhaps because of my talks with other Strangers, her father passing away, and her being a writer, I wanted to know… How would you write your obituary?

“Can I say it in Sonnet form?” she laughs. “No, I don’t know…”

“I would want it to say that my life was based on interactions with others rather than anything else, I hope that I inspired people. I hope that they see how moved I am by them. I get really emotionally invested in people, and I feel like they see that and recognize that. I hope that’s acknowledged. I hope that they see that my heart will always stay young,” Danielle laughs and holds up two crossed fingers.

“…and full of life. I don’t know how I would write it. Rather than how it’s written, I think it’s more important what’s touched on.” That’s what I meant… not as a format or structure. We laugh about this, too.

She admits she doesn’t like talking about herself even pointing out that her hands were little sweaty.

What kind of an impression do you want everyone to have of you after you first meet them?

“Happy.”

Is there a common misperception people have about you when they first meet you?

“Probably. I think I quite a bit of indecisiveness that probably turns into, or can be seen as, flakiness or like two-faced just because I can see each person’s side. I can understand why certain people do things. Flaky and indecisive.” Danielle laughs again at this.

If there’s something you could’ve changed yesterday, what would it be? (Thanks to Sara, Stranger 49)

“I wish I spent more time with my mom when I saw her. I wish I touched her more — gave her a hug. I’m very ‘arms-length’ with her, and she probably needs a hug just as much as anyone else.”

How are you going to make amends on that?

“I’m trying to figure that out everyday!” Danielle laughs again.

“I don’t know. Just… having more empathy for her feelings, and trying to make more time for her.” She thinks for a little while. “I don’t know. Good question!” Again, she laughs.

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

“I always like try to figure out what happened… my questions are… all the questions I ask can’t be answered!” Danielle thinks, but I press her for one of them.

“I would probably say, ‘how do you feel you’re able to fulfill your soul?’ Like, what is your soul aching for?”

After the handshake.

As I described different poses Strangers have taken, I mentioned yesterday’s Stranger, Sara, using a soccer ball. Danielle immediately asked me if it was Sara XX. I was a little shocked that it was. Apparently, the two are best friends. I want to point out that despite meeting Danielle at Starbucks, Sara is not at Starbucks often. So sure, the world isn’t that small within the context of my project, but to have two best friends interviewed back-to-back is a funny coincidence.

I mention how these seemingly “random” events are actually sometimes the most obvious. And it’s true. Once your run into great people in a community, you’re bound to find common ties throughout. That’s the beauty of this project and talking to Strangers. You end up meeting people are aren’t Strangers at all. Perhaps fitting then that I recall a quote from an Irish poet, William Butler Yeates, who said…

“There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.”

I enjoyed getting to know Danielle very much. She’s someone looking to continually adapt and expand who she is. She shared so much that resonated with that I had to share with her a few readings (a couple I’ve mentioned to other Strangers) including:

Meet Danielle. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 24, Day 24 - Meet Jacqui

Stranger 24, Day 24 – Meet Jacqui, the “Explorer”

Picking out a Stranger is a little bit of judging and a little bit of just-do-it and a wee-bit of this-person-seems-open-enough. Today’s Stranger, I wasn’t quite ready to meet a Stranger as I was buckling down on some writing for work, but a woman next to me spoke a few words to me about a situation that happened next to us. It was pretty basic, but it actually gave me this nudge to ask her to be the Stranger interview for today.

Funny enough, I had pulled up a chair to work behind her a few minutes earlier. As I moved my chairs, she actually glanced in my direction a few times before shifting where she was sitting. I felt like I offended her in some way before she told me she was uncomfortable with people sitting behind her. She was writing in a book and abruptly rotated her chair which triggered in my mind, “yeah, she probably wouldn’t be a good candidate to talk to for a Stranger post.” So simple, but that’s where my mind went only for me to reverse that thinking and ask her just minutes later because she spoke to me out-of-the-blue.

… and boy was I happy I got a chance to meet her.

Meet Jacqui, 47

Who are you?

Jacqui starts laughing.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. My husband passed away 4.5 years ago, so I could say widow, but don’t that fits anymore… or if it ever really did. I’m a writer, too. But also, a ‘health communications specialist for the government’.” She talks about how she is reading different books including one about having a day job different from a passion and hobby — the importance of giving both different “breathes”.

She goes back to asking herself, “Who am I?” and laughs again. She’s unsure for a moment.

“An explorer, an adventurer… don’t like the word ‘intellectual’, but a thinker. I’m in a weird position as a 47-year-old woman — not a wife, not a mother. So sometimes it’s hard to figure out where you fit. I’m fairly grateful for the freedom I have.”

She shares how she did not have a “conventional family growing up”. She did on paper, but cites the “abusive, alcoholic family” she grew up in. Jacqui jumps into how her upbringing without having the expectations of a supportive family has made her more self-reliant.

At this point, Jacqui’s actually going in several different directions including how she values conversations like she and I are having right now. I’m happy to let it flow from here and the next question…

Why are you open to these types of conversations? What makes these conversations unique and special?

Jacqui remarks how she believes many people live certain lives that they’re happy with, but they are not the type of life she wants for herself. Jacqui shares how traveling opens her life up — “it’s like pulling a string on a sweater” and how “you do one thing and you discover five other things. It’s all part of the quest and the great part of life. I love to learn and continuing to explore. There’s just so much… people can always surprise you. There are so many types of people.”

She goes on to share, “I didn’t really learn what love really was till I became an adult because I learned a lot of wrong things.” She shares how she is more comfortable exploring and living life on her own, and partly because she never grew up in a life where the familial unit was so important that her life revolved around the family unit.

She describes her value of time as a “primal reaction” given her upbringing and the loss of her husband 4.5 years ago. She’s been able to recover and still live life despite trauma — “neuro plasticity”. She’s thankful for being able to recover and not let these difficult moment define her.

Jacqui goes on to share how her golden retriever that passed away recently was a great “reliever” for her. She had many PTSD symptoms, and was thankful for her dog to be her comfort dog. Now, she has a golden retriever puppy that she wants to train to be a comfort dog for others. She tells me how she wants to take her new puppy to hospitals to help others grieve and to enjoy “the good times. Nothing good or bad lasts forever.”

Jacqui shares how she views much of society as very much in instant gratification mode, and how technology gives us so many options that sometimes, we see too many other opportunities. We can move on if we run into trouble, and we lack an ability to “handle it” (it being difficult situations).

We’re laughing together now as she laments going back into the dating pool, especially online dating.

What’s a Life Lesson you’d like to share given your travails?

“Don’t worry so much about the future — you have no control over it. I don’t mean that in the ominous way. I mean it’s very freeing. I just get up and try to do the best I can everyday. You just have today.”

She then talks about how she spoke with a dog owner walking his 13-year-old dog earlier today. They were talking for a while before talking to him about the importance of enjoying the time he has now with his dog. His dog is older, and the owner realizes this “impending moment”. As she thinks about this, tears start to well up in Jacqui’s eyes behind her sunglasses.

She goes on, “there’s nothing in our lives that lasts forever except for ourselves.” I’m thinking about what she’s telling me, and there’s a hint of gloom to it. I think about myself and how a lack of expectations and attachment has a way of limiting my enjoyment in life… or even desire. So I ask her…

How do you balance that? (Balance this notion of “inevitability” and “expectation or want”)

“I’m working to getting to know who I am. I’m learning self-care.” She admits that she thought being self-caring was selfishness before, but realizing that there’s a big difference. She needs to learn to love herself.

“You’re going to be with yourself your whole life! There aren’t that many others who will be. Not in a negative way, but it’s just reality. So I got an early glimpse of that before most.” This last comment was about the death of her husband — 10 days after her birthday.

“It was pretty terrifying. I liked not knowing how quickly my life can change at any given moment.”

“I think people would be kinder to one another if they knew that might be the last time you might see someone. I think people would treat each other very differently. So many people have so much going on that they don’t share with the world. Everybody has something that weighs heavy on them. We need to be just kinder.”

Is there something that a lot of people don’t know that you wish they would?

“I’m a pretty open book.” However, I realize that there’s a difference between being open and people knowing.

She’s thinking about everything going on, and confesses that she’s introverted but trying to “correct this with closer friends and some family members. Even though they all tell me lovely thing about how strong I am since this happened and how amazing I am and… I just have always been…” She tells me a story about how as a baby, her parents never knew when she was awake because she never cried. She tells me this because she admits that “that’s my temperment. But I think because of it, people don’t realize how much I’m hurting and also I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so I don’t always tell them. I love to put a smile on someone’s face and leave them that way.”

So how do you wish would know? How would someone be able to help when you’re hurting?

“I’d have to be vulnerable.”

Do you give off subtle cues for your friends to know when you’re hurting?

She tells me how her closest friends can see right through her, and she starts crying with them. She then starts wiping away tears realizing that she’s hitting that point with me.

She shares how she’s here journaling because she just sold her house in Virginia that she owned with her husband. Meanwhile, her dog recently passed away, and her friend just had a wedding. So for her, she admits that she’s in a difficult time. She shares how that when she’s crying, you know it’s the truth.

“I’m an honest person, but I don’t think I’m honest about myself sometimes. Like there’s a facade.” She’s crying more, and I feel sorry but also happy that she’s sharing. It’s clear she wants to share, and I’m happy to be someone she can share with.

She also wonders if people are used to seeing me with others crying… The answer is no. haha

Jacqui then shares a great story… she received a condolence card about the death of her dog from several friends from high school. Her high school classmates had their 30th reunion to which she could not attend due to her dog’s death. It was really nice to have received a card signed by so many of her old classmates, but she admits that she is still unused to that type of support because she still does not get that even from her family.

Before moving on, I had a quick question I wanted to interject — would you like a hug?

“Of course!” and so we hugged.

We laughed some more and talked about other things including our backgrounds.

“Life will continue to have its heavy moment, but I feel like I’ve probably had a good share of them, and it’s probably time for some lighter stuff.” She laughs and awaits my next question.

Where are 3 places you’d like to go see before you die, or 3 things you’d like to do? (Thanks to Erin, Stranger 23)

“I really want to go to Italy… feel like Rome. It won’t come as a surprise, I was depressed for a couple years after my husband died, and I feel like now, part of the lightness is…” she pauses to think.

“I gained a bunch of weight, and I’d like to lose weight. I did yoga, and there’s nothing wrong with yoga, but I want to do something more active… and have some fun! ‘Crazy thought.’ So maybe I want to get a pair of roller skates. I hear roller skates are coming back. So Rome appeals because it just sounds like the most vibrant, exciting, maybe even over-stimulating but still very passionate, alive city.”

She’s thinking out loud with me trying to realize the other things she has thought about but has not written it down.

“… things I want to do… I would like to get re-married. That would be an adventure… and apply all that I’ve learned about myself over the past few years without overwhelming someone… hahaha,” she laughs. “I think I’m a little bit of a bubble in some ways as you can when you live alone.”

“The third… kind of random, but whatever! There’s an 85-year-old English lady living inside of me. I really want to go to this Burley… it’s this type of china that has been around forever. I want to go to these factories and see people do these things. That stuff is going to go away eventually — these crafts-kinds of things that have been done for hundreds of years. Visit English gardens…”

“So there’s Rome… WOOOO!!… and there’s the two sides of me — the balance of me. So there’s the English with china and having tea and scones. That’s also appealing. And just really, I’m really into history. Just going to a place that’s been around for so long, for good or bad. Really exploring that.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What is your deepest fear?”

After the handshake.

This was actually a pretty long interview — much longer than the 5-7 minutes I told her it’d take. However, we just let our little meet flow, and she started and ended by taking the conversation where she wanted to. Much like Steve, the “Musician” from Stone Mountain, I realized early on that Jacqui had a lot to share, and she WANTED to share. I think that’s a key piece to a lot of this which is also why Jacqui was open to sharing the tough moments of her life and for her to be vulnerable and even shed a few tears. As she mentioned, she didn’t necessarily have subtle cues, but instead, she let herself be vulnerable and share her story with me (and with you). It’s an amazing thing.

Perhaps hitting home in me much harder than some other stories was her mention of how some people, good or bad, will come and go. She said this as a fact and rather casually, but to me, it hits home a little more seriously as I consider a key person in my life leaving soon. Add to that what Jacqui suggested to have an almost okay feeling about it, I definitely do not. I have tried (and still do) to not have expectations and just be “okay” with people leaving, but in my case, it’s tough, and “being okay” depends on how I deal with it being “okay”, if that makes sense. For me, I catch myself trying to be isolated more so as a defense mechanism. However, I also value this sad feeling because it highlights how much this person means to me. So as Jacqui talked about, it’s important to have balance. So far, I’m stuck going from one extreme to another… not quite the balance she suggests.

In any case, I’m thrilled that Jacqui opened up to me, and I’m happy we hugged as “strangers”. As this journey continues to unfold, it’s easy to see how we are all Strangers, and yet, simply connecting just for a moment feels like we aren’t Strangers at all.

So meet Jacqui. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 22, Day 22 - Meet Carling

Stranger 22, Day 22 – Meet Carling, the “Ecstatic Wellness Enthusiast”

I’m talking to my buddy at Starbucks while also wondering who was going to be the “Stranger of the Day”. As I’m looking around, I notice someone across the room, but this meant I had to interrupt her… studying or work. I wasn’t sure what she was doing, but I knew there weren’t that many people there. But only seconds later, did this chick wave at me. I was a little shocked — “I’ve been found!” — and wondering what I did… turns out, I kinda met her last weekend. She was here with a friend talking about blogging — one of the key words my ears listen for. So we met briefly, but I didn’t know her. (If you couldn’t already tell because I didn’t recognize her very well when she waved the first time.)

Anyways, so I met her, but only briefly. And this is where my Rules for Engagement come in (which I should document sometime soon) — I really didn’t know her. I didn’t know how old she was, who she was, what her passions and dreams were… she was Stranger. So I approached her, and this is the start of getting to know today’s Stranger…

Meet Carling, 24

Who are you?

“I am a student and I was born in Canada — St. Catherines in Ontario — and parents moved to Charlotte, NC. I have now lived in Atlanta for 3 years. I’m going to Georgia State. I’m studying psychology, and I’m working on an online health-coaching certificate — that’s I’m half-way through.”

Carling is smiling pretty big as we start this. I’ve had some pretty happy and excited Strangers in the past, but Carling’s probably the most excited. This, in turn, makes me more excited.

“I’m one of seven kids. Number 3 (from the top)…” I was wondering if people ever say start from the bottom. We laugh as we both say, “now we’re here”. She’s kinda nerdy like me.

I love psychology, so my next question was pretty simple — Why psychology?

“I just love people and knowing how they work and myself… how I can improve myself. I feel psychology plays a lot in that.”

What are your hopes and dreams for Psychology? Or even beyond?

“I originally wanted to be an academic adviser for freshman. I was an exercise science major, and I wanted to do PT. But it was only because when I was 18, you have to decide what you want to do. I ran track in high school, so I wanted to be a physical therapist. Half-way through, I shadowed at a PT office, and I hated it. So I that’s when I wanted to be that filter for that 18-year-old who says, ‘I want to do exercise’, because no one ever asked, ‘why do you want to do that?’ No one ever asked, ‘why do you want to do that?’ No one ever stopped me and asked me, ‘are you sure? Go shadow before you make that decision.’ So I was like, ‘I want to do that!’ but you have to have a Masters to do that. So I have to do an undergrad for that anyways, so I chose psychology.”

“I finished up in May, but I’m going to take a year to figure that out. I’m not going to jump into grad school because I’m learning more about different paths. And I’m actually more interested now in the holistic health — eating and fueling your body.”

What do you think is key to being healthy? What does being healthy mean?

“Being healthy is about… feeling your body and your… soul — for the recording, I put that in quotations.” Haha, I just wanted to include exactly what she said.

“That’s eating plant-based vegetables… organic when you can, but also healthy relationships and positive thinking, and time for yourself.”

I asked her if I was healthy because I ate things that ate the vegetables, and she was okay with that. #win

What else are your passions?

“I really like learning. Sewing? I really like sewing — or creating!” She very excitedly shared how she just sewed an apron with chili peppers on it. “I’m super excited about it.”

Carling shared with me her go-to when it comes to cooking — anything Mexican. “Rice beans or anything with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.” Then, she added salads were very important to her.

… and she quickly mentioned how she really liked Shake Shack down the street. I have to reiterate how she’s laughing a lot about all this. She’s having a ton of fun with this meeting, and it really shows. She’s got a highly energetic and infectious enthusiasm about her.

What do you like about Atlanta? Or do you not?

“I do like Atlanta now. When I moved here, I was living in an old house with a couple girls. Definitely different, but the last couple years, I’ve put an emphasis on creating friendships and exploring the city, so I definitely like it better now.”

She shares some advice for new residents who know very few people here: “Download the app Meetup.” She admits, “You have to put effort in. You have to cultivate those relationships and put effort in. Be patient and it pays off.”

As I said, I did meet Carling before, but very briefly. She was talking to a friend about blogging, so I asked her about that.

“My blog is just about things I’m learning through all the healthy stuff. I would read stuff and share it with my roommates, my two best friends, but they eventually got tired of hearing me say, ‘oh, that shampoo has a lot of chemicals. Shouldn’t use it.’ So I figured I’d find an audience who wanted to learn about this stuff.” WHAT?! Friends didn’t want to always hear about the best shampoos?! Haha, she’s laughing again.

I’ve run into a lot of people who want to write, but don’t. Many lament how they believed no one would want to hear what they had to say. So curious, I asked Carling how she found her voice.

“I’ve always journaled, so I’ve always written. To find my specific voice, I used to do write DIY and self-help, but it just naturally happened where I found myself enjoying the health aspect more. So I went with what I felt was more enjoyable. Punching in recipes was not — felt like work. Whereas the information and sharing the knowledge was where I woke up — ‘oh, I really want to share this’, so I just started to listen more to myself. I found my voice by listening more to myself. You have to pay attention to where you feel alive.”

“I found myself to listening to myself.” — it seemed like a revelation.

Have you had a Life-Defining Moment?

“I was living in Atlanta, and I wasn’t in school at the time because I was still trying to figure out what I was trying to do. I bought a $2000 industrial sewing machine. I was going to sew leather bags, not knowing how to use an industrial sewing machine or how to sew leather. So I got the sewing machine — super pumped. It was my third time trying to use it, and I couldn’t get it to sew anymore. And this time, I’m still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life school-wise. And the day it wasn’t stitching. I was home alone. I couldn’t get it. I Googled. I called. I remember being there, and I just started crying because I was like, ‘oh my God, I can’t get this. I’m never going to be able to do this. This isn’t going to work.’ I just got so pissed at the machine, and that when I was like, ‘I have to go back to school.’ I really put effort into actually figuring out what I wanted to do. Thinking about it, and taking off the time limit I put on myself.”

She shared with me about the “time limit”. She shared how she was 23, and she needed to get out of school at some point. Then she needed to get married. It was, to me, “the template”. She wanted to get out of that track. She figured out what she wanted to do.

But after this moment, she got into Georgia State and shares how she’s so much happier now.

I was curious how she decided to buy $2000 toward a sewing machine out of… anything and everything else out there. She admits she was just very impulsive and how she had some “optimism bias” — a mindset how she could achieve something where others couldn’t.

Note: She sold the sewing machine for $900 six months later.

What’s a Life Lesson you want to share?

She told me she needed to think about this, but took only 2 seconds before returning back to me.

Carling shared how she “got out of a 3-year relationship a few months ago.” Her lesson: “You have to be completely… only you can fulfill yourself. Going into anything in life, relationships or encounters with people or work, you have to be 100% of yourself… you have to come from a place of ‘I am secure in who I am by myself’, and then you take that into other things.”

“It’s not an ‘another-half’ kind of thing. You are you, and you bring that into the encounter.”

Carling told me how she really relied on the network of her best friend and her boyfriend, especially, when she first moved to Atlanta instead of creating her own network. I understood this as her needing to keep and expand her own identity in a new city.

Studying psychology, what do you think is a good way for others to connect with… others? How can we better connect with others?

“A… genuinely, and it’s sometimes hard to remove the fear of, ‘what is someone going to think of me’ or ‘how do I come across’, but that just ties into what I said before about being 100% — being complete in yourself, you can come into encountering others from a confident place. Just being yourself.”

“… being open.” I ask her if she means being vulnerable. “Yes… and being open to this. Maybe I would’ve said no four months ago. Now, we’re sitting here, and I’m enjoying it.”

“… just being in the moment. Don’t really focus on ‘where is this going to go’ or ‘do I have the time for this’ or ‘I have all these things in my head that I’m thinking about’. Actively listening, and not focusing on what you’re going to say next because they just said something. Just listening and being there.”

So… Be genuine. Be open. Be in the moment.” Check!

What makes you happy? (Thanks to Jordan, Stranger 21)

Carling thinks about this… “From a physical sense, listening to a great song, walking outside on a beautiful day… that makes me happy.”

“On a meta-physical sense, being around people who you know, who know you, and who you love. And just sharing laughter with them. That’s something that makes me so happy.”

Though, I was curious because she seemed pretty happy despite knowing very little about me.

“… in a broad sense! Positive interactions with people make me happy!” Haha, good update. 🙂

She adds before moving on, “being productive makes me happy.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

She thought about this question for a while.

“What are you doing when you feel most alive?” (Something on the daily…)

After the handshake.

So this was actually my longest meeting. I think it was just a testament to Carling’s energy and our connection/ her openness. She was super excited from the get-go to share her story. I mentioned her laughing and smiling throughout, but what I didn’t share was how animated she was. Like Sandrika early on, Carling was very animated. She just has a lot of energy, and you can’t help but be happy around her.

I definitely appreciated lots of points of our talk. Specifically, I appreciated her recognition in the effort it takes to connect with others. It’s not easy to connect with others sometimes, and this is even true of the friendships we all have. Relationships (in any form) take energy and commitment.

Also, I was curious of Carling’s points on how to connect with others. I love psychology, and given her studying and her own natural ability to connect, I was curious. I don’t really have much to add or augment to Carling’s key tenets, but I would say being open BOTH ways is important. At first, when I heard Carling, I was thinking about what was important for me to be with others in being “open” about myself. But the key, I think, is being open for others to be themselves.

 

Great stuff, and I’m excited to learn more about her healthy blogging… even if there’s a fair bit of veggie blogs in there.

So meet Carling. No longer a Stranger.

Stranger 10, Day 10 - Meet Muriel

Stranger 10, Day 10 – Meet Muriel, the “One-Woman PR Team”

[Updated! (09/27) See bottom for update!]

Wasn’t sure when I was going to meet my Stranger for the day, but I’ve been getting more and more relaxed about it. In just over a week, I’ve discovered so many people with a willingness to not only talk to a Stranger (me), but also share their lives. It’s been very refreshing.

So it didn’t take long for me to venture outside my office suite and meet a new Stranger at ATV. This Stranger happens to work with a friend I’ve met over the last year through Hypepotamus — “The who, what, and when in Atlanta’s innovation ecosystem. Startup news, events, people and companies.”

Meet Muriel, 30

Who are you?

Muriel’s face was one of shock, happiness, and curiosity — eyes big, smile just as big but with gritted teeth. Good start.

“I’m a writer, I’m a hustler, and I’m a traveler, ” she starts off.

“… love to eat!” Muriel caps off. She then shares how she loves to cook. What’s her go-to for cooking? Baking pies.

Muriel started a project two years ago. She dubs it the “Pie Project”. Makes sense. During this project, she had created 50 pies in a year. She even wrote about the experience in a “zine”, a “do-it-yourself magazine”. She was able to mix her passions of baking and writing into one… and for helping others.

Muriel included interviews of people across the country on how pies affected their lives. She chose pies mainly due to pies’ popularity here in the South. Her zine had garnered $800 from sales, all of which was donated to the Atlanta Food Bank.

What were some lessons learned from the book? Life?

“To not overreact over things… things you can’t change. Breathe through it, and try again.” To this, Muriel shares her lessons from baking pies having “burnt a lot of pie crusts”.

Pie crusts are quite difficult to make perfectly, and she comments about the importance of being very detail-oriented and patient. She shares “butter cools to room temperature after melting… takes an hour.” I could tell she was quite proficient in this just by hearing her share this one little detail like it was as common as knowing 1+1 = 2.

Do you have a big regret?

Short answer was no. Instead, she shared how she is “very clear of my goals”.

Having recently turned 30, Muriel was entertaining several questions about what to accomplish. She had always been passionate about traveling and writing, and aligned her life to do just that.

“If you don’t prioritize the things you want, they won’t happen,” she shares.

Muriel points out examples relating to dreams. “Have you talked to others who have that dream?”

She expands on dreams being not a “all-or-nothing” goal. There must be a balance… that’s where priorities come into play, and this is also why she loves what she’s doing speaking to entrepreneurs and founders. She remarks, “Founders make it happen — all about that hustle.”

If you could do anything right now, what would that be?

“Buy a ticket to Argentina.” She shares how she wants to jump on an Antarctic cruise and “hang out with penguins”. Sounds interesting, and not one I had heard before.

She also shares that she “loves learning about how different people live”. She wants to travel and write about the people she encounters.

What do you love writing about?

Perhaps surprisingly, but also not, Muriel smiles and tells me that she loves writing about Atlanta.

“Pretty much lived here all my life.”

She loves discovering the city. She loves the art of the city. She even dubs herself as the one-woman PR team for Atlanta.

What was your Life-Defining Moment?

She thinks about this for a while before replying, “there was a time about six years ago, I had a very terrible job. Writing a lot but nothing good. Realized one day I needed to stop doing this.”

She continues, “make life work around whatever it is you really want.”

Muriel’s mind dives back into traveling. This year, she’s gone to Sweden and China, and she’s considering her next journey. “Maybe South Africa.”

What are you doing today to make the world better? (Thanks to Andrea, Stranger 9)

“Yikes! I don’t know…” but she ponders this for a moment.

“Trying to make myself better so I can help others… being a better person helps others.” To this point, she’s rather wise. She considers her impact on others, and how much bigger of an influence and how much better she can help others if she is in a better position.

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

“What are you doing today to help your goals?”

After the handshake.

It was fun to meet a Stranger who was a friend of a friend. These occurrences highlight to me that I’m never short of Strangers or someone interesting to meet. I don’t have to go far, nor do I need to look for long.

Muriel’s point about taking care of herself so she can help others is one that hits home for me these days. I’m working hard at taking a step away from the world for myself to recover. There was a Harvard Business Review article about how one recovers is a much greater enabler of success rather than constant grinding. Much like an athlete must recover from a game, entrepreneurs (people in general) would do well to take breaks completely off.

So meet Muriel! No longer a Stranger.

[UPDATED! (09/27)] Check out Muriel’s pie creations here on Instagram! https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/muriels50pies/