I recently had coffee with a new friend that changed may have changed my life.
I say "new friend" meaning that we barely knew each other when we first sat down. We had met a few times in seminars around campus, and decided to grab a cup of joe when we arrived at a seminar and found that we were the only two people who showed up. Looking back I'm amazed that it happened at all. On this day it was a balmy 45 degrees in town, and raining harder than I've ever seen (strange fact: every time that I've seen this person since, its been raining...). I suppose most people had nice excuses for not coming, being busy with other work and not wanting to brave the trek through what could have been Noah's Flood.
I almost didn't come myself. It was the end of a week in which I had worked a minimum of 12 hours a day (Winter Break, what's that?). When I saw the rain, I just wanted to stay inside (sure didn't help that I was wearing my favorite new sport coat and tie). I had LOTS of work to do, and this was just a seminar I wanted to attend, not a mandatory event.
"Maybe if I skip this, I can go home earlier."
Once we arrived, we waited a few minutes to see if anyone else was coming. When it became apparent that we were the only people crazy enough to walk across campus in the deluge, we considered heading our separate ways to get back to the grind. I admit that I was relieved at the idea, I just got 2 hours of my work day back. Instead, I found myself swimming across a parking lot to a trendy coffee shop (you know, the kind with a broken glass door taped back together for the past 2 years because the hipsters that run the place think its a symbol for something? they're probably right). So there we sat, and he asked me a fairly standard question:
"What makes Tony tick? Tell me your story."
What happened next doesn't happen very often. Most of the time when people ask that question, they really just want to talk about themselves. Usually, its lasts a few minutes and then splits off into a discussion of something else. We sat there for 2 hours, listening intently to each other's stories. Asking questions, laughing at the funny parts, empathizing and making light of the challenges we had faced.
I left that coffee shop and had one of the most inspired, creative days I've ever had.
When you're faced with a To-Do list that is weeks long, and you have something scheduled for more than 80% of every day, it can be down right impossible to stop and reflect. The time we spent over coffee was the first I had stopped to think about how I ended up where I am in so long that I can't remember.
Stopping to think about my journey had a couple strong effects on me. First, I realized how fortunate I am to be here. My home life is awesome. My wife and I are best friends, and we've come a long way together. I could never have made it to this point without the love and support that we share. The truth is that I love my job, and I would probably do it for free (Boss, if you're reading this don't get any ideas...). Second, I got a chance to look over the challenges I've faced, and realized that I am much stronger than I think I am. Nothing about my experience has "fit the mold," nothing has gone according to plan. The whole trip has been very messy. I realized that I like it this way. I've worked hard, never knowing exactly where I was going, but feeling hopeful. And I ended up in a place that I feel ALIVE.
How to Inspire Someone
Do you want to find inspiration? Do you want to inspire those around you to do great things? Then do for others what my new friend did for me: Ask them to tell you their story. Listen, and mean it.
A funny thing happened while we were talking. We discovered some deep-seated common ground. We both have a strong passion for education and learning. Now we meet to talk about these things once a week, and we are working together on a project that I hope will awaken a whole new way of building creativity in education. For me, it very well may change the direction of my career, who knows? But that's a story for another day. One thing is certain: I won't let myself get too busy to have a cup of coffee with good company.