Has a stranger ever changed your life?
The other day, I was perusing the tech sections of Border’s going out of business sale (which is its own story) and complaining to my partner Evan about this issue I’ve had with Excel and how much time I’m wasting manually lining up names between 3 columns to get #s for my reports. I decided to buy Excel 2007 For Dummies and wandered off to look for Ohio photography, where a guy mentioned he overheard my problem and he doesn’t know a solution offhand but now it’s going to bother him, so he’ll probably go try to play around & figure it out.
Turns out he’s a guy named Todd in Northeast Ohio from Nashville for a conference. I think he’s a software programmer with an equally techie girlfriend and a Gaters tattoo on his ankle. I gave him my business card & the next day got an email with a solution involving cuts, pastes, sorts, and an IFTHEN formula that will save me several hours next week. All because this stranger was bored & I had an intriguing problem he knew he could figure out.
This problem has been wasting my time for a year, I complain about it in public and “Voila!” Random person with a solution.
As the training consultant for a local AmeriCorps program, our first year ended with a fizzle. During the last few months, we had to call the AmeriCorps members to remind them to even attend mandatory events. When they were present, towards the end our members were not motivated to participate with speakers or share ideas with each other in large group setting. Only one very enthusiastic member made it a priority to come to our end-of-year ice cream social. Many were leaving town for degree programs or jobs and their minds were already on their next big adventure.
While we had decent results for the year, I felt we could do a better job building a team and sustaining enthusiasm until the end. One day last summer, my family happened to be hosting some cross country cyclists who were biking from Boston to Boulder. They were Harvard grads, one had been in AmeriCorps, and I mentioned this struggle I had with motivation. They shared about a course they had taken/taught on community organizing based on narrative…telling a Story of Self to motivate others to share. During this course, participants learned to tell a Story of Self, then one or two students shared their Story each class which sustained motivation as the process of community organizing got difficult.
After they reached Boulder, one of the women named Voop took an hour to Skype with me (while I fed the baby in his high chair) to try & explain the highlights of this several day workshop/semester long course. I combined this storytelling with a day of team building during pre-service, and already this year the group has thoroughly connected. I rant about my problem, a stranger shares a solution…and time will tell if the results have improved but I believe we’ll see some interesting benefits over time.
MORAL: Stick with what bothers you and keep complaining to strangers until you find a solution that works! You never know where that connection or inspiration might come from!
Now it’s your turn: Has a stranger ever changed your life? How?