The first time I went to 1 Million Cups in Charleston, it was a day when we all gathered in a giant circle and went around the room introducing ourselves. As a new representative in financial services, I was excited, ready to take the room by storm and get 10 new clients in that one hour alone. I had my language ready to go, rehearsed and shaped for maximum effort.
So did the other 7 representatives from other companies.
In a panic I rewrote my pitch to sound as different as I could, got up and presented it with whatever confidence I could muster and sat down triumphantly. I forgot that I was supposed to tell the community what I needed and was directly called our for it. Embarrassed, with my previous confidence now spilled all over the floor, I reverted to comedy.
"I have an opening Friday morning for a coffee and I don't want to be lonely."
One gentleman on the other side of the room raised his hand to take my up on the offer. He told me we wouldn't be doing any business, but he would love to take the opportunity to hear my story over coffee.
The man's name was Jon Stroud. That coffee would be one of ten moments that led to 100 Connections and changed my life.
To call Jon the "Connector in Chief" of Charleston would be an accurate description, but it would fail to do him justice. Jon is the smile in the room, a person who loves meeting new people and hearing their stories. He is a musician, a lover of craft beer, an incredible shot and the bearer of one of my favorite smiles. He is a believer, a supporter and a badass. I have spent time with Jon's family. He is a loving father, a devoted husband and a kind soul. Time with Jon flies, as all good time does, and you find yourself waiting for the next moment, even in passing, you will share.
Jon knows that we are commanded to do one thing in this life; to love others as God loves us, and that can be hard. Take a moment to think about the number of times that life, the world, or just other people have treated you poorly. Think about that moment in traffic where you got cut off, the person who hurt your feelings, the time you got accused of something you didn't do. How hard was it to move forward with positivity and love?
Jon has the same things happen to him that you and I do, but he is intentional with his efforts to love people and be positive. Note that he isn't perfect, just intentional. Making your mind up to be something, choosing to be the person you will be, is powerful. Jon tells me about choice, how choosing our path in life is a powerful thing. We need to determine our direction, not allow others to dictate it to us.
Jon saw me when I was letting others tell me how I should live, what I should do, and remembers how miserable I was. When I began this project he said on of these five things, or all of them, would happen. I would either learn something about myself, find my passion, my purpose, my new job or someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. He was right. All five happened.
There is a powerful philosophy Jon lives by. It's simple really, as all of the most powerful things often are. Jon doesn't let the outside world drag him down. Bad things happen to all of us. There is no arguing that point and, ultimately, no way to prevent them from happening either. In the face of these difficulties it is easy for us to throw our hands up in defeat but, as Jon notes, we deserve better. While things may be difficult, there is always something coming our way, often in the wake of these things that seem like setbacks. What we so often find is that what we truly wanted was there, but we couldn't have done it had the original situation worked out any different.
Jon loves others' victories. It's true. I think my friend's smile gets bigger when he sees the joy of others. Jon looks for the things that give other people joy and then celebrates those with them. I think back to all of the talks we had in my previous life, the one he knew made me miserable. He tells me that when I was telling stories he saw me light up. That same light Katie Blomquist, Connection 108, talks about when we start living our true purpose. Jon told me that no less than 15 times, and those words echoed with me as I sought out what to do first in my new search for meaning.
Jon has celebrated 100 Connections with me every step of the way. He has rejoiced in the connections, in the writing and, most of all, in the joy that it has brought to me. As I tell him about my future plans he smiles, his eyes light up, and you can see that joy again. When you are happy for the things that others are passionate about, about their victories and their joys, genuinely happy, then you find a heart like Jon's.
Such a heart is a blessing, not only for him, but for others.
We hug and prepare to go our separate ways. As I walk out into the rainy day, it occurs to me that I am passing the very spot where we had that first meeting over a year and a half ago. My silver-haired friend with the heart full of joy and hope sat across from a guy looking for his way in the world, just taking a moment to listen to his story, to connect.
I wonder if my friend knew then what he had started.
Favorite Dinosaur(s): T Rex
Why: Not for their ferocity or their dominance, but for the humor of their little arms.
Favorite Dinosaur(s): Pterodactyl
Why: They soar with the eagles and see the bigger picture of things. Jon would love to come back as a bird.