It’s Tuesday morning and I’m sitting at an adorable breakfast spot in San Francisco eating some of the best bacon and eggs I’ve ever had while enjoying a cup of coffee that the waitress will refill at least three times before I leave.
All throughout senior year, people asked me where I’d be after graduation. I assumed I would be in a cubicle somewhere climbing the corporate ladder on the fast track to a promotion and increasingly impressive job title and salary.
Because that’s what you’re supposed to do with an expensive college degree.
And it’s probably what I would be doing if I hadn’t decided to do this crazy experiment in caffeine and conversation. I called it an experiment because I knew meeting 52 new people would change my life. I just didn’t know how.
I can tell you I didn’t expect it would inspire me to trade the job search for six months of traveling to 72 different locations in 15 countries. Six months of waking up excited about the uncertainty of where the day would take me.
Going into my senior year, the uncertainty of where life would take me after graduation created a crippling fear. I was stuck in the mindset that I had one shot to figure out my life. The day after graduation was the first day of the rest of my life and if I didn’t have the perfect plan—and the perfect job—in place I would be setting myself up for irreconcilable failure.
I don’t know where that thought came from, but I know it was a real fear. I also know that I’m incredibly grateful for those that helped me see the irrationality in my thinking.
It started during the first 10 Cups. I realized a very noticeable trend: nobody’s life went according to plan. Life throws you curveballs. Sometimes good ones: unexpectedly falling in love, discovering a passion, stumbling into an incredible career opportunity. And sometimes ones that test your strength: losing a loved one, experiencing a breakup, layoffs, unexpected illness or tragedy, major career failure, a downturn in the economy. The list goes on.
Understanding that life won’t go according to plan leaves you with two choices: let the fear of the unknown overwhelm you or embrace the uncertainty.
I’ll tell you from experience that the former is easier than the latter. For two reasons.
First, it takes a lot of faith (and confidence) to embrace uncertainty and believe you can handle what life throws your way. Faith I only found because I had a weekly conversation with people from various backgrounds reaffirming that, with the right approach, life works out.
The second reason is that finding the faith is only half the battle. The second half is executing the approach. If you are open to go where life takes you, you will end up in incredible places. However, you can’t sit back and expect a great life, you have to go out and make a great life.
The magic of sitting down with strangers—of putting yourself in a vulnerable position and taking time to genuinely learn about another person—is that you can put a story behind the advice. The advice becomes real and it becomes personal. I have a catalogue of anecdotes I now carry with me.
On days filled with obstacles I think about Piotr Pasik traveling to Europe and playing indoor soccer despite having limited mobility due to cerebral palsy. When my dreams feel too big I think about Tom Izzo’s determination as a graduate assistant for the MSU basketball team, living off a measly $4,000 salary at age 30, because that’s what he had to do in order to one day become the head coach.
When I think about what I want in a career I think about Torya Blanchard and what she calls her fight club moment—the moment she decided she was going to quit her job and cash in her 401K to start a (now-thriving) restaurant in Detroit. Then, when the fear of taking a risk sinks in, I hear Seth Godin’s voice in my head saying, “You’re not failing enough. I failed countless times before I was 30—and that’s what led to my success.”
Dave Isbell’s words echo the importance of staying humble while Dave Murray’s remind me that life is about more than creating a great life for yourself, it’s about giving back and creating a great life for others as well. Encountering a vibrant six-year-old evokes memories of my conversation with Abby, an adopted Native American girl in a town without much diversity, who taught me that everyone has an interesting story but too often we make assumptions instead of asking questions.
When I hear of tragedies I think of Betsy Miner-Swartz losing both of her parents to cancer in a year’s time and how she used the love and support of family and friends to make it through the pain, one step at a time. Then I ask myself when is the last time I told my loved ones how much I love them—because it’s easy to forget they could leave us at any moment.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Every Cup changed me.
The best way to describe the change is a quote from Cup 51, Elaine Rosenblatt:
People need to learn to stop looking at life from the outside in and start looking from the inside out.
When I started 52 Cups, I was so concerned with living up to other people’s expectations—concerned with people the person others wanted me to be. Over the course of this project, I’ve realized that is no way to live life. I have to look inside and figure out who I am and decide where I want to fit into the world.
That’s why I decided to travel.
I followed my love for travel and hoped it would lead me to the next step. And it did. When I stopped looking for the perfect job and focused on what I loved, the perfect job found me. Michigan State’s Alumni Association offered me a six-month position where I travel to various cities and connect with young alumni—a great position for a traveler with a love for good conversation.
And what happens once that job is over?
I don’t know.
But it’s okay.
Because I know that if I can continue to figure out what I love to do, find the courage to do it, and do it well— life will work out—and I’ll have a lot of fun in the process.
It’s amazing what a little caffeine and conversation can do—if you’re willing to find out.
When I set out to meet 52 new people, I didn’t realize the most important person I’d meet was the person that 52 Cups made me.