48 ordinary (and impactful) hours
October 25th and 26th of 2018 are two days I likely won’t remember in ten years. I didn’t lose a job or get one. A new love didn’t enter my life or leave it. I didn’t make a fortune or lose one. What did happen were a series of small events I believe happen often in this city and are possible for all of us. This is a story about two ordinary days that in their own way were extraordinary.
I was reminded early on Wednesday morning over breakfast with a newly minted CEO that looks can be deceiving. His industry isn’t seen as all that progressive and I made the mistake of assuming it would be a nice but ordinary discussion. I was wrong. His energy, enthusiasm and curiosity overwhelmed me. Our scheduled short breakfast meeting went on for 90 minutes with each us trading ideas back and forth and building off each other. I walked out of that meeting thinking, “that guy is the real deal and his company and this city is lucky to have him.”
A friend called me after that saying he had just crushed an interview he had dreading. He and I had spoken the night before and he felt unprepared. He said he had found the confidence and comfort he needed beforehand and felt it had gone well regardless of whether they offered it or he ended up wanting it. He felt more confident as he explores opportunities.
That afternoon while taking a break from my job search, I ran into, Manu Stephen, the founder of Inventr, a startup in the patent space. We fell into a conversation around workforce development in St. Louis for both the next generation and those already in the workforce. He spoke of steps he would take for both next generation education and retraining. This is something I have been thinking a lot about and his insights left me fired up.
As I headed out for the day, I went to meet up with my dear friend Chloé Risto to see her graduate from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s “Citizens Academy”. This program is a 12 week course introducing the public to what police learn in their training and to give them an idea of what it takes day-to-day to be an officer. At a time in our society when tensions are understandably high between police and the population, I am in awe of her leaning into such a difficult and important space.
We are all busy in today’s world and Chloé is no exception. She has a full-time job at a university, leads several fitness classes a week at a local gym, is a college team athletic coach and probably likes to find a few of her free moments to spend with her husband. The fact she worked to fit something optional like this into her schedule is a small example of someone who cares deeply about being engaged.
Thursday morning I returned for the first time in 18 months to City Academy where I volunteered for several years as a math tutor. The school is an incredible institution with impassioned staff, energized students and engaged parents. What they have been able to do in their 20 years as an independent school is incredible including a recent expansion to accommodate more students. I was reminded of the important work they are doing on the educational front.
From there I had lunch with Diana Zeng, a young firecracker I’ve been fortunate to know for many years. A couple years ago she turned away from the business education she received to pursue art as a passion and career. I am always shocked by how much she has accomplished and how mature she is at a mere 25 years of age. She and I had a soaring conversation about her work and the future of her city in which I asked her one of my new favorite questions, “Who makes this city go?” (h/t “Our Towns”). While she was sharing some people that came to mind, one of them, Randy Vines, St. Louis fanatic and apparel mogul of Stl-Style walked in and we got caught up in our conversation.
As we wrapped up our lunch and walked out, Diana invited me to her car and removed a painting from the back titled, “In the moments before…” She said it reminded her of me and what lies ahead. It almost brought tears to my eyes. As I look at it on my wall, to me it not only symbolizes my journey but the one I wish to see our city undertake. What moments before are upon us in our city? Will we remain complacent and on the sidelines or standup to claim who we are and play an active role in its path forward?
I closed out these two days having dinner with two other friends who agreed a while ago we would start a dinner club inspired by Anthony Bourdain and his fierce belief that the dinner table is so important saying, “what nicer thing can you do for somebody than make them breakfast?” In this case its dinner but you get the point. We pulled from a list of things he felt people should know how to do (see it here) and elected to make a soup. "Hot Borscht” was the recipe we pull from his "Appetites" cookbook. It required me to buy my first pig foot but most importantly, it brought me together with people I enjoy for an evening of learning and laughter. Is there anything I seek more from this life than that?
"The only reason to eat and drink is to have better conversation", Francis Mallman
In the end do you know what was most remarkable about these two days? They compromised a series of small acts paired with great people. Nothing all that extraordinary (short of being gifted Diana’s painting) had to happen to make these two days greater than the sum of their parts.
There is wonder, hope and opportunity right here at your fingertips St. Louis. People are doing cool shit, have interesting ideas and fierce passion. Bring your best self and lean into it. I heard someone once say, “the most interesting people are interested”. Dare to dream big and think about what you could do to be a part of the St. Louis you want to call home.
Go Forth Boldly
"Happiness is the joy you find on hundreds of forgettable Wednesdays”, Tim Urban