$195 Coffee Shop Encounter
Posted by Nipun Mehta on Mar 15, 2009
A mutual friend put us in touch, so I met him at the usual headquarters -- the coffee shop next to my apartment complex. A young guy with a shaved head, sporting a Stanford sweat-shirt, walks in with his associate.
We start talking about the usual good stuff and the stories start unfolding.
It turns out that in a Paris hotel room, nine years ago, he contemplated suicide. "I was this close, and then I ran into that book -- Tao of Pooh. It changed my life, and I decided to do anything it takes to end my day with a smile on my face." One of his rules, since then, has been to do an intentional act of kindness every single day. It's not a complete day until that happens.
He tells me some of his experiences. As a youngster, he was once lost on the Harvard campus and a student walked ten minutes to drop him off to his destination; years later, he hunted down the guy and tagged him with a royal act of gratitude. Judging him to be business type, I ask him, "You know, have you heard of this idea where you trade your first-class airline seat with someone in Economy? 'Sir, you've just been upgraded to a first-class seat.'" And almost immediately, "Oh yeah, I do that all the time! Same with military folks. Yeah, it's such a joy."
Wow, I don't know many first-class travelers who do that "all the time". This guy was something else. :)
When I showed him Smile Cards, he was totally rocked. More stories. Then out comes the Smile Deck. More stories. Copies of works & conversations and Richard's story. Baam, baam, baam. Global Oneness Project DVD. Gift-economy here, gift-economy there. Karma Kitchen anecdotes. Pilgrimage experiments. Trust. Abundance. The vibe was building.
We all put out a card from the Smile Deck, and mine read: "Give away one of your possession RIGHT NOW." Everything on the table was already a gift for him, but he looks at the Deck and says, "You have to give me the deck now!" So I did. :)
At one point in his life, along this giving journey, he naturally started simplifying everything, downgrading from his souped-up BMW 5-series to a Prius and becoming more low-key and content. And he started giving anonymously -- "One time, I gave $9 million dollars in stocks anonymously," he shares with a child-like glee. "Why?" "Just because they needed what I had and not me."
$9 million? Who the heck was this guy? (At the time we met at a coffee shop, I had no idea that he was a serial entrepreneuer, that he had managed to get Matt Damon, Donna Karen and the likes on his boards, that he had raised tens of millions of dollars for his startups, that he was now running a media company.)
His associate, who was actively taking notes, drops his pen and says, "Hands down, this is the most inspiring meeting of my life." It had been 45 minutes, and in five minutes they had another appointment. A guy on the table behind us feels the vibe, and had to interrupt: "Hey guys, just out of curiosity, is this a business meeting or are you just shooting the s**t? Because it sounds really interesting, all that you're talking about." He clearly wanted in, and we asked him to pull up a chair. :)
"I'm usually the guy who gets these 'You've changed my life' emails, but here I am in the receiving position," my shaven-head friend explains. Ten minutes later, his associate reminds him that he's late for his next call. "I know, but I just can't leave." Almost speechless at the radical-ness of CF's gift-economy approach, he turns to me and adds, "Youv'e just hit the reset button for me. I don't know what to say."
The CharityFocus soundbyte is not what rocked him; it was the be-the-change umph underneath it. It's like the difference between someone understanding that DailyGood is a good-news service, versus someone feeling what it's like to send out DailyGood every single day for a decade. There's an umph there, and he was in the space to feel that umph.
Right as we all get up, he opens up his wallet and takes out a stack of bills. "Here, man, this is everything I got. Please, just take it." A moment later, he parses through his wallet and finds two drink vouchers -- "Are you ever going to fly United? Then, I'd like to give these too." Clearly, it wasn't about the money. His cup of gratitude had overflown, and I happened to be the guy who's right there to receive it.
There's something deeply filling about emptying yourself.
I come home and realized that it was a lot of cash he was carrying -- $195, to be exact. I immediately PayPal'd our mutual friend, who had put us in touch, and asked him to pay it forward.