“Yes,” I replied.
“Should I bring my gloves?”
“Yes, bring everything warm that you have,” I said. Sam went up to his hotel room and came back with his scarf, his gloves and nothing else.
“Where’s your coat?” I demanded.
“This is my coat,” he said. I looked down at his suit jacket and back up at his face, confused.
“Okay,” I said finally. “Come on then.” I walked outside, a little worried how Sam and I were going to get along if he didn’t even understand the meaning of the words “Wisconsin” and “Winter” in the same sentence.
Sam assured me, however, that he was tough, and true to his word – no matter how much I baited him – he didn’t complain.
Tough is a good word to describe Sam. Not in the traditional steel factory sense of the word, but in the hard-hitting, no-nonsense kind of way. He’s interested in people, he’s interested in change, and he wants to know how to bring the two together.
He’s practical about where he comes from, the detours he’s taken, and turns the notion of a designated path on its head. And perhaps that is what is so refreshing about Sam. He’s straightforward, but uniquely human at the same time. Like when after a particularly meaningful story, Sam stated, “I wore socks today. I hate wearing socks.”
Sam gave his speech on Wednesday night (which was really good), and we all went out to dinner afterwards. And on Thursday, Sam and I proceeded to spend fifteen hours together straight. We went on a tour of Madison into the shops, and the art museum, and our Capitol (although Sam insists that “It’s pretty, huh?” isn’t really a tour at all), and then off to lunch meetings, coffee shop meetings, sushi dinner with Employee Evolution, after-dinner drinks, and after-drink conversations.
And as we moved throughout the day, I felt how great it was to be making a new friend. It’s single-handedly one of the most powerful things, to begin to trust someone, to share your dreams and goals, and your frustrations and anger. To have a mutual respect and desire to change the world. Our generation thrives so much on loose connections, Facebook friends, being quasi-anonymous, that making deep connections often seems like too much work.
But it’s not. It’s just being observant and open. It’s asking the questions beyond simply where you come from and what you do:
“Why are you controversial?”
“How can we work together?”
“Why are you so tight-lipped about your dating life?”
“Do you think you’re moving too slowly?”
“What’s the soundtrack to your life?”
“Do you work out of this coffee shop often?”
“What’s the story behind changing your beliefs?”
“How did you know your wife was the one?”
“What does edgy mean?”
Sam and I asked each other these very questions. It’s about investigating and caring about who the other person is. It’s about wanting to know someone intimately, because that’s all we really want anyway. To be known, appreciated, challenged.
When I meet with people, even CEOs or semi-celebrities, the most interesting discussion always happens after we should have ended the meeting. It’s the point where you can get up and leave, or you can ask another question, an unexpected question, a silly or meaningful question, but a question that pushes deeper.
It’s easy to ask the basic questions. But friendships aren’t forged, and change doesn’t happen with easy questions. Instead, you have to ask the story behind those questions.
You have to reach around and ask about the cup of cold coffee sitting on the black table with the guy standing in a kilt on the staircase. You have to ask about that. You have to ask about who a person is.