How Shared Values Go Beyond the Surface

Read time: 4 minutes

Welcome to The Ascend Archives Tuesday Tale, a weekly newsletter where I share a story about a transformation, revelation, or change in thinking that has helped improve an aspect of my life.

In the 3 months leading up to my Ironman 70.3, I would do a long bike ride every Saturday.

I would park in the YMCA parking lot on the west side of Austin. Put on my cycling kit, helmet, and sunglasses. Hop on my bike, click in my shoes, and head out to the rolling hills of Austin.

On each of these rides, I would pass the Zilker Botanical Gardens.

Not only have I biked past this sign dozens of times, I have driven by it hundreds of times going to Barton Springs, Zilker Park, or running errands on the West Side of town.

When people ask me what I love about Austin my go-to line is “Spending time outside and the green space”. I spend hours every week walking the Lady Bird Lake Trail, finding a grassy spot near Auditorium Shores to look at the Austin skyline, and people-watching on the Pedestrian Bridge. But not once as I drove by the Botanical Gardens did I ever think to myself, I wonder what it’s like in there.

Meeting A Stranger At The Botanical Gardens

One of my goals coming out of the Craft + Commerce conference was to get more involved in my online communities.

For the past month, I have spent ~2 hours per week engaging with people in my various communities. In early June, a guy named Dan posted in my Pathless Path Community that he would be visiting Austin for 10 days. He was considering moving here and wanted to see if anyone wanted to meet up while he was in town.

Without knowing anything about this guy, I gave him my phone number and offered to meet up.

I got a text from Dan 2 weeks later, “Are you still down to meet up? We can grab a coffee or meet at one of the botanical gardens in town.”

I was so used to just grabbing a drink or coffee with people for dates and networking, that the thought of doing anything different intrigued me.

“Hey, Dan! Yeah, let’s do it! I can meet at the Zilker Botanical Gardens on a Sunday at 10 AM.”

“Perfect, see you there!”

Different But The Same

Dan grew up in the world of music and theater.

He went to a small liberal arts school and didn’t know what the University of Michigan was, let alone that we won the college football championship last year. His idea of fun is sitting on a bench to doodle or going salsa dancing. He left the world of theater and taught himself product design. Now he’s happy working as a UX UI designer.

Meanwhile, I went to a large state school and studied business. My idea of fun is going to run clubs, playing golf, and watching sports with my friends. I quit the corporate world to pursue entrepreneurship and my passion for writing.

As we made our introductions, I started to question whether we had enough in common to have a full conversation.

But we continued on, walking around the beautiful gardens that I couldn’t believe were 10 minutes from my house all this time. The carefully manicured paths, the assortment of flowers, the ponds with Koi fish, and the quiet secluded property made me feel like I was in a different country. Definitely not Austin, Texas.

Dan and I made our way to a picnic table in the garden and took a seat.

While our backgrounds and interests seemed different on the surface, we did have one thing in common: The Pathless Path Community.

People in this community inherently have common values:

  • Travel and adventure

  • Non traditional paths

  • Writing and creative work

  • Building genuine connections

  • Pursuing work we enjoy, not just for money

So I asked Dan what made him join the community and how has the experience been so far. This led to discussions about our goals and the vision for our lives.

Dan explained that he thinks about his current situation at work like a flight path. His goal is to get his product design work to cruising altitude so that he can turn on auto-pilot and coast while he focuses on other things. Right now he’s still in the ascend phase just after takeoff. This requires the pilots full attention and the engines to burn a lot of fuel (aka Dan grinding doing a lot of hard work).

I barely knew this guy, but I decided to challenge him on it.

“What do you need to do to get to the cruising altitude?”

“What will your life going to look like once you get there?”

“Why can’t you skip the grind part right and go right there?

“Are you doing this because you want to or because it’s what you need to do?

He paused for about 60 seconds.

“Thank you Andrew for pushing me on this. These are great questions to consider.”

Dan went on to explain that he enjoys his engineering work and the flexibility it provides him to work remotely. He believes there are seasons of life where there is a time to put your head down and work hard, while there are other times to ease off the gas. We discovered authors whose work we both resonate with like Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

I love having conversations like this.

Dan is a very self aware guy. The questions I asked were tough. They are questions I ask myself constantly and struggle to answer after hours of contemplation. But Dan knew what he wanted and why he was doing what he was doing.

Although I have a feeling that he might dig in a little deeper to ask if he really needs to grind to get where he wants to go or if can he skip that part entirely.

Final Thoughts

I walked away from that 90 minute conversation feeling energized.

All it takes are a few shared values and beliefs to have a meaningful conversation and build a relationship. Dan is not like any of my friends from college, Austin, or elsewhere. But if he decides to move to Austin, I would definitely hang out with him.

Maybe I would even tag along to one of his dance classes.

It’s crazy that it took some guy who I met online to show me one of my favorite new spots in my own city.

This in Austin? Wild

Right in my backyard

Thank you for reading! As always please reply and let me know what resonated, what didn’t, or what you question. I love chatting about this stuff!