A few years ago Megan Gebhart “challenged herself to have a single cup of coffee with a different person every week for a year to see what lessons she could learn about life and careers.” Later on she travelled the world, using her ‘cups’ as experience and contacts, having more great adventures and conversations. We love her story and feel like her ‘cups’ are a form of Braindates (an E-180 app and service). Which is why we present this interview, to show what learning from others and enjoying conversations can provide rich experiences.
Caroline Lavergne — Why this 74 cities project, and how does it relate to the 52 cups project?
Megan Gebhart — That project was life changing for so many reasons. But something that I heard time and time again from so many people, you know pretty much anyone over the age of thirty-five was travel while you’re young. Travel before you have a mortgage and a kid and just travel when you’re young. So I decided to take this risk and travel and see what would happen.
The first person I told was actually ‘Cup 21,’ Torya Blanchard who was one of my favorite cups of coffee. I was playing around with this idea of traveling and I had told her and she was like, “You need to start in Iceland.” So for no better reason, I decided to start the trip in Iceland and it was kind of this adventurous two months. I’d planned on spending three fourths of that trip by myself. It was supposed to be this coming of age, travelling solo through Europe, very romantic thing, and actually the reverse ended up happening. I only spent about a quarter of it by myself because this power of building a reputation as someone who wants to meet people and travel, people found out what I was doing and they invited me to hang out with them.
You have to have this curiosity to really explore what you’re passionate about, the courage to actually do it, and then the diligence to do a good job.
I mean, it’s just so phenomenal when you start to meet people and talk to people and then build this reputation as someone who likes to meet people and talk to people because then everyone, you go places and people will tell you, “talk to this person,” or “talk to that person.” So it was just really fantastic and I came home from that trip and I felt I wasn’t ready to get a job yet and I’d managed to not run out of money so I got home and I just decided to travel until I ran out of money and I made it until about September and I was reaching this point where I needed to get a job and I was highly considering moving to New York. A connection at Michigan State, the director of the alumni association reached out to me and said; “We’re looking for someone to connect with young alumni and run these focus groups.” And so basically they offered me this six-month contract where I would fly to their major markets and run focus groups with their alumni. The cornerstone that I had learned with 52 Cups was; you have to have this curiosity to really explore what you’re passionate about, the courage to actually do it, and then the diligence to do a good job. And I just decided that if I could do those three things everything would work out and lo and behold, four months after doing this, I’ve decided I like to travel and meet people, I’m going to spend time doing this, I got this job where someone paid me to travel and talk to people it was just this really incredible experience in not knowing where life will take you. It’s just so amazing what happens when you start building connections and where it leads and how things unfold. I mean I could tell you stories all day of random encounters or random ways that I ended up in this city or that city, just meeting people, all based on; let’s see what happens and let’s meet people and let’s build connections. It’s just become ingrained in me that I love building new connections and not for any specific reason other than you just never know what will come out of a new connection.
And do you somehow qualify differently the coffees that you’ve had or the meetings that you’ve had while traveling or the ones that you’ve had at home?
[The] 52 cups of coffee that I had with those specific people that made it onto the blog, those people kind of had this special place in my heart so I guess they’re differentiated from the people that I’m constantly meeting but I think you don’t have to have the specific quest or goal. You don’t have to have a blog to be meeting these people and that’s why I want to get back to writing because I have so many stories of building these connections that are valuable.
All good things start with a conversation.
After every cup of coffee I would make sure I had fifteen to twenty minutes following the coffee meeting so I could just sit down and write down everything I remembered or really capture my initial thoughts. So that gives you a second time to analyze it. And then to really sit down and formulate a thought forces you to reevaluate everything. So you kind of process it three different times and I think the real power will be in a year or in five years or in ten years, going back and rereading those cups and kind of processing it again at the, you know this is my take away from it when I was 24 years old but now that five years has gone by, how does it or is it relevant to my life now?
I tried to do the same and meet a lot of people over coffee. I did that when I quit a job a while ago, and I decided to just not take any job. For three months I had to do at least one cup of coffee per week. Just with people I thought did interesting things, whom I knew or not, but through LinkedIn or Facebook and all that, and it turned out to be the best decision in my life.
Yes! I like to say that all good things start with a conversation. I love how many stories that start off with “We were just drinking beers and talking and then all of the sudden, this idea popped into my head.” There is so much power in conversation.
I’m interested in for example, tapping into the local culture. I consider that to be some kind of knowledge that you’ve gained. Where does that lead you? How is that knowledge accumulating? Or does it not matter if it accumulates, is it just a process?
That’s such a fantastic question. That’s kind of tricky to answer. This may be an overused Steve Jobs quote but he gave a great speech at Stanford and what he said was, “Life only makes sense looking backwards.” Like it’s a really major point; you look on your life and then you can connect the dots. And so I guess, the thing about traveling is I set out to do this travel and I’m not always one hundred percent sure why I’m doing it. I have no idea what I’m going to learn or how I’m going to learn or what’s going to happen because I’ve learned it. But I just inevitably know that every time you take a trip or every time you meet somebody, your life is going to change to some degree. Like it might just be a subtle shift or maybe it’s falling in love with a country and then deciding to move halfway across the world to live there, but inevitably your life will change. And I think at this point in my life I’m just accumulating stories and experiences and subtle changes that are leading to something and I don’t know what that thing is exactly but I know that someday it’s all going to make sense. And I think I’m so excited by that idea of making something happen that wouldn’t normally happen. And that’s why I think that’s really kind of what travel is. And so it’s really just reinforcing this idea of if you decide to do something, you decide to take a trip or you decide to go on this mission or you decide to say hello to someone at a coffee shop that could lead to something amazing. And so I think all of these trips really enforce that idea and at some point and some time it’s all going to come together. It hasn’t yet but it eventually will.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Header image from Unsplash.