“What’s everyone doing this weekend?” Adam asked. His deep, booming voice broke the soft silence in the small conference room where we crammed in to eat the Friday catered lunch. I teetered on the top of a blue stability ball – the office’s chairs of choice – and felt anything but stable. Either my core wasn’t tight enough or my social anxiety was at a high.
Answers were soon provided by everyone, from Director of Development to Marketing intern. To each weekend plan, Adam had a follow-up question or a similar experience to add, showing genuine interest. “Which restaurant?” or “I remember that one time in college…” And with each follow-up response the mood lightened and energy increased. But then it was my turn.
“Annie, do you have plans?”
“Um, I have a new roommate moving in. And he’s really cute. It’s bad. But like, kind of good. I don’t know. I’m screwed!” My high voice blurted it out, not considering that it was in response to our company co-founder on the second week of my job as a Product Manager of the software he coded himself, now used by Universities nationwide.
I was prepared for the deafening sound of crickets which was sure to happen in the same way it had many times before, especially in work settings. Over the years I had become an expert at creating awkward responses to which no one could relate.
I quickly recalled my first job out of college at a small snack food company where these types of moments prevailed. Glances were exchanged around the table that I could still feel later at my desk. But the CEO would never have to witness it because he was tucked away in a corner office eating his catered food for one, complete with a private restroom as to avoid any awkwardness all-together.
“Ah! I remember girl roommates,” Adam responded. “It’ll be okay. How did you meet?”
On the following Monday morning, as I stood in the kitchen pouring coffee, Adam walked in and quickly followed up on how the move went. In the midst of a new job and new living situation while feeling alone in LA, the fact that he remembered and cared made me feel a little more stable.
“Okay, first, these are the reasons why I want to feature you on the blog…”
Over the years, I’ve interviewed and written about people who I admire, and as I narrow The Story of My Life’s focus more towards meaningful storytelling, I hope that number only increases. As a result, I’ve honed my interview process and now start each one by writing a bulleted list of the reasons why I chose to feature them. They are the ways in which the person has impacted me – some of which they might know but mostly those they don’t.
Saying them out loud requires a level of vulnerability that can be uncomfortable though. Like sitting atop an overly inflated exercise ball, you struggle without the footing of knowing what they will think. Or conversely, you worry about being too well-worn, like each compliment is letting out a little air. Sometimes, instead of dealing with it, you decide not to tell them at all and reach for the nearest sturdy chair.
A Year Later
On a Monday morning, just over a year later, I stood in the kitchen of our new office. In the middle of making coffee, I glanced up to see Adam walking through the door. It was the first time that I had seen him in many months. I froze.
He was even thinner than before with visible bruising. I didn’t know the exact reason for his absence, but now I had a sense. I was scared of not knowing what to say.
“Good morning!” he said.
“Hi, Adam! How are you?”
“I’m good. How are you?!” he asked.
“Great, I just got back from visiting home…”
“Yes… that’s right.”
I breathed a short sigh of relief before continuing the conversation. He was still the same Adam, and it was great to see him.
Later that day I sat on a bean bag chair in my office, finishing the last of work with coworkers, and Adam walked in.
“And these are my coworkers!” he said to his cousin and wife who stood in the doorway. “I’m trying to sell my cousin on moving to Santa Monica,” Adam explained. Within 30 minutes I texted my roommate that I would be home late for our evening plans: “I’m chatting with our CTO.”
In a small office stood the following people:
- Two young, female Product Managers, one from Illinois and one from Virginia
- A Software Developer from the Philippines
- A college student visiting from Philadelphia
- A supportive wife
- A company co-founder who coded the software that would eventually bring us all together while quietly struggling with an immune disorder
And even another hour later we were still sharing stories about comical homeless encounters, the Bungalow and the joys of moving to Santa Monica from a faraway place with Adam facilitating it all, as usual. His energy and talk about the future made me feel like things were going to be okay.
The Small Things
Some people who I feature on the blog are lifelong friends, and others are people with whom I’ve only shared a handful of mutual moments. However, I’ve noticed that the lists for interviewing them are very much the same. They are based on small things, often fleeting moments, that have probably escaped their memory but have remained in mine.
- The way she fearlessly made me cut in the high school lunch line
- The way he didn’t judge me when I said how much I drink
- The encouraging words she shouted as I hung from the pull-up bar
- The first Instagram photo she posted of a piece of her art
- The time he turned around and yelled down the street, “Meeting with you is always my favorite part of the week!”
The tables were lined with Dagwoods pizza and Sidecar donuts, Adam’s favorites. In a Santa Monica event space, his California friends and work family gathered for a memorial to celebrate his life. It was a life that included 36 years of living to the fullest until just a few days before Christmas.
We stood in a large circle as long-time friends and a collection of colleagues shared their memories of Adam, including our CEO, who was among his best friends and described Adam as “the better half.” At the end of prepared speeches, Kenny invited anyone else to speak who had something to share.
One-by-one people stood at the front of the room and shared memories. They were the small things that weren’t that dissimilar to the memories shared by those who knew Adam best.
- The way that he looked you right in eye as he talked to you, showing that he cared
- The “Welcome Lunch” held with each new employee
- His loud laugh that he shared liberally
- The life talks he had while staying late to fix bugs
- The way he was still coding and taking calls from the hospital bed
Each person who shared them did not lose a little piece of themselves, like deflating a ball. And they didn’t lose their footing, wondering what people would think. Instead, each memory filled the room and seemed to make everyone feel a little closer to Adam, a little more okay.
The Big Impact
Adam’s family’s only request has been written letters sharing any memories that we have about Adam, and this blog post is my letter.
While little things are what makes up my memories of Adam, what I would say as my reason for featuring him is something a bit bigger.
The Reason for Featuring: You showed us how to be humble and how to care. You went after your dreams and built a company, but also built up the people who made up your team. By remembering the little things, you made me feel more stable and at home in the place you believed to be the greatest. (I now see why.) You reminded me to smile when passing a coworker, instead of staring down, and to ask how the other person is doing, no matter how things are going for you. You gave us Friday lunches with our co-workers – who now spend the weekend together as friends.
Don’t wait to let people know about the small things that have impacted you. Because sometimes, when added up, they’re bigger than you think.