For some, a busy coffee shop might seem like the worst place to try and get some work done. But Mike Lewis, founder of When to Jump, doesn't know of a better location to be inspired and get on with some important tasks. Here, he shares why...
When I was really young, I loved talking to random people. If I saw someone on the street, I’d ask where they were going, what they were doing. When I was old enough to take a bus or a train by myself, I’d pepper some poor stranger next to me with the who, the what, the where- and especially the why. Why are you doing what you’re doing?
As I went through high school and saved up money for any sorts of trips outside of my bubble that I knew, my mind was blown: more new people, in city parks and cafés, on buses and in gyms, going about their life. What was their life like? What was on their mind at that moment? It was weird. But I was truly, honestly infatuated with the lives of these people–or maybe not these people, per se, but rather the realisation that these strangers were bouncing between each other: all random to one another, all harboring different dreams, thoughts, ideas, fears, hopes, challenges. In that very moment, individual worlds colliding, worlds we’ll never know as we worry about our own.
I learned there’s a word for this: to sonder. Apparently, “sonder” is a fake word, and in fact more of an expression, or a realisation. To sonder is to realise that everyone around you is living those same very complex, dynamic lives that we (or me at least) tend to think is specific only to ourselves. How will I pay off those last loans? I can’t wait for the weekend. What’s my first date tomorrow night going to be like? Is my promotion coming, or is it not? All these seemingly-personal musings and questions are going on around us, at all times. And we can’t see them.
Except at coffee shops.
Which is why I love working at coffee shops.
Or maybe not even working. When time allows, simply sitting at coffee shops. Because it is coffee shop, a café, a wine bar, where the world slows down and personalities emerge. The books being read, the drinks being ordered, the conversations being had. People meet at a coffee shop for every situation imaginable: to interview for new jobs, to plan exits from old ones, to date and break up, to complain with disgust and to brainstorm with giddy whispers. Every visible detail serves as a spotlight of someone’s character. But, as if to tease, these things are never enough to tell their whole story.
Sometimes, you get a little more of a glimpse–while standing in line, waiting for a drink, sharing a table. Here, collisions are made and more stories unfold. As I think back to what pushed me to leave the corporate world and chase a crazy idea around the world, a big reason was for these collisions: chance encounters with interesting people. Without these, the people you meet, the days you live, can get a bit circular, routine. For me, anyway.
And sometimes, these intersections change your own orbit, providing new ideas, longer conversations, even friendships. If you’re like me and get lost in your people-watching, a coffee shop may not be the best place for professional output. But, with practice, I found you can have both: a snapshot into sondering while getting work done.