I’ve traveled throughout the world and captured lots of pictures of cathedrals, rocks, and pretty flowers—but when I look at them now, they’re meaningless. What I did discover while perusing my photos is how much I remembered about the pictures I took with friends in them. I can recollect the situation, the emotion, the exact details of what was around us. So, I made a vow to myself for all future travels—no more pictures of mighty castles or fun food or anything else enticing unless someone else was in the picture with me, even if it’s a complete stranger.

This new outlook led me to do something whimsical—meet complete strangers and get to know their life story within five minutes. I call it my HeartStir Photo Collection because in the midst of every picture we took, hearts were being stirred in complete strangers to piece together their identity and purpose in this world. And I got to capture this amazing discovery in a photo.

Once I explained the project I was working on, I’d ask two questions to the stranger. The first was:

What one emotion or definition would you give to how you have felt for the past year?

The strangers would give a dazed look, some would choke back real answers wondering if they should tell the truth, but this was a great chance to share with them my own word for my past year: Depressed. In my vulnerability, these strangers would begin to pour out answers like: trapped, bored, anxious, beaten down.

I’d then ask my second question:

What about now in the moment, what emotion do you feel?

Immediate answers would fling out of their mouths: happy, free, euphoria. Then the hearts would begin to stir and we’d share our lives, our stories, our travels. All in the matter of five minutes we went from being strangers to friends.

Near the end of the conversation I’d gather some biographical data—where they were from, their age and occupation—and I’d ask one final question:

If you could define yourself in one sentence, what would you say?

It surprised me that the faces became confused once again, and my friends stammered to complete a thought. No one that I met had an answer right away, simply because no one had ever thought about it. In fact, I was beginning to learn that no one really had taken much time to know themselves at all over the past year.

Here are the pictures of my friends and I in moments and places that I will never forget.


I learned 3 things from watching hearts stir strangers into friends, and the lessons are essential for all of us to ponder:

“Hello” Makes a Friend

It’s that easy—just say hello. In meeting all these strangers, all I had to do was say hello, a conversation started, and I walked away with a new friend. During this trip to Scandinavia I was clueless to the language but lucky most nationals spoke English. Even so, I had to ask for lots of help along the way and it all started with a “hello.” It’s amazing to me how often we let the person next to us on a plane or bus, the waiter serving us or the girl begging for money, enter and exit our lives without saying “hello.” It’s not hard and it’s almost the same in every language, and yet this universal introductory scares us.

Think of yourself; you’d talk to someone if someone talked to you (unless you’re an extreme introvert). And don’t let it just stay at “hello,” ask about their job, where they live, what they like to do. Slowly a stranger will become a friend.

Flee Your Routine:

The searching faces that appeared after question number one were hard to watch. Almost everyone had a rough year (including me). As stories unfolded, the negative connotations from the year came from the grind of a job or a broken relationship. These two themes dominated everyone’s life and it helped me realize that’s what life is all about—possessing passion in a career and finding purpose in relationships. We all want that but it can take a lifetime to find if we keep doing what we’ve always done.

Within the routine and the melancholy emotions that hover around it, my friends noted how they had so many positive vibes now that they were traveling. Solving the monotony of life was simple—flee your routine. Take a weekend trip, go dancing for a night, get out of your home, go play bingo with the geriatrics—anything can break a routine and let loose positive vibes if you just leave the comfort of your routine.

It seems so simple to break a routine, yet the average American doesn’t use all of their paid time off each year. We choose to stay in the routine—the habit of Netflix nights, gaming nights, extra work and second job nights—we must flee the routine to experience different and better emotions.

Know Yourself

By experiencing different emotions through leaving your routine or comfort zone, you begin to learn more about yourself. I realized when asking question number three that no one had an answer because no one took time to know themselves. When a routine rules us, when we constantly do the same things week in and week out, the cycle of life slowly lulls us to sleep and we lose consciousness of ourselves. This is often why we have outbursts of anger or sadness or binges of addicting vices—we aren’t taking time to know ourselves.

Traveling naturally does that—you feel emotions you haven’t had, you do things you normally don’t do, and you find new life—all because you broke out of your routine. Even so, whether in a routine or while traveling, we must take time to know who we are. What makes you passionate? What gives you energy and what drains it? What do you love most in life? Why have you felt the emotions that you’ve been feeling? What matters to you? How would you describe yourself to someone in one sentence?

We can’t let our routine lives give us negative vibes AND mask our identity. In order to truly live free—without burdens or fears—we must know who we are. It’s worth investing time in it, because well, you’re stuck with you forever. Once you know you, life will be dazzling rather than dull.

How will you stir your heart or the heart of others? It could be as easy as a “hello” or as fun as a 24 hour road trip. Don’t let life control you, take control of your life.

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