This is a story of a business traveler, Ryan Estis, who made a simple coffee purchase in the Minneapolis airport on Christmas Eve.
As he made his way through the terminal before his flight, Estis stopped for coffee. Rather than receiving a terse greeting from someone understandably disappointed to be working on Christmas Eve, Estis was met with a warm hello.
“Hi, my name’s Lily. What’s your name?” the barista, Lily Olsen, asked.
Olsen then asked him where he was going, if he was spending the holidays with his family and what holiday traditions his family followed each year. She engaged him in meaningful, polite, and genuine conversation.
Then, when Olsen finished making Estis’ pumpkin spice latte, she said, “Ryan, have a safe trip to Cleveland, go create some extraordinary memories with your family, and when you come back through the Minneapolis Airport I want you to stop here and tell me all about it.”
What Olsen did not know was Estis was flying to Cleveland to spend a final Christmas with his father who had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Though Olsen could never have known, Estis was not in a good place at all, and needed a pick-me-up.
Olsen probably served hundreds of customers per day, and none of us expect this type of kind, intentional connection from the average barista – especially on Christmas Eve! But Olsen saw every cup of coffee she served as an opportunity to brighten someone else’s day. As she put it, she was “pouring happiness into other people’s lives.” It’s a great example of the impact we make when we commit to doing even the smallest things at world-class level.
Years later, Estis tells his story of meeting Olsen to audiences around the world. Their short interaction had a permanent impact on him—and made him realize the power each of us has to make others’ lives better, in the same amount of time it takes to send an angry email or a bitter social media post.
In hard times, it’s crucial to think beyond ourselves and consider what others are facing. We might be having a bad day, but the same is probably also true for the person on the other side of the counter, phone or Zoom call. Connecting on a personal level, extending compassion and assuming positive intent from others may make all the difference for someone who is really hurting, either visibly or below the surface.
Olsen understood the very specific and intentional decision around how she chooses to show up – even on Christmas Eve. A lot of things happen in our work, and our lives, and our sphere of influence that we can’t control. All we get to control is how we choose to respond to these things. Decide how we show up. Make the decision every day to show up consistently as the best version of yourself.
Ryan Estis has an Inspirational Video that goes along with this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxrNCRhxgho