Matt Madeiro

bought a school bus, once. That was pretty freaking cool.

Stinky, Freaky Food (and the Value of Connection)

Mark hesitated.

The second piece—beige, slightly crispy, about as ordinary-looking as fried tofu can get—lingered at the tip of his chopsticks. He eased the tofu forward, bit, and almost shuddered as the rest of the piece followed.

I muffled my laughter and shot him a thumbs up from behind the video camera.

Stinky tofu lives up to its name. The stench? Manure. The taste? A milder, still totally not palatable version of poop. Mark later confided to me that he nearly threw up during that second piece, a feeling I was pretty familiar with as we worked our way through the bowl.

I have an open-door policy towards food: I’ll try anything once. Only rarely does it come back to bite me, but when it does, the memory sticks out. Our victory over the tofu about a week back hasn’t left me. For about three hours after the meal, too, nor did the aftertaste.

So here’s the kicker: I’m glad we tried it. I’m glad we ate the tofu. (But let’s be clear: never again.)

For the three days that Mark Powers and I skipped around Houston, piling on the weird food every chance we got, I was pumped. I was energized. That’s typically thanks to the caffeine, but I know there was another reason at work: face time with one of the most inspiring friends I know. The stinky tofu was a product of that, sure, but so were dozen pages of notes, ideas, and the feeling that those three days were some of the most productive—and most inspiring—I’ve had in months.

A New Way to Connect

The Internet enables incredible things.

Within reach of our wifi connection, we can have a conversation with anyone in the world. This kind of communication hasn’t been around for long, but look how quickly it has changed the way we talk—the way we interact—with the people all around us.

The Internet is how I met Mark Powers in the first place. It’s how I’ve met dozens of the people that I now regard as close friends, in fact. We might not share the same home base, but we do share something far more important: goals. Ambitions. And a desire, in this case, to eat some of the strangest food this planet has to offer. Those freaky food adventures were remarkable for two reasons: the weird food itself, sure, and the avalanche of ideas, actions, and goals that came tumbling out every time Mark and I stopped eating long enough to talk.

Magic happens, in other words, whenever we meet (on or offline). That’s true for any of my friends, but it’s especially true for a scattered few that I never could have met without an Internet connection.

And that’s the big takeaway, here, from last week’s weird feast. The Internet enables incredible things. With it, we can meet the people (far and wide!) who inspire us, who strengthen us, and who push us forward. We can meet people with common interests, common concerns, and that same overwhelming desire to live better.

The best part?

We can talk to them. We can email, we can tweet, and we can, later on, clink pints together at a local bar. Their home might be a different corner of the globe, but with the Internet we can connect like we never could before.

In the age of the Internet, we’re never alone. We’re surrounded by inspiration on every corner — and all we have to do is look for it.

Your Homework

1. Find someone who inspires you. Find a person who encourages you, whether by word or action, to live better. If you’ve already met them (on or offline), great! If you haven’t, try these on for size:

You’ll find someone. The Internet makes it hard not to.

2. Engage. Say hello. If you’ve already done that, say hello again. If you can, set up a Skype call and start tossing around ideas. If you’re close enough (and not just geographically), organize a meet-up to share some face time.

When our daily routines invite work, stress, and a whole slew of other distractions, it’s easy to forget the power—the energy—that follows when we spend a little time with someone who just gets it. A thirty-minute Skype call can make a tremendous difference. Even a brief email exchange can leave you both better off.

This is common sense stuff. But even when we’re locked into Twitter, Facebook, etc. every hour of the day, it’s easy to forget how we can use them. It’s easy to forget what the Internet can really do. That list grows by the second, but here’s one that matters: it connects us. For the first time in history, we have easy—immediate—access to a whole slew of people who can make us stronger. For the first time in history, those same people can be scattered wide across the globe.

We just need to connect.

And here’s the good news: you don’t have to eat the stinky tofu.

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