Karen Lomas
May 29, 2014

Can you change your life in 50 coffees?


I love the idea of calling someone up and suggesting a different coffee shop around Melbourne to meet for a chat about life, politics (very pertinent topic in Australia in light of the proposed changes to funding arrangements, for tertiary education), and career change. Transitions can be hard to navigate. They can be thrown at us by many a varied life-stage, occupational, or random event. Alternatively we may make a pragmatic decision to shake things up and walk away from a job that makes us groan at the thought every waking moment.

I am sharing this great article by Nora Elphick, from The Daily News. Follow the links to the blog by Lindsay Rotowsky, Editor of the Fifty Coffees Project.

Lindsay Ratowsky, creator of the 'Fifty Coffees' project.Lindsay Ratowsky, creator of the ‘Fifty Coffees’ project. Photo: Lindsay Ratowsky

Most adults chug down at least one coffee a day and while there may have been a few breathtaking mochas or drip filters in the mix, the daily coffee usually wouldn’t be called life changing. However, one 31-year-old Brooklyn-based woman is using her caffeine fix to a much more productive and interesting ends.

In February, Lindsay Ratowsky set up the website Fifty Coffees, a beautifully photographed and thoughtfully written series of posts where she organises casual meet-ups with inspirational individuals to figure out ‘what next?’ in her own life plan. Ratowsky had been working for non-profit organisation Charity: Water when she realised she was looking to reroute her career path, but like many she wasn’t quite sure where to start.

“Right before starting the blog, through a series of conversations with my manager I came to a decision that the role I was in was not going in a direction that I was excited about,” says Ratowsky about her state of transition. “I was peering over this ledge and once I took the jump [to leave] it was really freeing. I got excited about the potential of what was next, but I wanted to be clear about what direction I wanted to go in. Up to that point I think I had been quite reactive to career options and I wanted to be proactive about this one. So starting a blog was an exercise in structuring an unstructured moment of my life. At the end of the day the only one who can decide what I should do next is me. But I do place a lot of faith in the community that surrounds me.”

She decided to tap into the collective knowledge of friends, acquaintances and strangers by setting up 50 meetings with out-of-the-ordinary people to pick their brains for career and life advice. “I’ve been introduced to really impressive people who are busy but are taking time out of their day to meet with me because they think this project is cool,” says Ratowsky. So far she’s sat down with entrepreneurs, artists and health gurus with the conversations functioning as a fascinating insight into the creative mind, as well as a search for pearls of work wisdom.

The concept of taking such ‘informational interviews’ is not a new one and was first coined in the classic 1970 job-hunting guide What Color is Your Parachute?. However the idea of putting a number on how many meetings is the optimal amount is a much more recent twist, with Peter Thomson’s 2013 viral business article in Inc. recommending taking 50 coffees before making a major life change.

“I assumed someone had done a project like this prior to me,” explains Ratowsky. “I started Googling and was surprised to see that no one had taken the meetings and documented the process. That was the jumping-off point.” The casual get-togethers can happen in a cafe or be something much more freewheeling such as taking a tour through a friend’s hat factory. “There’s a great TED talk on the origin of the coffee shop and how in England they were places where people came together to discuss ideas. And so for me it is more of an abstract metaphorical idea than a literal one.”

Ratowsky is approximately halfway through the interviewing portion of the project which will most likely take months to complete, but has already stumbled upon many pieces of advice that have led her to reconsider her future plans. She says that one of the reasons looking to others for counsel about one’s own life can be so helpful is that it can put a damper on the internal storm of subjectivity and provide a fresh perspective. So far the most life-altering aha moments she’s gleaned include whether one can better deal with a loss of security or a loss of freedom in their chosen occupation, the importance of setting specific goals and the simple trick of listing one’s life non-negotiables to find a job that fits around them.

While committing to 50 coffees might seem like a mammoth task, Ratowsky feels for even the average person that doing something similar on a smaller scale can still be beneficial when considering a major life shift. “Meeting with other minds can get you out of the cyclical thought processes we replay in our own heads, spark ideas, reinforce a sense of confidence and tip you off to a new idea that could possibly change your trajectory.”

And her project is not only having ramifications in Ratowsky’s life, but also in other unexpected ways. “A couple of weeks ago I went out for coffee and ended up hearing about my friend’s personal life story, pieces that I didn’t know about. At the end of the conversation he said, ‘Thank you for doing this project. It’s great for you, but it’s also great for the 50 people you sit down with, because your vulnerabilities empower other people to be vulnerable.’ And that felt really powerful.”

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