Some people gain wisdom from a long life; Megan Gebhart got hers from drinking 52 cups of coffee with complete strangers.
You may remember meeting Gebhart on this blog a few months back. She was about half way through her “52 Cups of Coffee” experiment. You know – the one where she shares a cup of java, green tea or what have you with someone she interviews. Pretty impressive idea out of a 22-year-old Michigan State University senior, huh?
Well, it’s a year later. She’s graduated. She experienced the glory of being all hyped up on caffeine. And she’s learned a ton along the past year. Gebhart wrapped up “52 Cups” with her last swigs in December, so I thought it was a good time to catch up and get a sense of what she learned. Her project combines great writing, strong interviewing skills and an online look into her psyche – everything I want from a blog and more.
To be blunt, Gebhart said all of those conversations led her to one great lesson: Life is uncertain, so just relax and enjoy the ride. Her many adventures taught her, through the experiences of others, that there isn’t much people can throw at you that you cannot handle. And if there is something that threatens to weigh you down, then your family and friends will support you in every way.
“I talked to so many people, and the story was always the same. ‘I was doing this, and then something unexpected happened. And I made it through,’” Gebhart said. “For some people, the industry they worked in crumbled and they lost their jobs. For some, it was the death of a loved one. For others, it was an unexpected pregnancy or sexual abuse. … They all got hit with these things, but they found a way through it.
“I heard that repeatedly: ‘You can get through it.’ Life won’t throw you anything that you cannot fix,” Gebhart continued. “That wasn’t something I realized overnight, and it’s still developing.”
In other words, every time something ends, something else begins? Yup.
“A giant part of ‘52 Cups’ was my transformation from start to finish. When I started the project I was trying to hide it from myself – I was nervous about what the future held, the uncertainty. I wanted to do everything right to ensure that future was OK. I was very concerned with making the right choice – that there was ONE right choice.
“By the 52nd interview, I realized that there isn’t that right answer; especially because life can be unpredictable. It’s about making the best of every experience. The thing that I’m the most grateful for now is that I have no idea what the future will bring. That paralyzed me before. Now I have this relaxed confidence that if you really figure what you want to do and you have the courage to pursue it and you do the best that you can the opportunities will align themselves. That I should dive in, and the future will be all right.”
Whether you are 14 or 45 or 95, I’m guessing that pretty much sums it up.
As an aside, I just finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot,” and I mentioned it to Gebhart as a potential read for her as well. To pitifully summarize the plot, the book is about that awkward time between college graduation and your first job. You may be ending relationships that sustained you for (hopefully) four years. You feel like you’re making decisions that will affect you for the rest of your life. You feel like mistakes, no matter how small, are monumental and will mark you for life.
But you’re not. And they won’t. And it’s just one more day in (hopefully again) a very, very, very long life.
“The end was just the beginning,” Gebhart explained. “I accomplished something by setting out to do this project and then finishing it. Now I have to put into practice what I learned and figure out what the next step is.”
So what’s next for Gebhart? Despite her fears, she has done very well. She did travel and got to see some of the world. Then, she landed a job with Michigan State’s Alumni Association. She now travels around the nation, meeting young alumni. She’ll be back in Michigan for a month or so starting today, so if you see her, say howdy.
Thanks to Megan and her 52 Cups. It was a voyage worth savoring.