Chris Hope was lost.
It was December 2016 and for the first time in his life, he’d had a bad year.
His relationship was floundering. He had a secure job and good career prospects. But he felt empty.
His life lacked purpose. He was missing connection.
“I was the kid at primary school who prided myself on knowing every one of my classmates’ names.
My values had always been around human connection. Getting to know people. Listening to them. Helping where I could.”
But in adulthood, Chris realised, things were different.
“One of the main things that has changed since I was younger is that people value convenience over connection. We use the self-checkout at the supermarket. We order our shopping online. We want food delivered to the door,” he said.
Chris’ lifestyle had become built around a routine that was comfortable. The problem was – comfort was never something he truly valued. He needed a shake-up.
From this realisation, the 100 Coffees Project was born.
The rules were simple: 100 coffees. 100 strangers. One coffee per week.Could a weekly latte with LinkedIn contacts he’d never met, help fill the void?
“I was nervous heading into the first few coffees,” he said. “I honestly wasn’t sure how it would go. I’d never done anything like this before.”
It wasn’t until coffee number four that something clicked. The woman who sat opposite, Steph, worked in a senior financial role. And while the chat started in a similar vein to the first three coffees – she soon asked a question he will never forget.
What are your personal values and how do they align with what you do in your life?
“That was a lightbulb moment that changed my whole life,” Chris said.
He went home, grabbed a pen and paper and drew a table. Across the top he wrote the things he was doing in his life. Down the side he wrote the values he wanted to live by. There were eight.
- I am kind
- I am making a difference in the world
- I am always learning
- I am inclusive and treat all people with respect
- I challenge myself and don’t sit inside a comfort zone
- I cherish friends, family and positive people
- I am honest
- I enjoy life
The grid before him confirmed what he already knew. There wasn’t a lot of crossover between the doing and the values columns.
The exercise also gave the 100 coffees project a direction. He wanted to know how people lived by their values.
What followed were 100 lattes in 87 different cafes across seven countries.
He heard stories of facing fears, finding inspiration, creating change and personal reinvention. Perhaps most importantly, he heard stories of people staying rooted to their values.
That’s not to say all the coffees were life-changing. Some went for over three hours and some went for less than 20 minutes.
“I remember one coffee where the man who sat opposite me barely drew breath as he talked about himself for 17 and a half minutes,” Chris recalled. “The coffee lasted 18 minutes.
But walking out of the café I reflected and promised myself that I’d always try to listen more than I talked. So in that sense, it was 18 minutes well spent.”
Then there was the corporate executive who agreed to meet only to cancel after making Chris wait 45 minutes in the lobby of his city office.
“It was 3:30pm on Friday and I hadn’t had a chance to organise another coffee,” Chris recalled.
“Amid a mild freak-out at the prospect of missing my first week since the project began, I frantically looked up at the receptionist and asked him if he wanted a coffee.
So coffee number 80 was with James the receptionist.”
As he worked his way through the 100 coffees project, Chris felt a tangible change.
“I had more energy and enthusiasm in what I was doing - in where I was going,” he said. “Meeting new people and having meaningful conversations will do that.”
Not to mention making a lot of new friends. He still talks to 30-40 people he met along his coffee journey.
As for Steph and the question that quite literally changed his life?
“I actually caught up with her two weeks ago. I told her, ‘you’ll never understand how important that question was for me at the time.’
For me it was more than career advice. It was everything. I didn’t apply it to the career lens. I applied it to the life lens.”