I wasn’t quite sure how to start this. I sit here in my office thinking back to where this journey began. I’m thinking to myself, “How much should I share? Should I really tell the world my inner most thoughts?” I’m also thinking about what a whirlwind of emotions this has been. I think if I’m to be true to myself, I need to be completely honest. As my wife said to me this time last year, “All we have to our name is our story.”
I’ll begin with a little of who I am and what I do. My name is John M. Sweeney and I’m the founder of a social movement called Suspended Coffees. I’m also an AC accredited coach, and to the best of my knowledge, the world first kindness coach. I’m very proud to call myself a husband and father. For most of my life, 28+ years to be precise, I had no purpose, no belief in myself as a human being. I’d had more jobs than I could count and more knock backs than I ever wanted to remember. From a young age I’d always known my mission was to make people happy; it’s the only thing that ever mattered to me.
Two and a half years ago I was unemployed, stressed and extremely unhappy. I had no purpose. But on March 27th, 2013 at 2.30 a.m., I read about an old tradition called café sospeso or ‘suspended coffee’, which originated in the working class cafes in Naples, Italy. You buy a cup of coffee for yourself and one for a stranger, as an act of kindness – a means of paying it forward. The idea instantly hit me and I knew it was something I could get behind.
I grew up feeling alone, so this really meant something to me. I immediately got out of bed and did some research, but I found nothing. That gave me the inspiration to launch a Facebook page. I set a goal of getting a few people to like it, perhaps getting a few local cafés onboard, and creating the community I’d always dreamed of, one where kindness was at the heart of everything. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing or where it was going, but I believed in it more than I believed in myself.
Today we have over 2,000 cafes actively promoting the concept across 34 different countries, a following of over 300,000 people, and nearly 20 volunteers working to towards growing the movement. We’ve directly and indirectly touched the lives of millions.
However, it hasn’t been easy. It’s been the greatest battle of my life. I’ve been running this while I’ve had my electric disconnected three times in one year, struggled to put food on our table, battled with depression, and even had suicidal thoughts. I’ve had to care for my wife who was extremely unwell with the same issues. I hid behind a computer screen because I was terrified to trust anyone. I’ve felt like I didn’t have a friend in the world even though I was running a movement which embraced friendship and promoted the importance of kindness, all the while being unkind to myself.
I was stressed, scared and lonely. In some cases, those I thought cared most about us were actually bringing us down. Anytime we caught a break or things went well, they would make sure they brought us crashing back down to earth.
At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of kindness, in my life and most importantly to myself. In the last 2 1/2 years, although I’ve experienced really traumatic events, amazing things have also happened. I’ve had a complete stranger pay for me to become a fully qualified coach. I’ve been flown to America to speak in front of incredibly influential people. I’ve spoken at TEDx where I asked Bressie, Ed Sheeran, and Ellen to meet for coffee. I’ve also made lifelong friends and learned a tremendous amount along the way.
Here is a little of what I’ve learned and I feel would be the best advice I could give someone starting out in business.
Ask the right people for help, if you need it. Having a trusted inner circle is critical. A good leader knows their strengths, but they also know their weaknesses and aren’t afraid to admit that.
Learn to use your intuition. It will become your greatest strength.
Create a mission statement and use it when you don’t know what direction to go. It’s any business’s greatest strength.
Most importantly – be kind to everyone, especially yourself. This is something we fundamentally underestimate the importance of, and it will mean the difference between success and failure.
Know what resources you can utilize locally
Think strategically, don’t act on impulse!
Be mindful of who you share your vision with
Surround yourself with like-minded people
Negativity breeds negativity. Think about the people you have around you. Do they lift you up or bring you down? If someone tells you every time you meet them how beautiful you look, you will feel beautiful. If someone tells you how bad you look you’ll feel bad. Be very selective about the repetitive voices you surround yourself with because they have a lasting impact.
In a nutshell. Be positive. Be passionate. Be bold. Be kind.
If you’ve the time, watch my recent TEDx on Why Kindness Matters