Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making the Suspended Coffees movement what it is. Little did I know three years ago how passionate I would become.
Three years ago, I was depressed, lonely and completely unhappy with who I was as a person. I was married to a beautiful wife and had four amazing children, yet something important was missing: I had no purpose, and I wasn’t passionate about anything. I thought I had nothing to offer the world. As I write this just 4 days away from that exact moment three years ago, I reflect on the crazy journey I’ve been on these last three years.
Today I sit here as someone who has earned respect, whether it’s from the people I work with, or the audiences I speak in front of all over the world, telling them what I’m passionate about. Yet three years ago, I couldn’t look one person in the eye with any sort of confidence; I couldn’t even look myself in the eye. In the last 3 years I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people, telling them my story about how I started a social movement at 2.30 a.m. on the 27th of March, 2013. So how did I get here?
I’m not going to sugar coat any of this; I’m just going to be as authentically honest as I promise to be every day I wake up. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is John M. Sweeney. I’m the founder and Chief Kindness Officer of a worldwide social movement called Suspended Coffees. I’m a kindness coach and international speaker. Yet three years ago I was nobody; I didn’t feel like I mattered to the world, let alone myself. I dreamed of one day being rich, either through winning the lotto or by just getting lucky. But I was chasing the wrong goals in life. I was chasing someone else’s dream.
When I was eight years old I quickly realised my teachers picked me out from the others, not because I was such a wonderful academic, but because I was always a bit different. People loved to talk to me and I loved to make people smile. This got me in a lot of trouble in school. I was just as likely to be taught maths, as I was to be punched in my back or in the side of the head. As soon as other kids saw my teachers doing this, they thought they could join in. I was beaten up almost daily and one particular time I was nearly killed when three guys held my hands behind my back while one guy punched me in the throat. This was when I was 11. I had a similar experience in secondary school where one day, because it was my birthday, a load of guys beat me up to the point of being knocked out and not knowing what happened.
This is just a tiny account of my childhood, so you can better understand the impact all of this had on me growing up. I’ve always felt scared and not good enough. I left school at 15, on the advice of my teachers, to become a plumber, even though I wanted to stay in school and study social science. I always tell people this was such a bad decision for me personally, but it was even worse for the poor people’s homes I flooded; I was a crap plumber, and lost more money than I ever made. But how could I be good at something that I wasn’t passionate about?
When I say I thought I’d no value as a person I mean it. This resulted in me making friends with people who really didn’t care about me, people who would just use me and take advantage of me for their own reasons. When you think your value is nothing, you end up surrounding yourself with people who think the same. When I started Suspended Coffees, I knew nothing about online stuff really. I didn’t even drink coffee. I thought it would be something I could hide behind so that I wouldn’t be bullied and put down anymore. For the first year and a half I hid behind a computer screen because I still surrounded myself with people who didn’t value me. During this time I was taken advantage of countless times, bullied, blackmailed, belittled, and completely let down by some people I thought I could trust. I made some great decisions and some huge mistakes. But also during this time I was shown something; I was shown that I may actually be someone with a gift. People I’d never met bought me a much needed computer, and complete strangers helped me build a movement that would change the world. One that started with the idea of sharing coffee with the less fortunate, but which would quickly move towards connecting the world with kindness and would have a profound impact on people’s lives.
A year and a half in to this I started to believe in myself. I overcame huge fears. I spoke in public for the first time on the 22nd of October 2014 in Guernsey. This was where I shared my story for the first time, and had an amazing reaction from the audience; one that planted a seed that maybe I had something special. I qualified as a life coach and cried my eyes out for about an hour on the 16th floor of City Bank in London where it happened. I spoke at UN World Happiness day in Dublin on the 20th of March 2015, even though I was terrified. I spoke at TEDx seven days later, exactly 2 years to the day since I launched Suspended Coffees – the 27th of March 2015. Then for two months afterwards I cried because I spoke at TEDx about the importance of being kind to yourself and yet I still wasn’t doing that for myself. Then, something magical happened: a guy I’d only met a few months earlier, A.J. Leon, invited me to America to speak at an event called Misfit Con.
I’d never been to America and I’d no idea how much it would change my life. The morning of my talk I cried and cried, because I was so afraid, so afraid of being myself. I was to give a fifteen minute talk in front of real world changers, over 180 people who are collectively changing the world in the most amazing of ways. I was shaking. Five minutes into my talk the organisers stopped the clock, because they knew this wasn’t the talk I had planned. For 40 minutes I spoke from my heart. I shared my fears and worries with a room full of strangers and, for over 20 minutes of my talk, I cried my eyes out to them. I said I was afraid to be me, I was afraid for my wife and kids, I was afraid to ask anyone for anything. That talk and those people changed my life. Up to that point I’d always worried what people thought of me. Right there and then I lost some of those fears. I received a standing ovation and everyone in the room chipped in to raise over $2200 dollars to help me and my family create a better life for us.
On the 22nd of October, exactly one year to the day I’d spoke in public for the first time, along with some of my Misfit Con friends Jane and Gigi, I hosted the world’s first 24-hour virtual event focussed on shining a light on kindness and generosity. We had some amazing speakers like Orly Wahba, Matthew Emerzian, Rich Specht, and the lady I got to kick it all off was the beautiful Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the book and film Pay It Forward; the film, starring Helen Hunt and Keven Spacey, had been played at the end of my very first talk in public, exactly one year before.
The following month I went to speak in Philadelphia at a non-profit called RHD who work with people experiencing homelessness. I gave a talk to clients and staff and conducted some workshops to help them incorporate more kindness in the workplace, and also into their personal lives. The staff told me that what I did has actually changed their lives and the clients, who were people going through extreme hardship, told me my story and message was inspirational to them. While I was there, the people from Facebook Stories came and filmed me for a couple of days, because Facebook want to tell my story of how I connected the world with kindness. Amazing right?
My visit to RHD
I’ve since been back to Guernsey to conduct the World’s Boldest Ever Kindness Experiment. I got to do another TEDx there. I purposely didn’t rehearse this talk because I wanted it to be from the heart. One mother messaged me afterwards to say that her son’s life has completely changed since hearing me speak. She said I was his life changing moment.
And just this last Sunday, exactly one year to the day after I gave my second ever talk in public in Dublin for World Happiness Day, I spoke on the Expanded Consciousness Facebook Live platform to over 35,000 people, live.
So, right now I’m not 100% sure what the future holds, but for the first time in my life I’m really excited; I have purpose, I have passion and I’ve finally realised I’ve a gift. So a sincere thank you to my dear wife, kids and family, my beautiful volunteers (friends), my worldwide family – the Suspended Coffees community, and my followers on John M. Sweeney. I told them I was writing this blog and I asked them to comment about the impact I’ve had on their lives. Here are just four of their responses:
Pamela H – I’ve spent the last two years beating breast cancer and dealing with reconstruction. Some days it was hard to keep perspective, especially with all the negative news that’s out there. You help me remember that keeping my chin up and recognizing the good in the world is more important than some of my small problems.
Debra B – John, I’m not exaggerating when I say you have saved my life. Literally. Just knowing you were there, doing what you do, made my very solitary hours bearable. Thank you.
Rose P – You have made me realise that I am not abnormal and that caring and being kind is part of my life and that I should celebrate this. I love the work you do and am proud to know you. Thanks for being there.
Mary F – Your posts and TEDtalks and sharings remind me that there is still good in the world. They have helped me through my nephew’s heroin overdose in 2015 and help now, with all the sadness in Belgium.
Finally I would like to thank all the people who have ever screwed me over, because if you hadn’t shown me what it is that I don’t want in my life, I wouldn’t know what it is that I do want.
None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for people I’ve never even met, believing in me when I dared to not believe in myself. You can’t let other people get you down. As I say in my talks, remove negative people from your life, raise the rent and kick them out. I’ve learnt the hard way how much people like to put you down. But you can never control what other people say or think, if they say something negative about you then it’s actually a reflection of their own insecurities. You’re a mirror for them which is reflecting something they hate about themselves.
I get a lot of attention outside of Ireland for what I do, but I get a lot of grief for it here. For example, I’ve given talks all over the world, I’ve spoken at two TEDx events, I’ve been featured in the Huffington Post, NPR, Upworthy; I’ve also been written about in two award winning books, Our Generous Gene and How to Be a Leader, where the entire first chapter was about me, and many more, but I’ve received loads of negativity from certain people here. It took me a long time to understand it, but what I’ve come to realize is that they’re bitter about their own lives, because something is missing. They’re jealous, and if they actually thought about turning that jealousy in to a passion, it would be a much better thing to do. They would be far better for it.
Someone remarked to me lately, that kindness is just something soft and fluffy but I know 100% that couldn’t be further from the truth. Kindness has not only changed my life, it’s saved it. I’ve put more kindness out into the world in the last three years than most people have had hot dinners. I know for a fact it’s changed the world, and bettered countless people’s lives. I’ll leave you all with this quote from Maya Angelou.
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”
If my story has touched you in anyway, can I ask that you share it so that someone somewhere in your news feed may also have the chance to draw inspiration from it?
PS – I’m hatching a huge plan to take everything I’m doing to another level. First I want to know that I have your support. If I promise to change the world, will you help me? If the answer is yes, sign up here, and all will be revealed in the very near future!
Misfit Con 2015
Featured image credit Jonah Lenfestey