reading: Love Does

When I was in college, my best friend was a girl named Taryn who was a nursing major. This means that when we’d plan to hang out, it meant we’d go to a coffeeshop or the library and we would study together. More specifically, I would stare aimlessly into business books, daydreaming and watching for cute basketball players, while Taryn would memorize anatomy.

One day, we were sitting in the university library together when a guy named Steve rolled up. He had gone to high school with Taryn. He sat down with us. “I met Superman!” he announced. He could hardly contain himself. So enthusiastic. He rambled on about this business law professor who had gotten filthy rich from suing buildings for being built two inches past their legal boundary lines. Then he would go to India and save girls from slavery and prostitution. Steve had set up a meeting with this guy for some reason, and was ecstatic to take his class in a year and a half because Bob Goff only taught business law in the spring. Well, my schedule was open, so I signed up for the following semester.

I took business law my sophomore year, even though it was an upper level class and my class was mostly juniors and seniors. This was a win because there were a few notable basketball players in that class, and taking class with the right group is second only to choosing the right professor, when it comes to college class strategy.

Every class, Bob would walk in and immediately begin updating us on what was going on in India. It was like we were getting the inside scoop. And then we would talk about law, and he’d joke about how his greatest fear was getting served, or sued, if being an international diplomat meant he could kill someone with no consequences, and whether oral contracts are binding, which I don’t remember. He also talked a lot about Rat-Dog and Sweet Maria, his poodle and his wife, respectively.

On the night before a test, he invited us over to his house on the San Diego harbor. It is so lovely. Rat-Dog was much cuter than what Bob had let on. Sweet Maria literally made fresh cookies for us, huge plates of them. It honestly felt like being in a movie, like it was too staged, but that’s Bob’s style – make a scene, because scenes are memorable. So since it was a “study session” he would talk through all the main points that would be covered on the test. You had to be an idiot to not come to this study night, because it was like he had just written the test and was going over the answers on it – we would all ace tests after study night.

He also told us to come over any time and borrow their kayaks. I honestly think he meant it. Would you stop by the house of a professor you had seven years ago and cash in on an offer to borrow some kayaks? It’s very tempting.

In class, he told us the story of the guy who walked up to his back porch on the harbor one day and asked to borrow Bob’s yard to propose to his girlfriend. It’s a great story, and you should read in in Bob’s book, Love Does. Anyway, Bob told us that the guy was a student at Point Loma, my school, and Bob decided that he needed to get involved, so he offered to teach business law, and without getting paid.

Around the time I took Bob’s class, there was a book called Blue Like Jazz that was really popular around campus. The author, Donald Miller, spoke in our chapel a few times. And a few years later, he wrote another book that included stories about his friend, Bob Goff. Of course they would be friends. I’ve always wondered how it was they first got connected, and when, because I imagine it must have been after I was out of Bob’s class. If not, surely Bob would have mentioned his friend Don.

I just finished reading Bob’s book, and it’s the first time I’ve read a book and known that the author wasn’t making up names for “his friend who had this-or-that happen” because some of the characters went to my school and we’re friends on Facebook. It was funny to re-read stories that were told in class, or hear more details about something. Even some stuff from Donald Miller’s book got light shed on it.

For example, Bob’s decision to write his memories. I think I first heard of that in a Donald Miller book, but I don’t think it was totally clear that the person who did it was Bob Goff and not a different guy. But it sounded like him. I’ve recently taken it up – in fact, much of this blog post is my memories of Bob. Sort of meta!

So now, for more about the book: Love Does had me crying. I think I knew from the back cover text that this book would “disrupt” by life as I knew it. I always have underlying passions that are limited by fear, and it usually just takes a few stories about people who overcame odds for me to face mine as well. That is what this book is.

The chapter that really got me was the one about a guy who created VIA for Starbucks, 20 years ago. Think about that, the company has been sitting on that product for that long. VIA wasn’t released until after its creator died of cancer. Why did this story catch me on such a deep level? First, he didn’t create VIA *for* Starbucks – he made it for himself and friends who went hiking and needed instant coffee but wanted it to taste good. He then showed it to Starbucks, who hired him to make all their new products. Some failed, some succeeded. You know, there’s a trend in online conversations today about “make your own luck” or Seth Godin’s “Lynchpin” concept that includes giving something away for free. I think sometimes we, I, only focus on taking logical steps, that get us from A to B. We miss out on discoveries that come from getting sidetracked.

But wasn’t VIA a total failure? It wasn’t even sold in this guy’s lifetime. But, it did get him a cool job. I don’t know, I think sometimes we have to think like artists and make our “Opus,” our proudest moment, our finest creation – and assume it will not be appreciated in our lifetime. We’ve got to make it for other reasons. What would we create differently, if we thought about it that way?

Lastly, Bob talks a bit about his work in Uganda in his book. When I took his class, he mostly talked about India, but I think he had already started working in Uganda at that time. When I finished college with a business degree, I had come to the absolute conclusion that I didn’t want a business job. In fact, I had been to Africa once (Liberia, summer 2007) and I sort of wanted to move there. To do what, it didn’t matter. After my two-week trip to Liberia, I had a lot of trouble actually adjusting to life in the US – they call this reverse culture shock. There was a lot of guilt. I didn’t really think that me going to Africa would help anyone there, but at least I wouldn’t have to look at the ridiculous running water here and wonder why we bothered making it and what it was actually useful for, because people in Africa did just fine without. When I read about the great things Bob+friends do in Uganda, I still sort of wonder if I should go.

But I think we each are given dreams and passions. Stealing Bob’s would be the easy way out, an escape. It’s wonderful, but it’s not mine. I hope that makes sense. Luckily, another piece of advice from Bob can help us moving forward: “Say yes to everything.” It’s not so much that people are throwing offers at me, because they sure aren’t, but every so often I am hit with an idea so ridiculous that I think it would be best to write it on a piece of paper and bury it in the yard so nobody will ever see. That’s when I know I’m onto something, and I must act.