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Cindy Putnam McMillion

I had an “extrovert” job for a lot of years as an elementary school teacher, but finally, this past June, I got the opportunity to make a change. I was so exhausted from years of running at full speed, interacting, leading, and dealing with parents, kids, and administrators that it took a few months for me to recover. Once I was out of the school system, I began to wonder what I could do that would be a good match for my introverted nature. I wanted it to be just as meaningful as my teaching career was. And I wanted to combine some of my interests—writing and photography—with my belief that everyone has a story. My favorite website was Humans of New York (HONY), so I thought, “Hmmm, I could do something like that.” I created a website and a Facebook page and called my new project “Connecting Memphis.”

Once in a while, someone will find the page and contact me for an interview, but almost 100% of the time, it’s me contacting them. Many of the people I interview and photograph are just people I see on the street. I go up to them, tell them what I’m doing, ask for a photo and a brief interview, and let them say yes or no. I like to talk to people one‐on‐one, and I’ve gotten a lot of great interviews, but it can be really, really hard to get up my nerve to approach total strangers and start a conversation. I’m always glad I did, but because I’m such an introvert, it’s a challenge. Why do it then if it’s hard? Well, I’ve found that people are not intimidated by me and are often willing to share very meaningful stories. I love the experience of posting those stories for others to read. I think seeing that we all have much in common helps break down barriers and encourages us to treat each other with more compassion. Doing this is one way of honoring the amazing people among us who walk around disguised as ordinary humans.

I have to admit that there are many days when I go out with my camera and notebook, and I just cannot bring myself to talk to a single person. I just can’t do it that day, and I turn around and go back home, feeling like I’m a failure and that I’ll never be able to do it again. When I have one of those days, my husband always says, “That’s okay…You’ll do it next time.” He encourages me and helps me to not sink too low. I need a lot of time to get psyched up before I go out to talk to people and then a lot of time to recharge after I’m done, but the more I do it, the more I think it’s a good match for me. I love hearing people’s stories.