Sean Gardner is a man who is not afraid to dream big; the first person Sean followed on Twitter in 2009 was Barack Obama. The rush of excitement Sean felt when Barack followed him back marked the moment when he knew that connecting people via social media was an incredibly powerful act capable of evoking both emotion and action. That feeling that you could connect with anyone, anywhere in the world, via social media was almost more powerful than the actual connection itself. It didn't matter whether the person that followed him back was actually Barack, or if it was the White House social media intern, what mattered was that social media offered limitless opportunity to potentially connect with anyone, anywhere, in the world.
Six years and 850k twitter followers later, Sean has not only created his own social media empire of loyal social media cohorts, he has also created numerous impactful social media campaigns such as the "Huffington Post Twitter Powerhouses Series" showcasing newsmakers and avid philanthropists, as well as connecting hundreds of people to help them achieve their dreams, all the while working odd jobs to make ends meet while building his career in social media. Finally in 2013, all his hard work paid off as he landed the #1 spot in Forbes' The Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers of the year.
In a world where we are inundated constantly with a plethora of ideas and messages, varying from great to mediocre, we can no longer rely on fact checking mechanisms to be in place to ensure accuracy and/or quality of the content we are exposed to. Instead what we can rely on is being part of a social media world built on the primary tenet of immediacy, a world fully equipped with technical algorithms designed to surface popular content, succinct tastemaker messages created within a 140 character limit, vertical images disappearing within 24 hours, swipes motivated by headlines and photos, and optimization based on monetization.
Social media is an arena filled with creators and consumers. For the creators, circulation of content is not about the quality of their messages, nor is it about whether they are an expert or not, it is about the effectiveness of the publication platform, knowing who their audience is, and managing the publication lifecycle of their message in a way that maximize impressions resulting in the greatest impact - This is Sean Gardner's arena.
When did your dream become a part of your waking life?
"Your true passion should feel like breathing; it's that natural." - Oprah Winfrey
Sean's true passion is connecting people to help them produce the greatest possible impact for bettering humanity - issue after issue, block after block, city after city. There is nothing he'd rather be doing. He stays up late at night and instead of dreaming about change, he actively does everything in his power to help others stay motivated to keep moving their philanthropic agenda's forward. The causes he supports are limitless, ranging from marriage equality, to global warming, to advancing minorities in the work place, to many more. Sean loves learning about new social media tools and then sharing his learnings with others.
"[I]f you've been successful in your chosen path, then sending the elevator back down is your obligation." - Kevin Spacey
When I asked Sean for three pivotal moments that made his heart pound and changed the path of his journey, these are the ones he shared with me:
The Federal Halfway House. Tacoma Washington, 2009. Graveyard shift. Every night the same routine. Every night less motivating than the last. Is this it? Is this what the next year of his life was going to look like? And the one after that? One night while midnight neared, while he was walking down the silent half-lit gloomy hallway, Sean Gardner was having it no more. He stopped in his tracks and made a mental list of his dreams and what his dream life looked like. He walked forward slowly, one foot in front of the other, as he dreamed of being surrounded by people who inspire, people who wanted to change the world for the better. His heart started to pound so loudly in his chest that he was sure the beats bounced off the silent cold walls waking up everything around him. It was that night he came up with his two year escape plan from his disheartened world lacking in inspiration. Is this it? It was only the beginning.
The Taj Mahal. Agre, India, 2015. Sean stood there in silence while visions of his six year old self reciting an oral report about the Taj Mahal in grammar school in Washington, DC, flashed in the forefront of his mind. He never imagined that small boy would wind up here, as a result of a business trip, doing what he loved. It was hard to process through his cloudy tear filled eyes. Magnificent, magnificent, magnificent. There he was. As the tears fell slowly down his cheek, he saw clearly for the first time in years. His heart pounded as he stood in the presence of the monument of love, the white marble of the mausoleum, adorned with intricate earthly carvings, crowned by a crescent moon whose horns pointed to heaven, against the backdrop of the blue sky truly making it the crown of palaces. There he was. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
The City Streets. Belgrade, Serbia, 2015. Street art. His fingers slowly moved across the spray-painted lettering. Where he was from, street art was indicative of the spirit of who you were, and where you came from. It was representative of your motivations and reflective of what you had to say. We were all connected. Here he was almost 6,000 miles from home and as he looked at the street art, the art reflected back at him the same spirit as the art back home. The reds, the greens, the blues, and the black lines interwoven together creating bold statements, fueled by the same passions as the paint strokes created half way around the world. We were all connected. We all had something to say.
The most remarkable part of a dream is when it transitions into being a new truth in your waking life, allowing new dreams to take its place.
Follow Sean on Twitter to learn social media best practices and follow along on his next dream journey.
Cheers, until next time.