Photo: Jessica Zerby

Photo: Jessica Zerby

“It’s easy to be consumed by negativity in our current climate, but it is so important to accentuate the positive and focus on spreading kindness.  You’ve got to be kind.”  -Ryan


When I opened the Steller Kindness email and found the message nominating Ryan, my first reaction was honest surprise.   I have to confess, the thought hadn't  crossed my mind that someone would nominate a guy.  This is not because I don't know any kind men, but because men’s kindness is rarely highlighted (especially in our current conversations).


Ryan is someone who is truly kind, intentional and caring. I am honored to share his story with you.

Meet Ryan:

Ryan was born in Iowa, but he did most of his growing up in Northfield, MN.   He studied English/Creative writing at MN University Mankato.  

Ryan's friend, Jess, was the one who nominated him to be a part of this project. 


“I have known Ryan for a little over five years. Not only is he one of the most genuinely NICE people I've ever met, he's always that person in the group to BE THERE.” -Jess



First off, I want to give Ryan props for agreeing to be a part of this project.  Picture this: walking in to a salon…that is closed…to chat with someone you have never met...

I am so glad he took the chance.


Ryan had a haircut a couple weeks previous, so instead of chatting “through the mirror” (most of my conversations are by making eye contact, through a mirror…which is a weird concept to me.  Does that still count as “eye contact”?) we sat down in Steller’s waiting area, and started to get to know each other.  I shared with him my intentions around The Steller Kindness Project, and he expressed his heartfelt surprise to have been nominated.  


This conversation led into talking about Jess and the friend group they are a part of.  He had met Jess through her husband, and it was clear that he holds both her and their friendship in high regard.


Photo: Jessica Zerby

Photo: Jessica Zerby


 "I’ve always said that my friends are my true family."


We then took a brief detour to talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  Jess had told me that Ryan was a big Star Wars fan.  This spoke to my soul in a “Force”ful way.  (Connecting is connecting, whether it is on a deep, philosophical level, OR on a level of common interest.)  I was excited to hear that Ryan was a Star Wars fan, because it gave me an “unconventional” idea in how to show my gratitude for how he shows up in the world.

I then read Ryan his nomination letter from Jess.

Watching Ryan’s reaction was subtle and beautiful.  The uncertainty of what was to come from this “interview” melted away, and the heartfelt smile showed that hearing these words of gratitude from Jess had struck something in him. 

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Ryan went on to share that he feels like he receives way more from his friends than he gives to them.  The beauty about authentic kindness is that it is an investment.  When you give kindness, not only does it create a ripple effect around you, it swells and grows within you (remember when you swallowed a watermelon seed and your sibling told you that it would grow into a watermelon plant in your belly? That is how I visualize the growth of kindness, it starts out small, without the intention of growth. Before you know it, you have watermelons coming out of your ears.  Maybe that metaphor only makes sense to me…).

Ryan shared a story of his friend, Ben.  When Ben heard that Ryan was having a tough time, he came over with some brews and they sat and watched stupid shows together.  Ben didn't try to fix Ryan.  He didn't try to solve his problems.  He simply existed with him.  Sometimes just “being” with someone in their sadness is more impactful than any type of problem solving.

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I love asking the question “What is your earliest memory of being impacted by someones kindness?”.
Ryan’s answer made my heart hurt, in the best way possible:

“I don’t recall many people from my early elementary school days, but one that I will never forget is Nick Bauer. I didn’t have many friends when I was younger.  I was the shy, quiet new kid when Nick decided, for whatever reason, to take me under his wing.  He showed me kindness and friendship, even though he had no real reason to.  He was my first true friend and to this day I still think of him fairly often.  I unfortunately fell out of touch with him when my family moved again. I don’t know that he would remember me, but I’ll always remember him.”


Nick’s impact on Ryan stuck.  Does Nick remember being so impactful? Who knows.  

At the end of the day,  this was the interaction that Ryan remembered.  How we treat others matters, no matter our age.  Nick’s kindness in 2nd grade gave Ryan one of his first experiences of quiet kindness.

With all that has been voiced in the past couple months regarding assault, harassment and demanding to be heard,  I was curious to hear Ryan’s thoughts (as a man). 

His response was insightful:

“I think that what we’re seeing right now is a long overdue reckoning.  Men who have been in positions of power for years are now reaping what they have sown after abusing that power and using it as cart blanche to do and say whatever they want.  It is incredibly inspiring to hear their victims find their voices and stand up to the injustices that they faced at their hands.  It’s baffling to me that some men have the temerity to cry persecution in light of this situation.  It’s not about persecution. It’s about being held accountable.”  

As Ryan and I wrapped up our conversation, I had one last thing on my agenda.  I wanted to give him something to recognize him as a good, valuable and important individual.  

I had asked Jess to give me some ideas, I wanted to give Ryan something that would feel meaningful.  She mentioned his love for “Good Scotch”, along with The Amazing Thailand restaurant, and (my favorite) Star Wars.  Her suggestions were more than enough for me to make a plan.   

I picked up a trio of 12yr, 15yr, and 18yr Glenfiddich Scotch (thank you Surdyk’s), and my amazing friend and photographer, Jessica, picked up an Amazing Thailand  giftcard. Since I am a fairly big Star Wars fan (how many Star Wars tattoos makes you a “big fan”? I have 3…) I wanted to include something from the “galaxy far, far away”.

I don’t know about you, but when I was little, the way I showed a friend that they were important to me was to give them one of my toys.  This idea lead me to my parents garage, and my vast Star Wars collection.  After about an hour of digging, I found what I was looking for:  Jabba the Hutt circa 1996. 

I prefaced giving this special gift by saying “this is weird”.  Weird or not, Ryan’s kindness was worth it (for the record, he loved it.  Or, he is just really good at being polite..). 


Photo: Jessica Zerby

What was it like to hear about the impact you’ve had on your friends?

“To say that I was floored would be an understatement.  It was an incredibly humbling and heartwarming experience.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have amazing people at my side through every stage of my life.  They have shown me love and compassion at every turn, especially at the times when I’ve needed it most.  I’ve always said that my friends are my true family, and this experience has certainly reaffirmed that.” -Ryan