DO SOMETHING FOR NOTHING
Joshua Coombes, a hairstylist from London. After a dark period of loss, he questioned who he was and what he wanted to do with the remainder of his life. Drawn to the feeling he experienced with people in his salon chair, he wondered if that connection could be expanded beyond his work. Then one day, he was chatting on the street with a man who was homeless. Joshua spontaneously offered him a haircut. He recalls, “That empty feeling I felt changed. The moment kinda turned on a tap, and this other kind of happiness started flowing in.” And Joshua became positively addicted to acts of kindness.
Soon he began documenting each person’s story on Instagram using the hashtag #dosomethingfornothing. Fast- forward just a couple years (and hundreds of haircuts). The Washington Post has dubbed Joshua the “globe-trotting hair- dresser who helps homeless people look sharp,” but that’s just scratching the surface, because his work is really about connection and dignity. About truly seeing people (who are often ignored) and listening intently to their stories (which usually go untold).
I recently had an inspiring chat with Joshua. Serendipitously, our call was planned for July 4: Me in New York, him in the U.K. Amusingly, I realized that almost 250 years ago our relatives would have been duking it out about the rights of individuals, struggling over how to disconnect. (Admittedly, the July 4 holiday carries mixed feelings for me, as I find that the celebration of freedom and independence can be a shiny layer over a dark foundation of war, cruelty, pain, privilege, and nationalism. But speaking with Joshua on July 4 was particularly meaningful. And shortly after our call, as if on cue, my Christian yogini friend Shelley phoned to wish me “Happy Interdependence Day.” Deeper perspective, indeed.)
In contrast to our forebears, Joshua and I connected excitedly across the pond (and airwaves) on the topics of punk rock, spirituality, and what it means to be connected. He prefaced:
"I don’t come from a background of any particular religion or even much of a value system, per se, not one that was packaged up for me in any way. But I was very lucky. I grew up with a hell of a lot of love and I think that’s the part I never overlook. I definitely went through a kind of atheist period. I wondered about connection and where that comes from: is it inherent and innate or does it stem from somewhere? Right now I’m in this point of “I really love people and I’m really interested in connection.”
Through his interactions, Joshua offers time for people to reconnect with what he describes as “their greater self, their spiritual self, and to the energy that is undeniable. To being awake.” But as the slippery slope of spiritual terms starts, I, of course, can’t help but mention the Force. Joshua interjects, “You’ll love what I’m looking at.” He describes a nearby mural on the side of a Peckham pub: a spray-painted portrait of Carrie Fisher (in full-on Leia buns) with large yellow letters reading “The Rebels’ Princess” followed by “Carrie Fisher | RIP | 1956-2016.” You cannot make this shit up. Everywhere, connections abound if we are aware, awake, and open to possibility.
What I truly appreciate about Joshua’s story is that it is continually expanding. He’s not trying to hold onto a personal brand or keep the story centered on him: #dosomethingfornothing is an opensource approach. He’s seeded a movement that encourages others to be included. When I asked him why, he replied, “I wanted the hashtag to be an open space for people. It’s about whatever your thing is, whatever your connection might be to try and bridge something with someone else. I’m not a charity, I’m not a nonprofit. I want to keep this as accessible to people as I can. This is yours as much as this is mine.”
Follow Joshua @joshuacoombes
Post your #dosomethingfornothing
Excerpt of Joshua Coombes's story from Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective and Higher Purpose by Sarah Bowen. Get book.