One day, while I was working in a conference room, some co-workers and I were staring out the window and looking at the traffic below. Right outside the window is an extremely busy street and there was almost four lanes of traffic in both directions. As we were watching the traffic, we watched in shock as a homeless man walked across the street, without using the pedestrian walkway. Cars stopped as he slowly lumbered across the street.
I thought for a second what would happen if I tried to do that while wearing my suit. Cars would honk at me. People would roll down their windows to yell at me. Maybe pedestrians on the street would take photos and send pictures to the police.
At that moment, I realized that there are a lot of things that we can learn from the homeless. I don’t mean to disparage the homeless in any way – some of them may just be down on their luck or going through a rough patch.
Live as if you are poor to remind yourself that you have nothing to fear
I remember a story from Tim Ferriss who was practicing stoicism. He takes it upon himself to, every few months, live as ‘poor’ as possible. He wears the same clothing, potentially not taking showers every day like he is used to. He eats rice and beans, or fasts. He does this because he wants to remind himself of what it might be like to be at the very bottom of his luck (in case he goes bankrupt or has to live this way to save money). He does this because living this way every once in a while helps him understand that he has nothing to fear and that even if he takes a risk on something (say an investment of time or money) and the decision does not turn out well, he has already survived through a worst case scenario.
Be grateful for whatever you have in life
One of my friends told me a story of when he treated someone who seemed to be down in their luck to a hot meal. He didn’t want to give them money so instead, he walked with that individual to a Tim Hortons, bought him a sandwich, hot soup and a coffee and then went on his way. That individual was so grateful and thankful to my friend.
I think we should appreciate the fact that you can even read this post. You have internet. You most likely have a roof over your head. You had a warm meal in the past 24 hours. That may not all be true but I can bet that you certainly have a lot to be grateful for that you probably don’t even think about. I know I have a lot to be grateful for and every once in a while when I feel like I have had a crappy day, I remember all of the things that I do have in life and magically, my day turns around.
Be immune to others opinions
I can’t even imagine the judgment that people pass on those that are living on the streets, begging for money or just not wearing clean clothes. I think though, that those people don’t really care about what people think of them. Maybe it is because they have to given that they are being constantly judged by other people. And sometimes, I wish that I was like this – immune to others opinions. For example, I’d like to be able to eat dinner alone at a restaurant sometimes without having to worry about what other people think (I have done this but I was also constantly anxious about people passing judgment on me). I’d also like to wear whatever I want sometimes without thinking about the social situation that I am in or who I am seeing or with.
Sometimes I try to wear something outrageous or do something ridiculous so that I can build up immunity – but that’s a story for another day.
People can be more generous than you think
While eating out at a restaurant late at night, I watched as a homeless man came into the restaurant to ask for some soup. While the waiter initially wanted to kick him out, they decided to give him some rice and a bowl of soup. I didn’t see if he was grateful or not (I’ll assume that he was) but what I did realize (and was surprised about) was that the restaurant could have just kicked him out and not given the homeless individual anything but they decided to give him some rice and soup (admittedly, these did not cost a lot of money but it was way better than nothing).
The human spirit is incredibly tenacious
During the winter, when I would drive around China Town to eat out for lunch or dinner, I often saw homeless individuals walking outside in freezing temperatures and would wonder how in the world they survived in the harsh weather. I believe that some of these individuals got help from the City but I also believe that humans are some of the most tenacious organisms on Earth. I remember a story from Jesse Itzler’s book where he had a Navy Seal live with him to train him and get him into shape. Jesse found that while the initial workouts were quite demanding (and even seemingly impossible when he first started), he also found that the only way you fail at the workouts was quitting. A great quote I remember from the book is that when you think you are completely gassed or think that you are done, you are only about 40% done. 60% of your energy is still there. Your body puts up every single excuse and defence because it’s not used to going through incredibly intense workouts. Your body has a physiological response to survive.
What does that mean to you? It means that when you feel that your energy is low or you feel that you can’t accomplish something after being at it for a while, you can do it. You’re not completely out of energy. You still have a ton of reserve in your body to accomplish whatever you set out to do.
Sometimes, there are surprising things that you can learn from unexpected places. And all from watching a homeless man carelessly walk across the street.