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5 Life Lessons From the Homeless Girl on 42nd Street

5 Life Lessons From the Homeless Girl on 42nd Street

I don’t get to Manhattan often, but I love it when I do. The rush of the city, people everywhere, cars honking, food on every corner and the “live-and-let-live” attitude. New York is welcoming and dismissive all at once.

It was a cold April afternoon, the sky was clear blue and the buzz of the city enticed me outdoors. Walking across the intersection at 2nd Avenue, I saw a young woman sitting on a suitcase with the telltale cardboard sign indicating that she was among the city’s 60,000 homeless people. I felt the uncomfortable pang of empathy and concern in my heart and looked back to read her sign. “If you can’t donate – gratitude, kindness and well-wishes are free!” My heart broke to read such a beautiful sentiment and see such a beautiful young girl. But I kept walking.

I was totally preoccupied for the rest of my walk past the Avenue of the Americas, past Park Ave, Lexington Avenue, and into Times Square. Why hadn’t I stopped? Why didn’t I give her any money? What is it about homeless people that have us look the other way?

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The frigid air and my distressed emotions ushered me back to find the young girl on 2nd Avenue. I’m staying in a $200 a night hotel, I thought, the least I can do is give this girl some money.

My steps hastened and as I approached the corner, there she sat, her cardboard sign on her lap and paper cup in front of her. Our eyes met and she cast a simple, warm smile my way. “I like your sign,” I said. And thus began our exchange in which I witnessed these five life lessons from the homeless girl on the corner of 42nd and 2nd.

1. Take Full Responsibility For Your Circumstances.

As if it was any of my business, I looked at the gal sitting on her suitcase and with compassionate concern, I asked, “What happened?”

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Intuitively understanding that I meant “How the hell did you end up on the streets?” she responded with clarity and no remorse, “Just a couple months ago I was doing fine in Florida, making $1000 a week, but my mother got sick here in NY, so I came home. It didn’t go so well between us, we had a fight and she threw me out. There’s a lot of baggage between us.”

She could have just as easily thrown her mother under the bus and said, “I left a good job in Florida to come home and help when my mother was sick and she ended up throwing me out!” But she didn’t do that. She didn’t blame her mom. She simply said what was so. “We have baggage. She’s sick (her intonation led me to believe she was referring to emotional and mental illness more than physical) and she threw me out.” No drama, just the facts. Which led to the next lesson…

2. Ask for Help

She wasn’t too proud to ask for help. Looking at me straight-faced, she said, “I’ve never been down this low before and I don’t plan on being this low again, but for now, there are good people everywhere who are willing to help. I just have to ask.” How true. The vast majority of people are more caring than hurtful, wanting to help more than cause harm. You get what you see and she saw good people everywhere. Because of this, so she was able to….

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3. Maintain Optimism

Despite how low this gal had found herself; sleeping in Bryant Park, washing up in public rest rooms, asking strangers for money on the street, she was incredibly optimistic about her future. “I will be back on my feet again soon when I get back to Florida where things are less expensive. I can get my job back down there. They liked me and were sad that I left. I just have to get back there.” When I asked how she was going to do that, she did not hesitate for a moment, because she knows it is important to…

4. Have a Plan

Her reply was quick and determined. “I just need to get $250 for a bus ticket to get back down there. It’s cheaper to fly, only $78 for one-way airfare, but I don’t have any ID.” It didn’t occur to me to ask her why not, or if it wouldn’t be cheaper to get ID than save up $250 for the bus. But she was clear. She was going to have the $250 within a couple of weeks and head back down to Florida where she had friends to stay with and a job she was sure she could reclaim. And therefore, she knew to…

5. Be grateful

Perhaps the most striking quality about this young gal was her upbeat optimism. As we chatted, a few folks dropped coins or bills into her paper cup and she would respond as if she had just won the lottery. “Thank you! You are so kind! God bless you!” she would exclaim with enthusiasm and sincerity.

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I walked away feeling like a better person for having chatted with her. Half a block away, the delicious aroma of New York City pizza wafted around me. I walked in and ordered 2 large slices and walked back to my sage on the street. She saw me coming, pizza boxes in hand, and her face lit up once again. “It’s just cheese pizza,” I said. “It’s not much,” feeling insufficient in my sparse offering. In her continued gracious humility, she gratefully exclaimed, “No, it is a lot! It’s so much. I was just sitting here getting hungry and wondering what I would do, and then you came along.”

Maybe there is something to these lessons, after all. When we live with willingness, humility, gratitude, and optimism and have a plan to follow, maybe, just maybe, good things find their way to us more easily.

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Jackie Woodside

Professional Speaker

5 Life Lessons From the Homeless Girl on 42nd Street

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019

12 Signs You Are A Lifelong Learner

12 Signs You Are A Lifelong Learner

Formal education is something everyone has to go through to a certain degree, and the knowledge it offers isn’t always that practical in real life. Life long learning is how you improve as a person, bit by bit and day by day.

Life long learners recognize the importance and joy of growth so they never settle for what they currently know and always seek for improvement.

Here are 12 signs these life long learners have in common – see how many of them you recognize in yourself.

1. They read on a daily basis.

Whatever problem or dilemma you currently face, there’s definitely at least one decent book that discusses it and presents a variety of solutions.

Reading is a great way to open up new horizons, train your brain and revolutionize your life. I can’t even count how many times books completely transformed the way I view the world, and it’s always a change for the better. Through reading, you can connect with successful people and learn from the lessons they share.

Life long learners love to get lost in books and do it regularly. Bill Gates knows that reading matters a lot; on his personal blog, he reviews plenty of game-changing books.

Due to technology, you can access a bookshelf of the wealthiest entrepreneur on this planet.

2. They attend various courses.

Whether it’s online or offline, there are countless courses you can participate in without spending a dime on it. These are great opportunities to connect with clever and like-minded people and learn from them.

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Because of the advanced technology, you can now gain knowledge from online programs, starting from coding through self-improvement to programs from top universities.

There are literally endless ways to thrive. What life long learners have in common is squeezing as much as possible out of these opportunities.

3. They seek opportunities to grow.

Instead of spending your free time laying on the couch and watching TV, you prefer doing something creative and practical. You know every wasted minute is gone forever.

That’s why you’d rather practice your language skills with a native-speaker you’ve met, engage in local meet up or attend a class that teaches something you always wanted to learn.

Life long learners stay up-to-date with growth opportunities in their areas and participate in them frequently.

4. They take care of their bodies.

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” — John F. Kennedy

A clever mind combined with a body in a great condition is the best asset you can have. Our bodies were designed to run, walk, jump, swim, lift and much more. Leading a sedentary lifestyle harms both your physical and mental sphere.

Life long learners know the body is your temple. In order to make it flourish for as long as possible, they train regularly, move a lot and eat healthy.

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5. They have diverse passions.

Among Steve Jobs’ wise quotes, there’s one I like especially. It’s about connecting the dots:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

Each dot is some event or skill in your life, and it’s only when you go through these elements that you know how to combine them into something great.

Having a variety of passions indicates that you love to progress. By practicing different skills, you give yourself an advantage over the rest of the people. During hard times, you are more likely to to act intelligently and solve your problems with less effort.

6. They love making progress.

If behind the efforts, there is passion and a deep desire to grow, your chances of success are way higher, compared to when you are forced to learn.

Life long learners love to experience the constant growth and improvement. The breakthrough moments help them to notice the impressive change that took place because of the learning process. Any milestone serves as a driving force for further headway.

7. They challenge themselves with specific goals.

In order to keep growing, you clearly define your goals. Smart goal setting is one of the tools to ensure constant growth.

Since you love challenges, a difficult goal doesn’t scare you. Quite the opposite, it keeps you motivated and engaged.

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Research showed that precise and ambitious goals increase the performance of an individual. As we already agreed, life long learners are people who care about their performance, hence they never stop improving.

8. They embrace change.

A complete change can lead to incredible results. This is especially visible on the example of successful companies.

Oftentimes, it’s that transformation which created space for their so-called overnight success. Twitter was originally created as an internal service to serve Odeo employees. Currently, it has over 300 million monthly active users and is considered the second biggest social network.

As a life long learner, you know a change can lead to extraordinary results so you welcome it and stay open minded about making a shift.

9. They believe it’s never too late to start something.

Some people tend to think after a certain age, they are no longer allowed to start something and become successful. The truth is, it’s just a lame excuse not to leave the comfort zone.

Opposite to common misconceptions, there’s no wrong age to begin something. Henry Ford was 45 when he invented the Ford Model T car, which is considered as the first affordable automobile.

Sure, for some domains like becoming a professional athlete, starting early is required. However, to learn and improve for its own sake, you are never too old.

10. Their attitude to getting better is contagious.

“We now accept the fact that learning is a life long process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” — Peter Drucker

There’s nothing better than to see your surroundings getting involved in what you actively participate in. Oftentimes, the best way to achieve that is to inspire them and be the example. As Gandhi would say, you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

As a life long learner, you are extremely passionate about the constant growth and people around you can sense that positive attitude. As a result, they start acting similarly.

11. They leave their comfort zone.

Is it really better to step out of your comfort zone? The answer is always yes.

You always embrace discomfort as you know the path to success leads through hardship and countless obstacles. Instead of being afraid of facing them, you challenge yourself to overcome more and more difficult handicaps.

Every time you get out of your comfort zone, regardless whether you win or fail, you learn something new. That’s the part you love the most!

12. They never settle down.

“Knowledge is exploding, so you need to commit yourself to a plan for life long learning.” — Don Tapscott

A sense of being clever enough is something you don’t experience. Without a doubt, you appreciate what you already know, but that’s never a reason to stop. You just know once you stop learning, you lose the amazing privilege humans have, namely an ability to a never-ending intellectual development.

More About Lifelong Learning

Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

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