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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.

More by this author

Jackie Woodside

Professional Speaker

5 Life Lessons From the Homeless Girl on 42nd Street

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Last Updated on December 17, 2018

Why You Think You’re Not Good Enough and How To Believe in Yourself

Why You Think You’re Not Good Enough and How To Believe in Yourself

Have you ever wanted to say something at work, but a little voice of doubt crept in and said, “what if you are wrong”?

Maybe you wanted to apply for that promotion or ask that special someone on a date, but something kept you from taking action. When you think you’re not good enough, you tend to fear the outcome and lack faith in your abilities. That is why it is vital you discover how to believe in yourself so you can accomplish your goals and create your dream life.

Whatever your situation, the fears and self-doubt your false beliefs create will always stop you in your tracks. Identifying the beliefs that cause you to sabotage your life is the first step to removing them.

Self-doubt causes inaction, and inaction leads to regret. When you are not following your passion and living your dream life, you are left with a lot of questions:

  • What if I took a chance on myself?
  • Could I have had a better life if I took more risks?
  • Am I be satisfied with the legacy I am leaving behind?
  • What could I have accomplished if I did not settle for less?

So why would you think you’re not good enough?

1. Parenting

The perception you have of yourself is based on your past experiences. There are studies that show children mimic everything from their parents ability to regulate emotions, to their parents belief about money.[1]

I have had clients who did not believe they were good enough because they did not receive any positive reinforcement as a child. When they were young, their parents were extremely overprotective.

Think of your childhood challenges like dragons you had to slay. Each obstacle you overcame was another dragon you successfully removed from your life. As you slay more dragons, your self-esteem and confidence increase. When someone has overprotective parents, their parents end up slaying the dragons.

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As a result, the child builds more confidence in their parent’s abilities, while still doubting their own.

If you are never encouraged to slay your own dragons, you start to doubt whether you can. It is only natural for a child to conclude their parents are always helping them because they think they need it. This child ages into an adult who still believes they are not good enough. They seek the help and confirmation of others, and they rarely stand-up to opposition.

Solution: Slay Your Dragons!

If you want to believe in yourself, you are going to have to take steps to rebuild your trust in yourself. Start by keeping your word to others and arriving on-time. By showing yourself that others can (and do) trust you, you are going to feel more comfortable trusting yourself.

As you move onto larger and more challenging tasks, you have built a foundation of trust in your ability to keep your word. Next, you are going to want to reclaim your sword from others. At first, you may want to confide in whoever it is currently slaying your dragons.

Understand if it is your parent or someone who loves you, they want the best for you and mean well. You are simply going to tell them that you want to do the work, and will ask them for their thoughts in the planning phase. Feel free to check in with them and give them updates on your progress, while making sure they understand you are wanting to do the work yourself.

Then when the task is completed, let them know so you can celebrate together. Now that you have slayed your own dragon, you can start to reclaim your confidence. By you utilizing them as your guide, you get the added bonus of someone you respect and admire, telling you how amazing you are.

Think of it like a symbolic passing of the torch. Now, you are both dragon slayers. Which means all the positive attributes you attributed to them slaying your dragons, now belong to you.

2. Over-Exaggerating and Oversimplifying

Your past experiences may involve you or someone close to you failing. When you experience failure, you can lose your desire to continue. This has less to do with whether you are brave or scared, and more to do with the fact that your mind does not like failure.

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No one enjoys participating in events in which they under-perform. Outside of the usual reasons of embarrassment, feelings of inadequacy, and fear of failure – it is simply not fun.

Who wants to play baseball if they strikeout every time it is their turn? Would you enjoy singing in front of an audience if you were booed off the stage every time you performed? I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The thing about those two examples is no one really strikes out “every” at-bat. It is also unlikely someone could be booed off the stage “every time” they performed in-front of an audience.

What ends up happening is you oversimplify and exaggerate your past experiences and then your mind believes you. If you believe you are not good enough to ask someone on a date because they “always” tell you no, then do not be surprised you never muster the courage to do so.

If you want to overcome these feelings of inadequacy, start by changing your beliefs. This exercise does not need to be complicated. If you believe you strikeout every time it is your turn, I want to you to go to a batting cage and keep swinging until you hit the baseball.

When you experience success, I want you to take a mental note, write it down, or have someone video it. This is your proof that you do not always strike out. Then, whenever your belief that you are not good enough resurfaces, you are going to replay that video.

Regardless of the situation, you can find a successful experience that you are overlooking.

Solution: Read About the Failures of Others

It sounds a little crazy, I know, but reading about the failures of other successful people will improve your confidence. In a study conducted by Columbia University, they found that teaching students about the failures of great scientists encouraged them to do better.[2]

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When you are battling fear and self-doubt, you tend to over-exaggerate the abilities of others and diminish your own by comparison. You start to believe the successful are successful because they are courageous risk-takers, who do not take no for an answer. You tell yourself, they are meant to succeed, while you on the other hand are not.

When you are able to relate to the successful, you start to realize they have the same struggles and challenges you do. The only difference is they kept going.

Now it is not a question of whether you can succeed, it is a question of whether you want to succeed.

3. Undervalue Yourself

What is the main difference between someone who believes they are good enough and someone who does not? The person who believes they are good enough understands they are a person of value.

What I mean by this is if you do not believe you are worth being listened to, you will not have anything to say. If you do not believe you are good enough to be respected and treated as such, you will accept and rationalize all kinds of mistreatment.

There is an old saying that we are treated as we allow ourselves to be treated. When someone has the confidence and self-esteem that commands respect, they will not accept being treated any kind of way. However, if someone does not see themselves as worthy, they will remain in toxic situations because they do not believe anything better is on the horizon.

Dr. Jennifer Crocker, who worked on a series of self-esteem studies, found in her latest research that:[3]

“College students who based their self-worth on external sources–including appearance, approval from others and even their academic performance–reported more stress, anger, academic problems, relationship conflicts, and had higher levels of drug and alcohol use and symptoms of eating disorders”

Solution: Internalize Your Self-Worth

Instead of valuing yourself based on the awards, recognition, and accolades of others, you need to search internally. By basing your perception of yourself on your core values, you can regain control over self-image.

Instead of focusing on things that are outside of control, keep your mind on what it is that makes you special. You are not defined by your job, relationships, religion, or education. Rather, you are defined by the manner in which you participate in these things. You may be a creative, hard-working, and compassionate person; and that shows up in every thing you do.

Understand that you do not need to be creative, hard-working, and compassionate all the time to consider yourself these things. You are not trying to be perfect, but you are trying to connect with your true self.

By understanding the similarities in which you tackle objectives, you will build a consistent and powerful self-worth that stands apart from external confirmation.

Final Thoughts

Do not allow your past experiences do dictate your future success. You do not want to look back on your life and have a lot of questions and regrets.

Build trust in yourself by taking action today. This will help you build the confidence you need to believe in yourself and your ability to become the champion of your life.

More Inspiration About Motivation

Featured photo credit: Riccardo Mion via unsplash.com

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