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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 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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