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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 January 24, 2021

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

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At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

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1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

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How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

    Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

    Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

    6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

    If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

    Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

    Final Thoughts

    Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

    Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

    Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

    More Tips on How to Say No

    Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
    [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
    [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

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