My dear friend and colleague volunteers at a homeless shelter every weekend. She gets to know people, she doesn’t just serve them soup. She gets to know their story. She sees them strive to find jobs, get up off of their feet.
Yesterday, I was approached at the gas station by a women who asked for a few dollars for food, she was really hungry. She started explaining to me how she was also cold, and elaborating on the reasons as to why I should give her money. At first, I was just thrown off, re-orienting myself to why someone was approaching me while I was pumping gas. Once my mind registered her request, I gave her a few dollars. I couldn’t help feeling sad, though. The fish metaphor gets to me sometimes, I don’t know how people figure out their life moment by moment, not knowing when they will get a meal. I wonder about their next step to better their life.
It occurred to me that people that live a life without a home, without their basic needs being met, have probably mastered and overcome a lot more fears than people with many of the comforts of life.
Here’s my assumptions (obviously not true for all folks or all people) on what learned behaviors or skills they have to have to be able to survive in the world without a home:
- They deal with uncertainty and have had to come to terms with it. Most of us get squeamish when we face the inevitable uncertainty of life – relationships end, jobs shift, people grow up, natural disasters happen, illness. Even though we know our lives are temporary and fragile, many of us spend much of our time avoiding that truth and making decisions to pretend that things are more certain and controlled than they are.
- They are not ashamed to ask for help. Obviously, many homeless people have overcome any prior fears of being dependent on others in the world and asking for assistance. Be it food or shelter, they have to ask if they want to receive given their circumstances.
- They deal with rejection, all the time. Likely to the point where they don’t even see it as rejection. Simply, did I get my needs me or not today.
- Material possessions do not define them. Again, this one might seem obvious, but there are few people that I know that are truly wiling to separate their identity from their “things”. Be it their motorcycle or their iPhone, many of us are very attached to the luxuries of our lives.
I’m not advocating in any way to become homeless. Rather, that there are aspects of every person’s life that we can all take a lesson from. As I was building my career and my family, I felt a lot of fear around affording a house and paying for basic things. Many of the fears that I myself have had and that I witness in others are based around not “ending up on the street” or in our parents basements. I am familiar with what it feels like to be living paycheck to paycheck and I’ll never forget it, even though I have come to a place in my career and life where I am not at that point.
Fortune comes in many flavors. Many of the wealthiest people are the loneliest, filling their void with material distractions. I certainly wish we had better systems for helping people of different levels of skill and fortune build their wealth mindset and entrepreneurial spirit. I believe that if there is a will, in anyone, there is always a way. For many, building and accumulating wealth is not a life pursuit. Many find happiness around the world, living out of makeshift homes and enjoying the pleasure of community.