Hard Truths, Day 3: Why Didn’t I Learn this Sooner?


This post is part of my series 41 Years in 30 Days. Read all that shit right here if you’re so inspired.

Have you ever tried to look away, but couldn’t?

This morning, I ran downtown to meet a friend in town from Colorado. After a great catch-up session, I hopped the train back home. Sometimes, I get stuck in a rear-facing seat and it make my stomach feel all I-haven’t-had-sex-so-I-couldn’t-be-pregnant kind of woozw, which means I change seats at the first opportunity. So I did. Hopped right over to a sideways-facing seat a few stops later and I promptly went back to my phone.




Scroll, scroll, scroll.

And then I looked up and saw him.

Right across from me was a…person…sunken so far into his/her coat that all I could think was that being seen wasn’t on the top of the priority list. At 9:47AM, a can of Natural Light was raised to (now) his lips. I saw his face. The left leg of his grey sweatpants was pulled up to reveal a dry, crusted lower leg with a foot tucked into white (well, at least someday, they were white) velcro-closure tennis shoes. His down coat swallowed him whole. His hat came down so far that it bumped his upper eyelids.

Can to lips. 

Sink back into coat coccoon.




I had tears welling up in my eyes because I was humbled so deeply and so quickly.

I held in my hands a $700 phone. My feet were tucked into $175 shoes. The coat I wore…well, fine. It was $250 on eBay and warmer than my ass backed up against a space heater.

How much do I really have to complain about?

Today’s truth is for all the folks who think that I no longer write about business anymore unless it’s over on OPEN Forum or Entrepreneur Magazine.

Hard Truths humility 2

Here’s the truth: business and life are inseparable. If you’re an asshole in your life, you’re going to be an asshole to work with and there are no points awarded for being an asshole. Anywhere. Ever.

If I don’t find a way to humble myself every day, I’m going to be that asshole.

And I used to be that asshole.

I used to think that doing this “running a business” thing was all about me. Being my own boss, telling The Proverbial Man to hump a weasel. My time, my money, my word, my rules.

And man, I can’t tell you how completely fucking wrong that was. And still is.

Because I live in a city now after five years in an incredibly whitewashed (culturally and racially) state, a city where I take rides like I took this morning.

And every day, I’m reminded that everything I think is important…isn’t.

A few of my acting instructors have shared one phrase, and it’s one I’ve come to cherish. I’m sharing it with you today.

Hold nothing precious.

You and your darling whatever. Your brand-new whatever. The biggest sale you’ve had. The best customer you just landed. The speaking gig you just signed on for. Those $175 shoes you slip your feet into daily. Your brand, your website, your business cards and the metric ass ton of critics out there who will reach out to strike you down in a heartbeat when you make a bold move because it’s the only way they can get ahead — by crushing another.

None of it’s precious and it could all be gone tomorrow.

And here’s the thing about this man on the train.

I didn’t feel sorry for him. He didn’t need my pitty or sorrow.

He needed my help.

So I moved over to sit one seat away from him and here’s roughly how that went down.

“Excuse me, sir?”

He turns and looks at me.

“If I gave you some money, would that help you out today?”

He stares. Takes a drink.

“Always helps,” he said.


So I opened my bag and inside, there were two twenties and some ones in my wallet. I didn’t even count it.

I handed the money over to him.

“Jesus,” he said, staring at the money I’d just put into his hand.

“He’s a different guy. My name is Erika, though.”

He stares. *scratches that joke off my Red Line set list*

“I hope you have a better day. And if you ever see me again, don’t be afraid to come up and say hello,” I said.

The money was stuffed into a pocket on the inside of his coat. With one hand, he pulled the two small shopping backs at his feet closer and with the other, he took another swig of the Natural Light.

I exited a few stops later, and said bye to him as I got off. He pulled his head up and said, “Thank you, lady.”

I said you’re welcome.

I walked to my car in my $175 shoes and $250 eBay coat. And I started to think of everything I had to do today that made a difference.


Nothing on my list of things to do would probably compare to the thing I’d just done for a man I’d never met.

But the humility I felt — in this season swarming with more and bigger and better and faster and richer and longer — it kept me warm.

And it reminded me that this thing I do, this life I live, this business I run…

it means fuckall if I don’t find a way to humble myself every day.

Because nothing is precious. Nothing in this life is precious except the people who come in and out of it every day. Whether someone you know, love, hate, or simply a stranger, they’re the ones that are precious.

This house could burn. This business could implode. This career could fall to shambles.

Without humility, I’m an asshole. This is hard truth I wish I’d learned earlier. I would have been ablet o skip quite a few years worth of being an asshole.

And each day I ask: Today, was I the person I want people to remember when The Universe decides my time on this planet is up?

Most days, the answer is yes.

And those, my friends, are the very, very, ever so very fucking good days and I’ll only find those days when I resist the urge to look away. I want to look away and it’s easier to avert my eyes and get lost in a meaningless digital abyss than deal with the reality of humanity.

But please, self. Every now and then — resist.

The others days — the one where I’m not that person and I’ve found I’ve looked away…they remind me that I’m never above a wake-up call, an adjustment, and that there’s always a next better version of myself waiting.


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21 replies
  1. robdesign
    robdesign says:

    That just rocks. What wise words.  I’m not really religious but that was a blessing.  A lesson to look deeper and realize, as your instructors say, hold nothing precious.   Except maybe life itself. And know that anyone of us could be that man in the coat. Almost Happy Birthday to you.

  2. Walker Thornton
    Walker Thornton says:

    Pretty awesome that.  And you too. I am so glad you’re doing this birthday countdown. I need to hear these lessons as much as you need to experience them. THANK YOU

  3. Emerald Bixby
    Emerald Bixby says:

    Thanks for your attitude and the example you set. As a big fan of yours, I appreciate this post not just especially because I was formerly homeless, but also because I’m now fortunate to be on another track and in the position of needing perspective-adjusting reminders like this to stay humbled and real. Stay awesome!

  4. kissmyglasswine
    kissmyglasswine says:

    I think this is one of the best things you’ve ever written. At least it’s one of the things that grabbed my heart and yelled “are you paying attention, woman?” to me.

  5. Melanietolley
    Melanietolley says:

    We all need this dose every once in a while.  Daily is best!  thanks for the post… enjoying your birthday with you!

  6. TimGillette
    TimGillette says:

    That was some awesome shit. Today was a yes, you impacted more than that man. This story impacted me to really think. Now I think ill find a way to matter today. Rock on

  7. LoganMeller
    LoganMeller says:

    Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for being so awesome.  We all need a reality check from time to time, especially in our digital culture that seems to promote connection and universality yet all too often manifests as isolation and disconnection.  Kudos to you, Red!  🙂

  8. HollyScottJones
    HollyScottJones says:

    I have been struggling with the concept of humility in my life for over a year, and it’s the simple things that resonate with me. Thank you for this, today. You have helped me. “Without humility, I’m an asshole.” I think I got it. Finally.

  9. Kathy Klotz Guest
    Kathy Klotz Guest says:

    Great post. So true. Humility makes us accessible to each other. That’s really the measure of a life. “Was I was the person I want to be today…?” Such a powerful litmus test. Love it.

  10. IngridOliphant
    IngridOliphant says:

    I was grateful for reading this, particularly, the ‘don’t hold anything precious’ and I’m trying to get there.  Today I found out that the few things precious enough to me that I strategically packed in a Mini Cooper to move them from VA to CA have been appropriated by the person who invited and then uninvited me to live on their property (conveniently after I’d driven 1200 miles away to work). I’ve tried to get to the ‘it’s just stuff’ space but can’t.  This ‘stuff’ was precious to me because when people can’t pay me they make me beautiful things like baskets, share with me pieces of their heritage, and find me elephants (because that’s my thing).  I’d chucked most extraneous stuff when I chose to be homeless last year.   The last bit of stuff-chucking left me w/ those things that fit in the Mini because they *are* precious.  And, they count when you don’t have anything else to hold on to–identity, definitions of being, home, and community. Those were representative of that and I’m feeling on the ungraceful side of things at the moment.  I don’t suppose the pouting is a fine example of what I want people to remember but, fuckall, today being gracious it about it all was a hard pill to swallow. 

    Thank you for the reminder.  I’m fortunate enough to have many of those good days and to recognize that what I need truly is always provided.

  11. MarkHarrill
    MarkHarrill says:

    So here is the deal. 
    Over the last 10 years, I sold my company, moved to Chicago to work for the company that bought mine, found a new job, moved to Ohio, then fired from shitty job for refusing to be unethical, separated from my wife, spent two years unemployed, hired at a huge corporation, started a new relationship, realized I was a COMPLETE ASSHOLE, ended said relationship (you can only stay with someone so long that is toxic for you), reconciled with my wife, and finally found happiness being me.

    I don’t regret the dumb things I have done because they have all taught me so much, but I do regret the hurt I caused and the years wasted. Along the way I found truth in myself and realized it was ok to be broken, fucked up Mark. At the end of the day accepting myself (and being 100% accepted) is my only way to sanity.

    I also gave up being an asshole.  People at work say it is weird seeing happy Mark.  It is odd that it took me 45 years to realize that it is ok to be who I am.  In the meantime, I have been fortunate to hire some people, develop some more, and help strangers for absolutely no reason at all.

    Now I storm out of bed every day and happily drive to work.  I am truly excited to see my wife and kids when I come home.
    Life is insanely simply.  Love others, be generous and eventually it will come around or is right there and you are too stupid to realize it. (Yeah, that is my sheepishly raising my hand in the corner.)

    I tell my 13yo son the same thing every day that I drop him at school. “Be nice to people, learn something new, and help someone if they need it.” Now at almost 46, I actually take my own advice.

    Thanks for writing every day.  You truly help us strangers out here in the wilderness.

  12. slocreative
    slocreative says:

    Thanks Erika…  your story resonated…  a few months ago, the kids and I were going to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant.  I don’t own a pair of $175 shoes because shoes just aren’t a turn-on for me… but I have other things that are probably obscenely overpriced — even if it’s that near daily fancy coffee that I could make at home, but don’t…  so, anyways, we were going to dinner… and there was a homeless guy on the sidewalk with his dog.  He asked for money, and I told him I didn’t have any (and it was true — I seldom carry cash)…  but that I was going to get some dinner.  Was he hungry?  Yes…  so I told him I was going right into this restaurant and I’d bring him something.  I’m sure he didn’t really believe me, but as we were walking into the restaurant, he called out, “vegetarian, please!” 
    So.. when we ordered our food, I ordered a vegetarian curry to go…  and I took it out to him…  then went back in and ate my dinner with my kids.  When we were done, he was gone…  I always look for him when we go there…  and if he’s there, I’ll get him dinner again…  it felt good for my soul…

  13. ColinDeBre
    ColinDeBre says:

    “Today was I the person ….” it’s easy to get lost in the negative and/or other things in life…at least for me as I am a worrier by nature and can let that bog me down to the point of forgetting what is really important. Thank you Erika.


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