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.
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.