How many times have you had the experience of driving in your car, stopping at a red light, and seeing a homeless person walking up and down the line of stopped cars with a cardboard sign? Or maybe you were walking down the street and you passed a similar looking person, also holding a similar sign. Those signs say anything from, “Just looking for work” to “anything helps” to “help me feed my children.”
I don’t know about you, but for me, it puts me in a moral dilemma every time. I have a problem with wanting to save the world, to take people’s pain away, and make it all better. But on the flip side (blame the Gemini in me), I’m all about personal responsibility. So where do I draw the line between feeling sorry for these people and wanting to save them versus holding them accountable to the life choices that led them to their current situation? It’s tough because I don’t know what they were born into. Maybe they never had the best cards to play, and sitting on the road or street begging for money is the best choice they have. Who am I to know? And who am I to judge?
I’m embarrassed to say that I have trouble making eye contact with these people, mostly because I feel so ashamed if I don’t give them money. Sure, I could give them a few dollars. But I’m never sure if that money will be spent on food, booze, or alcohol. As a happy medium, I started keeping my car stocked with granola bars so that I could at least give them something to eat. Sometimes they’re grateful, sometimes their not (I remember when my friend, Scott, tried to give a homeless woman downtown the last of his pastries a few months ago, she took one look at them and told him they weren’t on her diet. “Too much sugar,” she said. Only in LA. Though the woman had a point).
Last month, I was driving home and was stopped at the light to turn left onto my street. There were two homeless people on either side of the road. To my left was the usual guy with his usual sign, “Will work for marijuana.” To my right was a new guy. I tried to avoid eye contact, but I ended up reading his sign. It didn’t ask for money. It didn’t ask for food. It simply said:
In one fell swoop, his message took my breath away.
Here was this person who couldn’t even afford to feed himself, reminding the privileged people in their fancy cars the one thing that I’m willing to bet we all had trouble remembering: We matter. I know I certainly needed the reminder that day (and of course, I can’t remember why. It was probably just another typically barrage of negative self talk based on something that didn’t even matter). And the guy holding the sign? Though he may have had no money in his bank account (much less a bank account) or more than the clothes on his back, he mattered too. He matters too. How he could keep his wits about him and remember how much he matters to the world when most days he is ignored and made to feel like he actually doesn’t matter by all of us who pass him by without a single glance, baffles me. But it moved me. Because that day, the guy who had nothing gave me everything. He reminded me that to breathe is a privilege. To be alive is to matter. It has nothing to do with where we’re at in our careers, how much money we make, or how many successful relationships we have. Yes, that all helps – especially good relationships. But it doesn’t make us matter any more or any less.
In the Ted Talk given by relationship and career expert, Mel Robbins entitled How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over, she discusses the mental chatter we all have that stops us from either doing the things we want to do or believing that we are worthy enough to do them. To prove how valuable and worthy we all are, she quotes a mind blowing statistic:
Did you know the odds of you being born at the moment in time you were born to the parents you were born to with the DNA structure that you have is 1 in 400 trillion? That’s 400 hundred trailed by nine zeros, people. Nine.
So of course you matter! You beat out perhaps the most incredible odds of all time! This is not to put pressure on you to save the world or to be famous or something like that. This is to show you that your choices – as simple as choosing to brush your teeth or go to work or go to school – matter. You don’t have to be anything more than what you already are, because you already are a miracle! That said, please don’t take this as a recipe to be lazy and not amount to your full potential. If anything, it should serve to inspire you to do just that.
The point in bringing this up is to stop doubting yourself. It’s a recipe to motivate you to believe positive self talk, believe in your ideas, believe in yourself, stop putting yourself down. You can literally do anything you want to do. The only thing standing in your way is you. You have to decide that you matter. I know that you do. But you’re the one who has to live it, breathe it, and believe it.
As I’m sure is true for you, there are moments every day where I forget that I matter. And I know it’s because I’ve given myself rules and parameters by which I measure my worth, rules that really don’t work in tune with my morals and values: A certain financial cap before I allow myself to be proud of my accomplishments. A certain car to make me feel more important. A certain sized house to convey status. A piece of clothing or piece of jewelry to do the same, or the ability to frequent a fancy restaurant not just once in awhile but anytime I want to.
To be clear, my friendships and my relationships are what are most important to me. That much I know is true. But I would be lying if I said that the other things – the material things – didn’t enter the equation too many times to count in making me feel worthy. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just admitting to being human. And I’m willing to bet you do the same thing. It would seem that we have all created these rules for our lives that aren’t set up to help us remember that we matter – without those things. Because until we decide that we matter, we’re always going to want more, and there is never going to be enough “more” to make us feel like we matter.
Let’s change that today, shall we? This won’t be an overnight success. In fact, it will be a lifelong journey. But all it takes is a little bit of awareness, a daily reminder of how precious our lives are just as is, simply because of the odds we beat to get here in the first place. In fact, put that figure up on your wall somewhere:
Me vs. the people who never became people:
1:400 000 000 000
If you need some evidence about how much you matter, just look around you. Take stock of your relationships, your friendships, your family. Whether you have only one person who cares for you or many, it doesn’t matter. If someone loves you, it’s because you matter. Why else would they care for you?
And if that doesn’t help, here is some more food for thought. As I was writing this post, my dad happened to send me a link to an article I had already seen before, but clearly needed to read again (and I’m sure I’ll need to read it another hundred times throughout my life).
It’s called Five Regrets in Life From People on Their Deathbed. They were:
- They wish they hadn’t made decisions based on what other people think.
- They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.
- They wish they had expressed their feelings.
- They wish they had stayed in touch with their friends.
- They wish they had let themselves be happy.
Today – and every day – at least at some point throughout the day, decide that you matter enough to make decisions based on what you think, what you feel, what you believe.
Decide not to work so hard. To give yourself a break when it’s time.
Decide to express your feelings and to always be true to them.
Decide to stay in touch with your friends, because your friends – if you treat them well – are really your family.
And finally, decide to let yourself be happy. Because it’s as easy as that: deciding.
Cheers to you, you who matters. Not just to you, but the to the world around you.
Love, love, love,