Any of Us Can Fall

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Homeless
Image by Gezze Bro

Last summer I shared on Facebook that I had seen a former mentor outside of Starbucks in what appeared to be a state of homelessness.

Susan Kuhn asked me to blog about it. I waited to publish the spot until I felt comfortable enough to discuss some matters, and so here we are.

It’s not just mental disease or “poorness” that causes homelessness. Far from it.

Any of us can fall.

See this guy was really brilliant, one of the smartest men I had ever met, and I wanted to learn from him. He was a big time earner, and a successful person, in my opinion.

And here he was sitting outside of Starbucks looking lost. He saw me, and clearly did not want to talk to me. Otherwise, I would have approached him.

There’s so much shame in today’s world.

I did not want to rob this man of the dignity he has left by forcing a conversation and insisting on helping me.

When it comes to homelessness, we like to ignore it writing it off to drug addiction. That’s why I argued the BBH “Homeless as Wifi Hotspots” controversy at SxSW was actually good. It exposed so much ignorance about the issue:

These types of statistics stun, shock, and defy conventional public opinions on homelessness.

But it’s different when you know someone who is homeless. The issue moves from an intellectual acknowledgement to a very real story that strikes fear into your heart.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

We all struggle, we all have our crosses to bear.

None of us are as perfect as we seem online or in our business meetings or at social affairs.

Hardships vary greatly. Any of us can lose that job and/or find ourselves in a pinch. Sanity is not a guarantee, either. Home life can be difficult.

I won’t lie, I know the picture looks real good for me online.

Here’s the truth: My wife lost her job last summer. Like at least 10% of American families in recent years, I can tell you it was a real challenge, adding extra strain to a tough year following the flood that hit my home in September, 2011.

During the initial months of adjustment, we had some scary scenarios. The change caused me to depart full-time nonprofit sector work I had chosen to pursue for the prior three years.

You soldier on with faith that it will work out, but knowing that you, too, could fall. Sometimes it’s out of your control.

In our case it did work out, and for that I am very grateful.

We have a beautiful daughter who loves us, a roof over our head, a stocked fridge, gifts under the Christmas tree (Caitlin is of Christian descent), money in the bank for the immediate future, clients, and prospects. Business looks good.

I don’t take these things for granted, either.

Especially after seeing my old once powerful friend in such a state. Things change quickly.

That’s it. It’s your turn. Are you grateful for what you have this Christmas?

If you’d like to fight homelessness with social media, please consider a donation to my friend Mark Horvath’s charity Invisible People.

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  • http://newraycom.com Ray Hiltz

    A very moving post, Geoff.
    It’s so unfortunate and unfair that we judge people according to their material status, as if homelessness and poverty is a choice.

    For those of us who works online, we invest a lot of time and creativity imaging our “brand”. We start off with a “Fake it’til you make it” strategy because nothing succeeds like success.
    We don’t want to appear vulnerable so we project who we want to be and not who we really are.

    By giving us a peek into your own reality, you give us hope that regardless of what life throws at us, things can indeed get better.
    Thank you.

    • geofflivingston

      Ray:

      Thanks for this. It’s amazing how many of us are just projecting an image. We’re living in an era of advertisements, and even those who hide under the badge of authenticity appear one way, and are often another in reality. After seven years in social, I feel like we ended up at the same place we were beforehand. Maybe a little better ;)

      Cheers, and life does get better if you keep moving forward.

      Geoff

  • http://alphaefficiency.com Bojan Djordjevic

    I am grateful for every second I breathe. In my country poverty guidelines are redefined compared to those in USA. With 30% unemployment, there are quite enough homeless people.

    But than I remember, even though I was born of privilege (for this countries standards), I know I can’t take things for granted. And I pour all my heart into what I do. I deliver, and I plan my financial future ahead.

    I am greatful that I am in that position, that I am building, and not only surviving. I am making the most out of it.

    • geofflivingston

      Building instead of surviving is the way to be, @011Bojan:disqus. You are a very smart and grateful man. Thank you for sharing your perspective on this.

  • http://www.kaarinadillabough.com Kaarina Dillabough

    I’m grateful every day…even on the tough days. Wishing you the very best, today and always. Cheers! Kaarina

    • geofflivingston

      Thank you, Kaarina. Stay focused on the good stuff, and keep helping people get over that edge. Happy Holidays.

  • http://twitter.com/susancellura susancellura

    Geoff, thank you for sharing. I am grateful for everything I have, especially my family. As a pulmonary hypertension patient, I sometimes wonder what I did to deserve such a disease. But then I realize it’s not in retaliation for something, it is life. And life is an adventure. I treasure every moment I have with friends and family because they make the adventure fun and grand. I enjoy my work because I am fortunate to do something I love. I’ve realized I’m a lucky individual to have people to love and who love me. Happy Holidays to you and your family!

    • geofflivingston

      It is life. Today we took Soleil to the pediatric cardiologist. She has a heart murmur, nothing big, but still scary at first. That was life, as you say. I am sure your family is really grateful for you, too, and that’s why you’re here. Happy Holidays, Susan!

  • http://www.TheWirelessWizard.com/ Scott Goldman

    It’s all about perspective. After having lost several friends to various diseases and nearly going bankrupt many years ago before my career turned around I can assure you that being grateful for every moment of every day comes easily. Living in a nice home, in an area that I’ve chosen, being healthy enough to bike regularly and to live without pain, goes a long, long way when I consider the alternatives.

    The unfortunate reality is that some people have had it so good for so long that their perspective changes. I’ve seen people go ballistic over a chip in the paint of a new BMW or a store being out of their favorite brand of jeans and feel sorry for them. My sorrow comes from knowing that they are missing the best part of life… the love of family, the happiness that comes with true satisfaction and the appreciation of a life without discomfort or disease.

    I’m also grateful to my Mom who, as a single parent, raised me to respect what I have instead of whining about what I don’t, and to make my own way in life with appreciation of every accomplishment.

    Thanks for a great post. Everyone needs a reminder now and then.

    • geofflivingston

      Yeah, I think when someone goes ballistic it’s because there is much more going on in there, but because they are not present, they can’t see that. Instead they are burned by discomfort, as you say. LOL, not that I have been there.

      You have led a great life, Scott. I am honored to know you, and I am sure your Mom is super grateful and proud of you.

      • http://www.TheWirelessWizard.com/ Scott Goldman

        Thanks so much for the kind words, Geoff – I feel the same way. I point to you and your success with pride when people ask me anything about social media. “I don’t know much,” I tell them, “but a guy who used to work for me is the social media ninja. Read his book!”

        No question, I’ve had a great life so far and anticipate more to come. Like you, though, what appears on the surface isn’t always the complete story. Personal tragedies and financial difficulties have made me think less of my life on occasion but overall I am truly (pick one that you’re comfortable with) lucky/blessed/fortunate.

        Keep up the great work and best wishes for a healthy, happy and successful 2013 to you and all your readers.

  • http://twitter.com/RogierNoort Rogier Noort

    Heavy… We had a “stray” in our warm lobby the past 2 weeks. Because I’m usually first I couldn’t ignore him day after day. He apologized for sleeping there, I told it wasn’t a problem, it was warm and dry… He’s not on drugs, he even has money, he just didn’t have roof over his head. He’s out now, has a place, we’re friends on Facebook.

    But yes… it does put things in perspective.

    Thanks for sharing this…

    • geofflivingston

      What a powerful story, Rogier. And how rewarding it must be to see him on Faceook. It must make you smile every time, even with a little trepidation.

  • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

    I am grateful, even though I don’t always act like it. I need to be better about remembering and acting in accordance with that remembrance. I know very well how things can change or go wrong. I also know it’s important to push forward even on the darkest of days.

    • geofflivingston

      It’s easy to get caught up in the trials of our daily life. I don’t think you are alone in this, I know I suffer from the same short sightedness.

      • http://www.writerightwords.com/ Erin Feldman

        I may write about some of it at some point. I would have been one of those homeless statistics but for family.

  • http://twitter.com/Michele_Welch Michele Welch

    Gratitude is such an amazing gift Geoff. Not many people take the time to stop and truly acknowledge what they have to be grateful for. Gratitude really puts things into perspective.

    It’s a lesson I do my best to teach my kids every day. I want them to never take life for granted because as you stated, you just never know what kind of cards you’re going to get dealt – “Sometimes it’s out of your control.” – so true!

    I feel truly grateful. Although things are not “perfect”, and as you, my family has had it’s challenges, every morning I wake up and see my precious babies faces. If that’s not enough to be grateful for, than I don’t know what is.
    Happy Holidays to you and your family.

    • geofflivingston

      You know, sometimes I write out a gratitude list just to show myself there are always ten things within immediate grasp to be grateful for. I forget this so easily, when I have no right to do so.

      Your children will greatly benefit from this focus you are transferring. Thank you for sharing this. Nothing is ever perfect, right? But they are always just as they are.

      Power to the Ori!

  • tomdebaere

    Hi Geoff, I am far away from the type of issues you describe, the situations you encounter, or you personal situation. You have the right spirit I think, and people bounce back easier with the right spirit.

    You describe perfectly what people should be doing: be grateful for what they have, and stop complaining how expensive everything has become, or how much they want that new gadget but can’t afford it.

    Warm regards,

    Tom

  • Susan Kuhn

    Beautiful, Goeff. Thanks for posting. I hope your friend can remember who he truly is — all the fine qualities he has — and overcome that barrier of shame to get back to being himself. While my losses were far less total than his, I found that shame and anger blocked me for far too long. The irony is that there are things you can learn from loss that you can’t learn any other way, good things. I believe this is why we pray, for situations we can’t impact directly. I’ll never forget eating at a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless that I volunteered at…and having a homeless man console me over my recent illness and divorce. It was clear he thought I had it worse than he did. We really are all one under those temporary labels.

  • Cindy Rahm

    I have seen how far away from our original path we can stray. My friends in 12 step recovery come from every walk of life and status. Some end up in depths they never, ever imagined could happen to them…some get out of the cycle before it gets that bad. It serves as a reminder that we are all vulnerable to the slippery slope of chasing our desires. Then when “life happens” we things can come crashing down.

  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    You know it’s not even just about failure. Sometimes it’s bad luck. Sometimes people get shafted out of their money. I used to watch that movie with Jim Carrey and Tea Leoni, Fun with Dick and Jane, and wonder how many people laughed at that to keep the tears out of their eyes.

    Homelessness can happen to anyone – even an otherwise well-off person who doesn’t have the cushion of savings. Some would say “well why don’t you save?” If you don’t have health insurance and have an illness that takes most of your on-hand cash to treat, you won’t have savings.

    If you have kids even, it’s hard to save when you see your children need something right now.

    It’s a much more complicated issue than people make it out to be.

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