A couple of years ago I was walking up Lexington Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. It was the end of a long day and I was feeling and looking pretty drab compared to the impeccably dressed employees of Park Avenue’s Fortune 500 companies.
As I approached the corner and was about to step into the street, a homeless man looked at me and yelled out, “that man walks like a billionaire!” I, of course, being a jaded New Yorker, didn’t flinch or skip a beat and kept walking past. “Look everybody,” he continued, “That man walks like a billionaire!”
By the time I had gotten to the other side of the street I was smiling and shaking my head. I was wearing shoes a church lady had given me money for, cheap pants from the GAP and a t-shirt I’d had for years. I had just finished an internship, had no money, no job, no job prospects, and was in tons of debt from three years of graduate school.
I found it hysterical that out of all the real billionaires, or at least millionaires that had been walking past, this homeless man points at me and says I’m the billionaire! But after I reflected on the experience, I realized this man had a point.
Before changing careers, I worked at a law firm and quite honestly only did it for the money. The more money I made, the more I needed to have. And so I worked without stopping, I worked until my body literally couldn’t handle it anymore. But all I cared about was making more and more money.
Money made me feel powerful. Money made me feel like no one could control me; that I could in fact, control others. And so making money was my only goal, and the only thing that made me feel secure.
And the harder I worked, the more isolated I became. I lost friends; I lost relationships; I quite frankly, lost myself. And then one day, it all became too much, and I left my job.
Fast forward four years later, and there I was on Lexington, penniless and burdened with debt, but wildly rich because of the relationships I had in my life: friends, family, my partner, and many, many wonderful people who I worked with in my new career.
Having chosen the career I have, I will never make significant amounts of money. I will probably be in debt for many years to come. And I will probably struggle with the insecurity that comes with all of this.
But, like this homeless man could see, I now walk with a certain freedom, a certain power that comes from the love, and friendships, and meaningful relationships that now make my life full and rich beyond measure.
I needed that homeless man to help me see my life with a different perspective. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.