Andy Andrews is a New York Times best-selling author and speaker. He’s spoken in front of four U.S. presidents and Zig Ziglar described him as “the best speaker I have ever seen.” But he wasn’t always that way.
In fact, he was homeless when he started his career.
Enjoy the story of the old man who taught him how to overcome his circumstances and achieve success.
His name was Jones.
Not Mr. Jones. Just Jones.
I was 23 years old and living underneath a pier on Alabama’s Gulf Coast when I met him. I was alone, scared, and, most of all, angry.
Life had not turned out the way I had wanted it. Both of my parents were dead—my mom from cancer and my dad from a car accident—and, other than the small amount of money I made cleaning fish, I didn’t have a penny to my name.
One question kept rolling around in my head: Is life just a lottery ticket?
Does one person get a family and happiness while another ends up under a pier?
And that’s when I met Jones.
He was a peculiar old man who happened to show up one night underneath the pier where I was living. He was a friend when I didn’t have one and told me the truth when I didn’t want to hear it.
Jones taught me more than anyone else I’ve ever met, and if it weren’t for these three lessons in particular, I might still be under that pier:
1. Successful people read. A lot.
That very first night I met Jones under the pier, he asked me a question before he left: “Do you read?”
As I nodded, he added, “I’m not asking if you can read; I’m asking if you do.”
At that point in my life, I’d always been more of a Sports Illustrated kind of guy when it came to reading, so I wasn’t too excited when Jones pulled three small, orange hardcover books from his suitcase.
Seeing the names on the books, I asked, “Biographies?”
“No, he said, with a twinkle in his eye, “adventure stories! Success, failure, romance, intrigue, tragedy, and triumph—and the best part is that every word is true!”
What he said next is something that has stuck in my mind forever: “Remember, young man, experience is not the best teacher. Other people’s experience is the best teacher. By reading about the lives of great people, you can unlock the secrets to what made them great.”
I read Winston Churchill until dawn. When I finished the three Jones left me, I returned them to the library and checked out three more. Over time, I read more than 200 biographies. The insights into what it takes to be successful, combined with action, are what got me out from under the pier.
2. Don’t be average.
Jones had many sayings—things that seemed like they should be on a poster in a classroom or etched on a monument somewhere. This one has been a source of confidence and encouragement every time I’ve attempted to do something that made everyone in my life think I was crazy (like doing stand-up comedy, becoming a speaker, and writing a best-selling novel).
“If you are doing what everyone else is doing, you are doing something wrong. Because most people are not obtaining results that are considered extraordinary.”
Do you want extraordinary results in your life? If you’re on this website, the answer is most likely “yes.” If that’s the case, then it is critical that you differentiate the way you think from the vast majority of people. If you don’t, you will continue to achieve results in your life that are merely average.
And extraordinary people are not average.
3. Become a “noticer.” (Keep things in perspective)
I never found out what Jones did for a living, or even where he slept for that matter. He simply always seemed to be “around.”
He, however, did have a name for what he did—he called himself a “noticer.”
“While others may be able to sing well or run fast, I notice things that other people overlook,” he explained. “I notice things about situations and people that produce perspective. That’s what most folks lack—perspective—a broader view.”
That “broader view” is exactly what Jones gave me, and taught me to give others.
One day shortly after we met, Jones said he had a feast to share with me. At that time, I was a “one-meal-a-day” kind of guy, so you can imagine my excitement. That excitement, however, soon turned to disappointment when I saw that his “feast” consisted of a couple tins of Vienna sausages and sardines.
Since passing on a meal wasn’t really an option, I went ahead and ate with the old man. It wasn’t long before he resumed his habit of asking me annoying questions to which I thought the answers were obvious.
“What are you eating?” was the question this time.
Incredulous, I replied, “Vienna sausages and sardines…”
“In the sand.”
He smiled to himself and kept eating. “I thought so,” he mumbled.
Now I was mad. “What are you talking about?” I demanded.
“Young man,” he said, “you see only the sand at your feet and what you are eating that you wish was something else. Incidentally, you ate sardines and Vienna sausages in the sand. I dined on surf and turf with an ocean view.”
He slapped me on the back and quickly added, “It’s all about perspective.”
Think about this as you go through your day—what in your life are you currently looking at with the wrong perspective? What seemingly bad situations could actually be blessings in disguise?
Our realities are always shaped and molded by our perspective. If you want your reality to be defined by success, know this—a lack of perspective will make even your greatest successes seem like failures.
Stop for a moment. Look. Listen. Learn. Watch for opportunities to provide perspective. And when you do, don’t keep it to yourself. Those who bring perspective to others are often accepted as leaders and valued greatly in today’s world.