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3 Lessons That Got Me Out of Homelessness

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Homeless becoming successful inspirational story

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…

Where?

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.

 

Make sure you get your hands on Andy’s latest book, based on his experiences with Jones, The Noticer Returns.

Andy Andrews is the author of the New York Times bestsellers How Do You Kill 11 Million People?, The Noticer, and The Traveler's Gift, and is also an in-demand speaker for the world's largest organizations. Zig Ziglar said, "Andy Andrews is the best speaker I have ever seen."

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20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Frank arcabascio

    Oct 19, 2013 at 5:54 am

    Amazing. I will email this to my friends. Surf n turf w an ocean view says it all … God gives us so much n we don’t care to see We block our own vision .. Literally. Thank you n god bless you Andy

  2. Sebastian

    Oct 13, 2013 at 4:42 am

    “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.”

    Thank God I found this.

  3. felix darkwah (@felixdarkwah)

    Oct 4, 2013 at 12:30 am

    this is a great piece…a bigger, wider and new perspective.

  4. Aleks

    Oct 3, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is worth reading.

  5. Andy Andrews (@AndyAndrews)

    Oct 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Awesome, Brandon! Thanks for reading!

  6. Nkiru Okeke Tugbiyele

    Oct 3, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Thank you for sharing these lessons. I’m blessed.

  7. Brandon

    Oct 3, 2013 at 12:49 am

    Nice write up! Just ordered “The Noticer” from what I have read so far it sounds good.

  8. Vig87

    Oct 2, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Hey Andy, thank you for sharing your time to write this post. Really inspiring and helpful! I was wondering what are a few good biographies that you could recommend to me?

    • Andy Andrews (@AndyAndrews)

      Oct 3, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Any biography on George Washington Carver would be worth your while. There is an incredible amount to be learned from his life!

  9. Abia Hunter

    Oct 2, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing!

  10. LaTra Chivon

    Oct 2, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    I absolutely love this post! I may have to purchase this book I would love to know the ending!

    • Jon Vig

      Oct 3, 2013 at 12:06 am

      I was wondering what would be a couple of good recommendations on biographies for me or anyone else to read?

  11. Solomon

    Oct 2, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    This article is so awesome, especially your take on perspective, although i`m far from homeless, I feel hopeless and sad sometimes at the fact, I still haven’t found my life’s purpose at 26!

  12. Khalid

    Oct 2, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Hey Andy, would you say ‘be a noticer’ is one who grateful and always looks for the silver lining in any situation?

    • Andy Andrews (@AndyAndrews)

      Oct 3, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Khalid! I would say that is definitely one aspect of being a noticer. Gratitude plays such a huge role in shaping one’s perspective, so if you can master gratitude, life becomes much easier!

  13. Maxwell Ivey

    Oct 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Hello; This was a great post. When the government shut down is over and they reopen the national library services for the blind, I plan to download and read your books. I especially like the section on prospective. Recently I made a big sale, but the client didn’t pay the commission. I would be bitter, but the news of the sale brought me to the attention of a major manufacturer in my industry that wants me to represent their products through my website. I would be their exclusive sales person for the u s and north america. I also received requests to help locate other equipment for buyers because they saw the post I wrote about the sale. I will honestly admit that I may always have trouble enjoying my successes. But knowing this about myself does help me to take time to enjoy accomplishments and celebrate them. Keep up the great work, Max

  14. Andy Andrews (@AndyAndrews)

    Oct 2, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks for featuring this, Joel! I’ll be checking in throughout the day to answer any questions!

    • Joel

      Joel

      Oct 2, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      Good on you Andy, this post is well written thanks for your contribution 🙂

      • Pritesh

        Oct 3, 2013 at 6:01 pm

        Hi Joel, I love your website. I really love it. Many a times though I wish there was a small button that can convert the article into a “Print Ready” page. Because, when I read an article like this, I wish to print it and stick it on the walls around my desk, so that I can see this for few days. Can this be done?

        • Joel

          Joel

          Oct 4, 2013 at 1:04 am

          Hi Pritesh,

          That is no problem at all, if you look on your left, there is a floating share bar. Point your mouse on the top button that says “Share” and then a drop down will appear, click on the “More” button and there should be a “Print” option that appears.

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