#7 - Lessons from a homeless man in Vancouver

October 20, 2020

Sometimes we can learn the most amazing things at really unexpected times. In today’s episode, Matt looks back to a conversation he had with a homeless man in Vancouver.

A chance meeting led to three lessons that became part of Matt’s life.

Today, he’s sharing them with you.

Hey friends, Matt here. I just want to welcome you to episode seven, where today, we’re going to be talking about lessons that I learned from a homeless man in Vancouver.

So back in August 1998, I was 14, it was just before my 15th birthday, and my mum and dad let me go on a holiday by myself to Canada. It was three weeks away from home, and I was going to be staying with my aunt and uncle. Technically it was my grandmother’s cousin, but aunt and uncle is much easier than figuring out the semantics of first cousin, second cousin, etc. It was a brilliant holiday, I had a chance to explore the local area, to walk around the countryside, and most importantly to feel and gain a bit of independence.

On one of the days we were walking around Vancouver, and there was a homeless man sitting at the side of the road. He was maybe 40 years old or so. Humanity as a whole can be really quite blind to those in need. Homeless people can be almost invisible as people stroll by with their shopping bags filled to the brim. It’s something we see on pretty much a daily basis in every town and city that’s local to us.

I sat down with the homeless man to talk. I don’t know why I did, but I felt compelled to do so. My aunt and uncle they decided to go off to do some shopping and said they’d come back for me as they didn’t want to stand and wait. Looking back at that now, I can understand perhaps why it happened at the time in 1998. But certainly where we are today, I don’t think people would be so keen to leave you with a random stranger at the side of the road these days, no matter how busy that street is. So I did the innocent kid thing of asking the man why he was there, half expecting perhaps to be told to go away. I mean, after all, why does someone want a random child asking them what they’re doing? But he decided to indulge me and tell me his story.

So he was a business owner. And he’d been putting all of his energy and time into his business. He spent been a long time growing it and building it and making it successful. But unfortunately, there’d been a downturn and his business had failed. Alongside that his marriage had failed, and his wife and kids had left him. And he was on the streets and desperate for another chance at life.

There were three things he told me that have stuck with me to this day. Don’t forget why you do what you do. Be there for others, and always say thank you.

Now he regretted not spending enough time with his family and focusing too much time on his business. He had lost the connection that he had with the people he loved most. We continued talking a little more about various things for about 45 minutes or so, it was quite a while. And then I thanked him for his time as my aunt and uncle came back. And before I went, I stood up and I gave him all of the money that I had in my wallet, which was about $50 Canadian dollars. He needed it much more than I did. And all I would have done is buy sweets and comic books anyway. Which is pretty much all I came back with from Canada aside from some maple syrup.

On the flight home back across the Atlantic, I was thinking about the three points that stuck out to me. Up until that point in my life, I’d probably been a little bit selfish and always thinking about myself. And that’s not uncommon as you’re growing up, but I don’t think I cared enough about others or appreciated them enough. I certainly had been a little demon at home and my parents deserved better.

But this isn’t the point where I say that, hey, my life’s magically turned around. I’m not a saint. And I still screw things up often. Just ask Mel and I’m sure she’ll give you a big long list.

But hearing a story from someone who’d found themselves homeless through a series of unfortunate events is common, I get that. I grew up in an area that didn’t really have many homeless people, so it was certainly something that was new to me.

And the three things that the homeless man told me on that day, they ingrained themselves into my mind. They became life lessons that I was determined to live by. And they also made their way into my business. And let’s talk about how they fit into business as that’s the real point me telling you the story today.

Don’t forget why you do what you do

It’s really important that you keep your feet on the ground and your business. There’ll be many ups and downs as well as challenges that you’ll face. At the worst times you can feel bogged down or lost. We’ve all been there. It’s a horrible place and can really affect your mental and physical health. You started your business for a reason. Maybe it was to give your family a better life. Whatever the reason, you should remember this every day, it forms part of your goals. And something that I do with my goals, is I print them out and I keep them right next to my computer. So as I’m talking to you right now I’m looking at the screen of my iMac, and I can see a post it note stuck to the corner of it which has my goals on and it’s something that reminds me every single day. I don’t mind telling you what that goal is. The goal that I have right now is with my partner Mel, and that’s for us to buy our first house. We currently rent a house, and we’d like to get a property that we can call our own and we can kind of put our own stamp and flavour on. If you ever feel like you’re losing sight of your way, take a step back and look at things from another perspective. Everything can become clearer when you approach it from another angle.

Be there for others

This feels applicable for this year more than any other in recent memory. In the UK right now as I’m talking to you, we’ve had our government impose another lockdown, which is affecting a large portion of the country. It’s not a full lockdown that affects the whole country, it’s just in the areas that they feel are most affected by the current situation. There’s a tremendous strain on thousands of business owners, and millions of people worried about their jobs and income. It’s a mess, and people are struggling. But this same thing is being reflected in many countries around the world. It’s so important, that we’re able to be there for other people, whether that’s for our business, or in our personal lives. Time is the most precious resource that you have, spending on someone else is one of the kindest things that you can do. But don’t let a global pandemic be the only reason that you’re there for others, do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Always say thank you

Now this one should be obvious, but I’m still amazed by the number of adults who are incapable of saying thank you. They’re just two little words, but they have the ability to completely change the outcome of a situation. There’s always going to be conflict between human beings, we only have to look at a history book to see that. But at the most basic level, I’m sure we’ve all seen a customer arguing with a member of staff in a store. How many times have you seen that person storm off without saying thank you, even when their issue was resolved? I can think of so many and perhaps one of the most memorable was a lady who used every single curse word that she can imagine in about a 50 yard space between the counter and the actual front doors of the store. Taking the time to say thank you to people who help you or guide you, it might seem like something is really small to you, but to the person receiving those two words, it can mean absolutely everything. And one thing I’ve always done is to go out of my way to ensure that someone who helps me in a customer service role has that recognised by their bosses. You never know when the person is going to have their next performance review, so why not give them some ammunition that’s going to help their future to be better? It takes just a moment of your time, but you can really affects someone else’s life for the better.

Your business is driven by you. As a person, your entire personality and actions have been formed through your years of experience, many of which came whilst you were growing up as a child. The way that your parents treated and encouraged you, the way that you went to school, the sports that you played, the activities you enjoyed, the hobbies that you did, everything that you’ve done in your life, whether it was good or bad, that’s formed you as a person right now. We’ve all made mistakes, but mistakes aren’t something that we need to dwell on. Mistakes are something that we can learn from, and we can use to turn into a positive effect for our future.

What are you doing in your business right now? Are you happy of how things are progressing? If you’re not, what can you do to make changes?

For me, as I’ve mentioned before, in some blog posts I’ve written and also to our customers of Funnel Packs, one of the main reasons I do what I do is because I feel a calling to help other people. I want to do everything I can to help everyone else to be successful. And most importantly, I like to help people in our industry, because I feel that our industry is one of the most important things moving forwards, that’s really going to have a digital renaissance. So the more people that can sell great design and marketing services, the better our future is going to be. The better the economy will be. The better families will be because business owners will have created time from their business to be able to spend that with their loved ones.

And also, as I mentioned earlier, in this podcast, one of our main goals is to own a house together. Now that’s not literally why we do what we do, we don’t create and sell products just so we can have a house. It’s a byproduct of what we do, but all of the energy we put in and a lot of the motivation we have even on our worst days is because we have that future goal of stepping through the front door into a house that we actually own.

Being there for others has always been important to both Mel and I. This year, as I mentioned, obviously it’s not great from the global pandemic perspective. Something we did really early on was to take a step back from selling, and to reach out to our customers and to ask them how we can help and to try and continue to deliver as much free content and help as we can, rather than pushing sales. Now we’ve seen businesses continue to push sales all the way through the pandemic, and that’s fine. It’s okay for people to do that everybody needs to put food on the table. Everybody needs to make sales that actually help them and their families to live their lives. But it’s really important that when you can, you’re taking time out to help people. The reason I started this podcast was because I’ve had a long time dream of wanting to be able to say things to people, as well as write them. And that’s what I’m doing with you today.

And finally, thank you is so important, as I’ve already mentioned to you. I love saying thank you to people. I love seeing the smile that goes on someone’s face after you have a positive interaction. One of my goals in life has always been just to make one person smile every day. It’s a little bit harder when there’s a pandemic on, because Mel and I have been in a long time self imposed lockdown. We have various medical issues, as I mentioned before, that make us want to stay a bit safer. So I don’t have that interaction every day at the moment and sometimes I kind of have to imagine someone smiling instead. But the point is saying thank you is just so important. To give you a small example from our own business… if someone sends in a support ticket to us, we use HelpScout. After they’ve sent in a ticket, they’ve got an opportunity to rate that ticket and to kind of give a great rating or a negative rating if they didn’t like our help. And just a few small words that a customer can write in just saying thank you and why it was really helpful to them, that can mean the world to Mel and I. It’s so nice just to get a small email or message that lets you know that a customer appreciated something. But more than that the customers that we create end up hopefully becoming lifelong friends. We learn and share a lot about each other, and I really enjoy those interactions.

Be proud of what you do and why you do it. Be there for your family, your loved ones, and those who support and guide you. And most importantly, always say thank you. You can brighten someone’s day with just two words, and isn’t that a great thing?

It’s amazing what you can learn from stopping and talking to someone. The next time you’re walking down the street and you see someone sitting or lying at the side of the road. Take a moment to stop. Buy them a coffee and ask them about their story. Not only are you giving someone the gift of a few minutes of your time, but you never know what you’ll learn.

Small moments and actions can change your life and the lives of those around you.

If you found this episode helpful, please feel free to subscribe in your podcast player of choice. I’d also be honoured if you’d consider leaving a rating or a review if you feel the content is valuable to you.

Have a great day ahead. You’re awesome. Take care!

Transcription by Otter.ai

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    • Hey Kevin!

      Thanks for your comment and your kind words. Really happy to hear that you enjoyed the episode – I appreciate you sharing that 🙂


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