A homeless man, a billionaire, a rising track star, and a disabled child showed me different ways to live.
I used to believe that there were two kinds of people. There were happy people and there were unhappy people.
When I was younger, my cousin and I played a game called sweet and sour. We’d sit in the back of my dad’s car, and we’d wave at people through the window when we stopped at red lights. If people waved back, then they were sweet. These were the happy people. If they didn’t wave back, then they were sour. These were the unhappy people.
As I grew older, I stopped playing sweet and sour, but this game of deciphering happy from unhappy people continued. Classmates who were excited to be in school were the happy people, while the ones who dreaded going were the unhappy people. Colleagues who had a smile on first thing in the morning were happy people, while those who you couldn’t speak to until after lunch were unhappy people. There were two outcomes to this game for so long.
That was, until I learned about the homeless man, the billionaire, the rising track star, and the disabled child.
When I interacted with or learned about these four unique individuals, my perception of the world changed. My view of the different types of people who existed on this earth expanded. Two different kinds of people became four, and each of these individuals represented the four people I now believe inhabit this planet.
When considering these four people and the way they lived their lives, think about which one you would like to be. It will help redefine your thoughts regarding meaning and fulfillment.
People Who Have Nothing and Feel Nothing — The Homeless Man
The bench behind the basketball court was covered in blankets and clothing. To be quite honest, I thought it could be a clothing donation pile.
I was playing around one morning when a shot went errant, bounced off a rock and slammed into the soft bench coverings. I gingerly walked over to grab the ball but stopped immediately when the blankets and t-shirts flew all over the place. A voice emerged from the bench and a man stood up and let out a loud stretch.
“You woke me up!” He cried.
In front of me was a man with long dreadlocks, no shirt, baggy sweatpants, and an array of tattoos that fully covered his body.
“Good thing I like ball, or I would have whooped your ass.” He said to me. He grabbed the basketball and dribbled over to the hoop. For the next half hour, we shot around and talked about life. He told me his name was Kevin, and he’d lived on the streets of New York City for the last fifteen years.
I learned about Kevin’s entire life in thirty minutes. I learned about his drug problems, his broken family, his crime involvement, and his belief that the world had given up on him, driving him to give up on himself.
The clothing on the bench was all Kevin owned. Other than that, he had nothing. He spent his days trying to convince anybody who would listen to get him a drink, a snack, or truthfully, he told me, a little money to spend on alcohol or drugs.
Kevin revealed to me that he had been knocked down so many times, he just wasn’t willing to get back up anymore. He’d continue the rest of his days just like this no matter who or what tried to motivate him. He knew that he had nothing, and he was okay feeling nothing. He didn’t want anything else.
Kevin represents the first kind of person I believe lives in this world. It’s a person who has nothing and feels nothing. It’s difficult to think that these kinds of people exist, but they do. There are millions of Kevin’s out there roaming around aimlessly, purposelessly, meaninglessly. These are the people who allow life to get the best of them. They are fed up by the adversity they’ve faced, and they have essentially given up.
This kind of person has the ability to change. Kevin could change the way he lives his life with proper guidance. But he chooses not to. He makes a conscious choice not to try again. But even if there is some Kevin in you or somebody you love, understand that being this kind of person is a choice. And you can choose another path if you really want to live a more meaningful life.
People Who Have Everything but Feel Nothing — The Rising Track Star
A timid woman with dark hair and round glasses walked onto the stage. Her hands were slightly trembling. Her speech was soft and shaky. She began talking about her little sister — her perfect little sister — is how she referred to her when the speech started. But bit by bit, her story revealed that her sister was not so perfect. In fact, her sister was gone.
The speaker’s sister was an up and coming track star. She excelled in athletics, earning a scholarship to an Ivy League school. She thrived in the classroom, finishing at the top of her class. She was absolutely beautiful the speaker described, a perfect representation of what little girls strive to look like. She had friends and a great family. Her teachers and coaches adored her. From a third-party perspective, she had everything. But something was missing. She felt nothing.
When this speaker dramatically paused in the middle of her speech and revealed that despite all of these things her sister had, she still decided to take her own life one summer afternoon, the only question to be asked was why? Why would she do this?
The timid woman with the dark hair and round glasses spoke about how her sister was numb to her surroundings. She was numb to her accomplishments, her support. She was unable to feel any joy no matter what she did because she was always striving for more. She never believed that she was enough. She struggled to understand that she had meaning. She struggled for so long that one day she decided it was too much.
This young lady demonstrates the characteristics of the second kind of person in this world. It’s a person who seemingly has everything but feels nothing. But the feeling is the best part of the having, and it is so devastatingly sad this girl did not get the chance to experience that.
Being aware of what we have is immensely important. Being grateful for what we’ve achieved, who we have surrounding us, and realizing we don’t always need to strive for everything and then some is a superpower that must be practiced every day. We must appreciate the smallest of things in this world, because only then will we realize that we have enough. We are enough. We matter. We belong.
People Who Have Nothing but Feel Everything — The Disabled Child
My friend Carly recently studied abroad in South Africa. She’s practicing to become a nurse, so part of her program included care and quality time with a group of disabled young girls at a hospital near where she was living. One of these girls changed the way Carly sees the world and people around her, and it has shifted the way I define living a meaningful life as well.
As an aspiring nurse, Carly has seen all different types of people from a physical standpoint. But she’d never seen anyone like Miracle. Walking into the playroom one day, Carly was stunned to see a girl, about eight years old, on the floor smiling from ear to ear. At first glance, she’s just like every other bright eyed eight-year-old around the world. But then, it’s difficult not to notice all that she is missing.
Miracle has no limbs. No arms, no legs. Miracle is also an orphan. She has no family. She has no money. From the outside, it seems like she has nothing. But to Miracle, she has everything.
Carly was amazed by Miracle’s mindset. She has no arms or legs, but Miracle will be the first to tell you she has eyes, ears, a nose, and a mouth. She has no family, but she will be quick to remind you that she has nurses and doctors and people like Carly who make her feel how a family is supposed to make somebody feel.
Miracle’s incessant smile, her playfulness, her lovingness, her sincere appreciation for the world and those around her allow her to feel like she has everything. Because in her mind, she does. She has everything she needs. There is no gap between what she desires and what she currently has. This is what allows for fulfillment.
Miracle is the third kind of person in this world. These are people who seemingly have nothing. From a materialistic point of view, they may actually not have much, but from an emotional sense, they have everything. People like Miracle find it easy to be unabashedly content no matter what situation they find themselves in. They see the world as a gift. Every day is an opportunity they get to embrace, as opposed to a chore they are forced to endure. To me, these people understand that meaning is derived from within. Life is meaningful when it is well-loved, not just well-lived.
People Who Have Everything and Feel Everything — The Billionaire
Two cars pulled into the parking lot of a convention center where hundreds of entrepreneurs flocked to hear different speakers share their success stories. One car was a brand-new Ferrari. The other was an old Chevy. One driver was a billionaire. The other was not. One driver was smiling. One was not. One was on his cell phone. The other was not. Guess who was the billionaire?
The man in the old Chevy smiling and not on his cell phone.
The billionaire went on stage and shared his rags to riches story. He was a poor kid raised by a single mother, and they struggled to eat a warm meal during some intense winter months. He worked hard and kept his head down. He stayed quiet, humble, but hungry. He was always hungry to make an impact. After learning as much as he could about computer software engineering, he worked for a company that gave him a steady salary, and he started a small business with a friend on the side. That side business turned into his first multi-million-dollar company. He made a few more after that. He invested wisely. He didn’t spend much on material objects. He still drives an old Chevy. These are just a few of the reasons why he’s a billionaire.
The billionaire, just like Miracle, is incredibly grateful for all that he has and all that he has done. He understands that he has the capacity to have every physical object in the world, but this is not what’s most important to him. What’s most important is the impact he has on other people, the positive influence he makes on those around him, and the dedication to working on a cause much greater than himself. He understands that he is not the center of the universe. He is just a small part of it trying to do his best to make a difference.
This is the final type of person in this world. And it’s not just billionaires. People who seemingly have everything on the outside and also feel like they have everything on the inside. These kinds of people also bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be. They know that despite their ambitions, wherever they currently are is part of the journey, and they are content knowing that.
What Type of Person Are You?
I used to believe that there were two kinds of people. Now I believe there are four.
It’s now up to you to decide which type of person you are. Are you the homeless man? The rising track star? The disabled child? The billionaire?
Which type of person do you wish to become?
It’s up to you to decide which one of these lives will bring you the most happiness, meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. When you consider your perspective on how to live a meaningful life, remember these four unique individuals. Remember who they are and who they wished to be. And finally decide whether or not the life you’re living is truly meaningful.