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What a homeless man taught me about success

A few years ago I was invited to be the keynote speaker at a writers conference in San Francisco. My wife, Keri, wanted to see the city so we turned the event into a quick vacation. At the top of my wife’s bucket list was to ride one of the famous San Francisco trolley cars.

After my presentation, Keri and I took a cab to the main trolley station only to find that others had the same idea–there was a line more than three blocks long waiting to ride the trolley. I asked a woman near the front of the line how long she had been waiting. “Almost two hours,” she said gruffly. I didn’t want to wait that long, but Keri had her heart set on the experience and, not wanting to disappoint her, we took our place at the back of the line. What made the wait even more painful is that it appeared that the trolley cars were leaving the station just half full, doubling our wait.

Then Keri dropped her cell phone, which practically exploded on the concrete sidewalk. Before either of us could gather up the pieces a homeless man, who had been walking the line asking for money, picked up a piece of Keri’s phone and handed it to me. “Here you go,” he said. I was expecting him to ask for money but instead he asked, “You waiting for the trolley?”


“This line is more than an hour,” he said.

“That’s what I heard.”

He scratched his beard. “For a dollar I’ll tell you a secret to getting on the car without waiting.”

It was an intriguing ask. Frankly I would have given him the money anyway, but now I was curious to hear what he had to say. I handed him a dollar.

“Thank you,” he said, shoving the bill into his pocket. “Here’s the secret. You see the Trolley cars leave the station only half full. They have to because there are stops all the way up the road. If the cars were already full they couldn’t pick anyone up, right? The stops are marked by a white ‘X’ painted in the road.” He pointed directly across the street from where we were standing. “See that ‘X’ right there? That’s the first stop.”

“Right in front of us?” I said.

“Yes, sir. I wouldn’t lie to you,” he said, then added. “Was that good enough for another dollar?”

Smiling, I handed him another bill then Keri and I walked across the street and stood in front of the X. Within a few minutes a trolley car stopped right in front of us. As we stepped onto the trolley a woman already sitting inside just gaped at us. “… I waited almost two hours.”

X marked the spot.

In every human endeavor there are lines between what we want and where we are. We expect them. We look for them. But many of them aren’t necessary. I’ve met people who have trained themselves to find the obstacles that hinder their dreams. Some people, afraid to lose their place in line, wait their whole lives instead of just crossing the street.

For instance, no publisher wanted my first book The Christmas Box. I could have waited for years hoping that someone might pick it up. Instead I went to bookstores and asked them what it would take to get my book in their stores. Then I printed the book myself and started selling it. Only after it had sold a half million copies did a publisher pick it up. Now there are more than 8 million copies of that book in print.

My wife is another example of crossing the street. After living in Florence, Italy for two years, Keri’s dream was to start a travel company taking people to Italy on tours. She made plans to go back to college to study Italian and art history. She figured it would take her about five years to start her tour company. I convinced her to seize her dream now by telling her that she would learn more preparing and guiding her first tour than she would in four years of college. Six months later she took her first group to Italy. Her tour was an resounding success. Since then she’s taken more than a thousand people to Italy. And she’s learned the language and history.

Procrastinating our dreams is the surest way to kill them. And, as the homeless man pointed out to us, our dreams are oftentimes a lot closer than we think. The secret is to think around the line and find the painted X’s that are sometimes right in front of us.

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Richard Paul Evans is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Christmas Box and the Michael Vey series. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling The Walk series, the story of a man who, upon losing his wife, home and business, decides to walk across America. 


This Post Has One Comment

  1. I saw Richard Paul Evans on the news today he was promoting his new book The Noel Diary when he said that a young unwed mother was the woman that he had had dreams of holding him as a baby a voice told me that he would be the one who I’ve been praying for! I have a real life story that people everywhere has told me that I need to write a book about some events and choices that has made me who I am today, a survivor! I’m sure that you probably get that from a lot of people who think that they should write their story I’m not sure that my experiences and choices are really something that people would want to read about but I know that I have been guided to asking you if this is a story that would be something that you would want to write about? Please give me the opportunity to talk to you I know it could benefit us both! Thank you for your time I’m hoping to hear from you!

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