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What a Homeless Man Taught Me About Success

The interaction with my homeless friend reminded me that true success is simply a matter of being fully present in our lives.
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As I stepped out onto the street in downtown Philadelphia, I felt invigorated by the cool, crisp morning air. My senses were extra alive that morning. I had just spent most of the previous three hours sitting absolutely still with my eyes closed at a mindfulness retreat led by my good friend and mentor, Michael Carroll.

We had a short lunch break from the retreat. I was heading back to my hotel to grab a bite of the food I had packed.

Due to my heightened senses, everything seemed to glow with beauty in the bright morning sun. The gentle breeze, although chilly, made me smile.

About midway between the retreat center and my hotel, I approached a large man wearing a green winter coat who was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a MacDonald's.

It appeared as though he had slept outdoors. It also appeared as though he had too much to drink the previous night. He still smelled of alcohol and he had some dried vomit on the front of his green jacket.

I greeted the man with a smile as I approached. He returned my greeting and he smiled, too.

After exchanging a few words, he asked, "By any chance would you be able to get me a hamburger from MacDonald's?"

I replied, "Of course, I'd be happy to do that."

He then asked, "Do you think I could get cheese on it?"

I said, "Sure! I'll get you one with cheese on it."

A few moments later, I returned to the man and handed him the bag. He looked so grateful.

He opened the bag and partially opened the sandwich to take a look at it.

Suddenly, a large, beautiful smile appeared on his face. He looked at me and said with deep, deep gratitude in his voice, "You put cheese on it."

As we looked at each other for a moment, it was as though we looked into each other's souls. We both had moist eyes.

The man extended his arms to hug me.

We embraced each other firmly and held that embrace. I could feel his beard and a little bit of his cheek against my face. The moment was pure magic. I felt joy rush over my body.

After letting go of each other, our eyes met once again. The man said with the utmost sincerity, "Thank you so much. God bless you."

I replied, "Thank you. He just did."

This simple moment reminded me about the meaning of true success.

By most standards, the previous year has been very successful for me. My speaking business has grown tremendously. I was able to reach thousands of people with my message, many of whom told me that they were inspired to make significant, positive changes in their lives and how they lead others. I signed my first book deal with a major publisher. I got engaged to be married to a wonderful woman who is my best friend.

But the interaction with my homeless friend reminded me that true success is simply a matter of being fully present in our lives.

If I inspire thousands of people with my speeches, or tens or hundreds of thousands with my book, but I'm not present enough to have meaningful, loving interactions with the people I encounter in my daily life, then I believe I am not truly successful.

This is why I place such a high priority on making time to engage in the daily practices that allow me to not get caught up in the standard definition of success held by many in our society, which pulls us into to believing that we must constantly do more and get more.

What's most important to me is to never lose sight of the fact that true success can occur in each moment. It doesn't require some grand achievement or a certain level of wealth or getting the next best thing.

True success is being present enough to appreciate the miracle of being alive in this moment, and to appreciate and bring happiness to the person we're with in this moment.

My experience -- and that of many of the most successful people I know -- has been that when we focus on achieving the above definition of true success, worldly success seems to follow quite naturally.

But, most importantly, if we have true success, that day when our worldly success ends -- which is guaranteed to happen for each one of us -- has no effect on us. We already have what truly matters in life.