On my way to a Founders Live event at the Hard Rock Cafe last week, I heard a soft voice, “are you gonna eat that?” I turned and saw a man walking with a bike, but because he had turned away from me, I carried on, holding my vegan Thai leftovers in my hand that had come from an earlier interview with a software engineer.
Because of part of the street being closed, I had to turn around which caused me to wind up right next to the same man. He softly said again, “are you gonna eat that?” I was glad he said it again because I didn’t want to be presumptive of his situation and assume he was homeless or hungry just based on his appearance.
I immediately said, “why don’t I take you across the street to Subway and I can get you a sandwich?” He really liked that idea and we walked across Pike and First together, the Mecca of Seattle tourism, on a cold and crowded Thursday night.
He was kind and sweet and he told me that he didn’t normally panhandle but that his disability direct deposit wasn’t arriving in his account until 10PM that night and he had been hungry all day. I told him not to worry about it at all – my own father is homeless in San Jose and because I am not close enough to help him as often as I’d like, it meant a lot to me that I could help someone else in a similar situation.
The busy Subway was being manned by only one person so we had a decent amount of time to talk while we waited to be served. He told me he had lived in the Bay Area too, I told him all about my startup, he knew about entrepreneurialism from the Technical Institute in Kirkland – he was an everyday normal guy. Bob (as I’ll call him) reminded me of my father and I really really enjoyed my time with him.
After a busy day with 7 startup-related meetings and then a startup event with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I was exhausted and emotionally drained. This is not to say I don’t enjoy these things and I couldn’t be more grateful to the people who spent their time with me that day. I truly learned so much and my cup overfloweth with inspiration.
But my physiology is most relaxed amongst the poor. It’s still who my identity is at my core. When I am around people like Bob or when I go to the Bay and am sitting in a parking lot with my homeless father, I almost feel like I can finally relax and be like Job from the Bible, sitting amongst the ashes and suffering openly and freely.
There are no expectations of me being great, smart, successful, normal, happy – anything. There are no expectations. I can just be. And it makes me feel free. Free from feeling like a failure or an imposter, feelings I gulp down by the hour.
Other than realizing that I need a lot of compassion for myself for everything I’ve been through and how far I’ve come, these feelings remind me of why it’s so hard for people to go from impoverished to societally successful. It’s not just a matter of placing someone into means, poverty is also a mentality. Being poor for as long as I was becames a function of ones’ complete self.
There is undoubtedly a hidden divide between the haves and the have-nots. Two societies walking side by side, invisible to one another as actual people, yet all just the same when stripped of money, possessions, and memories.
My dad went to bed last night in the tent that I bought him, but with wet blankets that had gotten soaked in the rain. And I went to bed in my in-laws’ mini mansion after trying to figure out how I could help him from 1,000 miles away. I was unsuccessful. Something in our world has got to change.