Every day I watched Shopping Cart Man push his grocery cart past the coffee shop I’d write at.
I was trying to finish my first book. Shopping Cart Man was trying to find quarters in the newspaper stands.
I’d spent years working on the same book, and with my bank account and dreams of ever seeing my book published dwindling faster than my iced coffee, I began to lose hope.
On one particular day as I watched Shopping Cart Man sit down in the sweltering August Los Angeles air, I dipped my hand into my coffee fund and pulled out my last 10 dollars.
As I thought about the five cups of coffee that this last piece of paper could buy me, an insane thought danced around my mind:
You need to give Shopping Cart Man that 10 dollar bill.
But I’m broke too, I reasoned with myself. In a month that might be me riding in that man’s shopping cart. Or him in mine. Or switching off, as I’m sure we would work out some sort of pushing rotation.
I don’t care. You need to give Shopping Cart Man that 10 dollar bill.
No . . . no . . . you don’t understand. This is my last 10 . . .
You need to give Shopping Cart Man that 10 dollar bill.
Fine! I yelled, coffee leaping over the edges of my mug. I’ll give my last 10 to Shopping Cart Man. But promise that if I do, you’ll help me write a couple really insightful pages.
I don’t know if you can bribe your conscience, but since it had me giving away my last 10 dollar bill I thought it was worth a shot.
I wanted to be a completely joyful, no-strings-attached giver. But all the caffeine had me on edge. That, and I’m selfish.
What I learned from Shopping Cart Man
I walked outside into the hot, smug, L.A. air that feels like you’re trying to cuddle with an exhaust pipe, and in an act of valiant reluctance, gave Shopping Cart Man my last 10 dollar bill. He stood up to leave while I scurried back to my comfortable coffee shop seat.
Ten minutes later, he was back. He sat outside the tinted window right next to me. We were like old friends having a drink together with just a thin piece of glass to separate us. Me in air conditioning. Him in the hundred-degree heat. A thin piece of glass that could have been the Berlin Wall for the separation it created.
As I watched Shopping Cart Man, I saw what my donation had bought him — a 64-ounce Pepsi, a burger, a big bag of Fiery Fritos, and two lottery tickets.
He scratched the tickets first, which greatly excited me, my writing now a distant second. I envisioned him jumping up and dancing as the new million-dollar winner. I would run outside and grab his hands, and we would jump up and down in a circle. Laughing like brothers opening up our Christmas presents. We’d be the lead story on the 11 o’clock news, both of us standing by his shopping cart, arms around each other’s shoulders like father and son.
The homeless man who finally caught his break. The young guy who valiantly (I’d leave out “reluctantly”) made it happen. We were going to be local legends.
But he quickly threw the tickets on the sidewalk, crushing our 11 o’clock debut.
He pounded down the burger and fries, and then just sat back with his bag of chips. Slowly, meticulously, he took one bite after another, and then threw the next chip to the pigeons around him.
Then something happened. It wasn’t dramatic. If anyone else had been watching, they probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared.
But I’d been watching Shopping Cart Man almost every day for a month as he walked up and down the sidewalks. That day, as he sat there feeding the pigeons, he did something I’d never seen him do before.
He was feeding the pigeons around him. He was full and he was happy.
His smile became my answer. A smile from feeding those who needed it more than him. It was a painting of profound simplicity. There was nothing more satisfying than seeing him content.
If You Want to Do Something Big
Our generation has more options, more education, and more “potential” at our disposal than any other in the history of humankind. We’re told from day one that the world is ours. Instead of singing the ABCs in kindergarten, we were chanting, “I can do anything, I can be anything.”
What happens when all the choices and options become the never-ending cereal aisle that we can never leave? What happens to us then?
When it seemed like I was doing nothing, I was stuck, disappointed, and hurt by my lack of talent and God’s lack of faithfulness. Instead of moving forward, I did what I know how to do best. Complain. Moan. Punch my pillow and pout.
Drowning in options is a terrible way to die.
But why? As I watched Shopping Cart Man that day, something just clicked:
Enough! I told myself. Enough bitching and moaning. Enough adding to the world’s suffering instead of trying to ease it. If you’re overwhelmed with asking what you want to do with your life, remember that it’s a gift to even have the time and space to ask.
Faithful in the Small to do Something BIG
It doesn’t have to be monumental to be worthy of our effort.
It doesn’t have to be labeled “big” to be worth your time.
Every single day you have the chance to forget about your “problems” and help the world with theirs.
Our generation wants to make a big impact, and that’s an amazing vision to have.
Yet, why do we think we’re going to bypass the years of training, refining, loneliness, brokenness and failure it’s going to take to make it happen?
It will take many failed experiments before you uncover your personal Signature Sauce.
It took me 10 years of re-writing, over 20 rejections from publishers, failing and starting over time and time again before my new book All Groan Up became the real thing it needed to become.
Shopping Cart Man taught me a lot about my big dreams that day: If you want to do something big, will you first have the courage and perseverance to be faithful in the small?
This post was adapted from my book All Groan Up: Searching For Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job! If you’ve read my new book All Groan Up and liked it, I’d be honored if you left a short review on Amazon. Each positive review makes a huge difference.
Also, if you’re interested in joining my new online course to uncover your Signature Sauce that is launching in a few weeks, there’s a discount code found inside the All Groan Up book for the course. So buying the book will actually help you save at least 3-5 times that amount on the Signature Sauce online course. Just a heads up on that…