Perspectives: How a homeless woman got me thinking on the way to work

One of the main goals of our programs is to help challenge people’s existing perspectives. We are pretty good at it (if I don’t say so myself). On the way to work yesterday I had one of my perspectives changed in a pretty challenging way so I thought that I would share it with you all.

This week was a stressful one for me. At work, things have been going really well but one of my employees is working part-time from next week onwards so I’ve been worried about that. In addition, we had planned on recruiting someone new to help make up for this gap but it didn’t work out and I was driving to work fretting. Will the part-time arrangements work? Will we still be able to continue to grow? Should I have done anything differently? Maybe I should have worked from home today and tried to think through some of these issues in private? Maybe I should call my mentors and ask for advice? I bet that a number of readers out there had similar concerns as they drove to work last week. These are some of the day to day worries that keep many leaders up at night. Managing and leading a business is tough work and there are rarely any simple answers.

As I was turning into our street (still worrying about my problems) I saw a local homeless woman pushing her shopping trolley across the road and she was doing so right through the middle of moving traffic, oblivious to the pedestrian walk signal that clearly said to STOP. Being already a little bit stressed I have to admit that I was instantly irritated. Why is she breaking the rules? Don’t the rest of us have to wait until the light goes green? What if I’m late for my first meeting because of her? I’m embarrassed to say that I even began to think – I wonder if this lady had anything to do with our office being robbed a couple of years ago?

I was one of the cars that managed to safely drive past the lady before she got into my lane and as I drove past I looked in my rear-vision mirror and saw her continue to push in front of two cars behind me and take her time walking across the road. Still in a bit of a negative space, I thought to myself “What is she doing? Doesn’t she realise that she could easily be killed behaving in that way?”


… Doesn’t she realise that she could easily be killed…


All of a sudden it dawned on me. Maybe she DOES realise that? Maybe after living years on the street she doesn’t feel as though society values her and maybe she doesn’t even value her own life. To make it worse, as I begin to think about this more deeply,  that trolley she was pushing was full of all of her worldly possessions and it was pouring rain. She might not have many clothes and the clothes she did have were saturated. All of a sudden, I realised with startling clarity that with this new perspective I would have experienced that situation in a completely different way.Perhaps I still would have driven past but I wouldn’t been angry.  Perhaps I would have stopped so she could pass. Perhaps I even would have pulled over and offered her some assistance.

People who live or work in the Pyrmont or Ultimo area will be familiar with this lady as she has lived under the same freeway overpass for years and I must admit that I have walked past her dozens of times. I’ve included a picture of her “home” at the bottom of this post for you to help visualise it. She keeps to herself and certainly does not ask for money or any other forms of assistance. Next time I see her I’ve made a promise to myself to stop and see how she is. I hope that I see her soon and get an opportunity to do something for her (if that’s possible).

How often are YOU driving through the fast-lane of life in a mildly irritated manner? How often do you behave habitually without thinking, only to notice when you look in your rear vision mirror that you’ve made a serious mistake and should have treated somebody differently? You are not alone. This experience is actually extremely common. It’s also common to make the choice to change. What’s uncommon is the ability to enact that change, to break the habit of a lifetime and come out the other end a changed person.

Struggling to change your perspective, the perspectives of your employees or your overall company culture? It’s tricky work and it’s almost impossible to do without some assistance. Give us a call if you are interested in finding out about our unique approach to cultural change.

Perspectives photo




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4 thoughts on “Perspectives: How a homeless woman got me thinking on the way to work”

  1. A very thought provoking story – and how beautifully clean is her ‘home’ maybe you could leave something for her tucked into her mattress to show that somebody cares…..

  2. What a great story – I wish I had have read this and maybe used it as the lead into the ‘change now’ section in the Helping Hands program I have just facilitated for 80 people!
    Thank you for relating this story! Should I ever have the opportunity to facilitate this wonderful program again, I will remember the story!

  3. A further update. It had been a while since I saw this lady and I was starting to get worried. So when I saw her today I thought that it was definitely time to go and introduce myself. Her name is Juliette and she was very polite and well spoken. She cares for a number of stray cats that live in the area and she says that they are the reason she stays in order to look after them. I left her a small gift to help buy lunch and some food for her cats and she seemed very grateful. I think that I’m going to keep in contact with Juliette as she was a lovely lady and hopefully we can help her out more in the future.

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