He knew it was a bad part of town and sure enough, his car was broken into. What he didn’t expect was the life-lesson that would come from a thief.
I’m “that guy” who will stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to pick up a penny. To me, that’s easy money. To others, I’m a safety hazard.
If there’s a quarter sitting in the middle of the street, I’ll stalk it from the curb like a hungry lion stalks its prey. Slowly I move, eyes laser focused on my target. Cars may whiz left and right, but I can’t be shaken. When the time is right, I pounce. Just like that, I’m $.25 richer.
You may be surprised to learn how often I perform this type of ferocious activity. The answer: literally whenever there’s money on the ground. I haven’t started fountain diving, but maybe one day I’ll learn the way of the shark and do that too.
Loose change must become un-loose change somehow. I typically drop the coins into a plastic bottle tucked in the driver’s door of my car. I like to think of that bottle like the underbelly of the ancient Roman Coliseum. The Romans would capture enemies of war, store them under the stadium, and then make them fight for sport. My coins—I imagine—are gladiators waiting for war.
My gladiators are a diverse group, much like the gladiators of old. Some are old, others are newer. Some are large, others smaller. Several are shiny, but most are cloudy thanks to the wear, tear, and neglect suffered on the sidewalks and streets they came from.
Now, 100% thanks to me, they’re holed up inside this bottle in my car. Waiting to be spent. Waiting.
The gladiators rattled when I slammed my car door. I had arrived. Finally. It was a 9-hour drive from Kansas City to Cincinnati. My legs felt like glow sticks that hadn’t been cracked to life. Thank goodness I had stairs to climb to reach my room.
The Airbnb was a three-story slender fixture, propped on the top of a hill overlooking a freeway exit ramp. We weren’t in the best neighborhood, but I had seen worse.
Unnaturally, it felt like home. I’ve always had an affinity with downtrodden neighborhoods. And by “downtrodden,” I mean graffiti, gang life, and welfare. I’m normal. I swear. I’m also empathetic to that situation. A goal of mine is to eventually lift those hoods through free business and personal development training.
There was a closed-in porch on the side of the house. It was attached to the kitchen. Great view. I ate several of my meals overlooking the busy exit ramp. What fascinates me—always—is how little we know about those people in those cars. Oh, but we think we know so much.
Friday came. I enjoyed a beer, book, and my daily hit of Instagram on the porch. I didn’t know something sinister was brewing. I didn’t see it coming, and I wouldn’t know it happened until the next morning.
Someone stole my gladiators. Or, as my high school history teacher would say, “Liberated them.”
I’d be lying if I told you that this was unexpected. This wasn’t a safe area. This was a dangerous area. And someone was desperate enough to wiggle into my car and take my change. I only lost $20 or so, but I felt violated. I quickly overcame that feeling. Fortunately for me, my friends violate my privacy all the time. I’ve had training.
Everything in my car was overturned. My cooler full of water and bananas was tossed from the front seat to the back. Water trickled from its corner onto the seat. The contents of my glove box were scattered like confetti. My center console was left open. These were minor inconveniences.
I’ve got a way of being unaffected by things like this. I’ve been stolen from before. My reaction is part smart, part rubber-headed. To me, that person wanted what I had more than I wanted to protect it. All is fair in love and war, I suppose.
My gladiators and their liberator had won.
But there was something bigger to learn here. What this liberator liberated wasn’t nearly as significant as what the liberator left behind. Hint: it wasn’t a fingerprint.
It was a book on self-improvement and another on business. It was my fancy schmancy cologne and my favorite Tag Heuer wrist watch. It was the water and potassium-packed bananas. What this person left behind troubled me. “Why oh why,” I wondered, “did they not take the truly valuable stuff?”
I’ve conscientiously learned a ton about money within the last couple years. What I mean is that I’ve given attention to money. I want to establish a healthy relationship with money. I don’t want it to defeat me, and I don’t want it to completely drive me.
One thing I’ve learned is that whenever money is your goal, you’ll never reach it. Money in itself is achievable, yet elusive. Enough money will never be enough.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that money is not the root of all evil. Instead, money is the water for the roots of both good and evil. Water the evil roots, and they’ll grow more. Water the good roots, and they’ll grow too.
Money doesn’t change people. It illuminates who they are.
Let’s be real. Money is nothing more than a piece of paper or a hunk of metal that I’m apparently willing to run into traffic to grab. This isn’t hypocrisy on my part. I know the good I want to do with my money, and I know what I’m willing to do to get it.
Money helps me amplify my positive impact on others. I want to buy books on self-improvement and business. If not for money, I wouldn’t be able to afford this laptop or buy the grande dark roast coffee, both of which I’m convinced I need to blast out this article. Money in good hands is good.
There’s a difference between money and value. Money is an object while value is something we assign to an object. Our greatest freedom in life is our freedom to choose. We have the freedom to choose what we value, including money.
Money doesn’t give you value. You give value to money.
Here’s what I would’ve stolen from my car.
I would’ve taken the books. Good books are good investments. Those two books—one on mindset, the other on business—could change my life. Books broaden my perspective and encourage me to think differently.
I would’ve taken the cologne and the watch, but not to sell them. I’d save the cologne to wear to places that expand my mind and my future. Places like museums, holy sites, war memorials, libraries, or art studios. The watch I would take to show my value of time. Perhaps this person didn’t have the time to think of all this.
Finally, I would’ve taken the food. I’d hate to spend my newly hard “earned” money on food when I could just yank it from the same vehicle.
Maybe you find it odd at how little I’m offended by this theft. I’ve spent many moments interacting with desperate people, many in poor areas. But that’s not all. It might surprise you to know that many rich people are desperate as well. Desperation isn’t new or determined by income, and I’m not immune to its influence myself.
I took my spot on the porch later that evening and wondered if I would’ve also grabbed the coins and left. Is this a representation of the larger picture? Do I also value money over learning or time? If I do, is it OK?
Peering out at the cars exiting the highway, I wondered if I was watching my thief. Were they behind the wheel of the Oldsmobile or the Benz? “Hopefully my tough little gladiators bought a meal or helped pay the rent,” I thought. We could all make assumptions of what my money actually bought: drugs, booze, sex, safety. We think we know.
But my oh my, how little we actually know about the people in those cars.
Photo: Flickr/ Xabi Ezpeleta