Conversations With Homeless Man, What I Learned About Recruiting That Day

It was the week prior to Christmas two years ago when the Milligan clan was merrily doing our traditional pictures at the mall with Santa Claus.  Having 4 children who were under the age of 12 we were accustomed to at least one freaking out on the the white bearded jolly fellow. But this year all had gone unusually well.  No screaming kids, no one had disappeared from our sight while cat herding them to through the photo shoot and everyone made it through the parking lot safely. Leah and I might have high fived outside the SUV as we lingered gaining a moment of clarity with all of them tucked safely inside the car.

We contemplated pushing our luck and grabbing a bite to eat at a local restaurant. I probably said no, she probably said yes and I probably conceded by advising I would only go somewhere that served adult food.  Jolly as jolly could be we left the mall parking lot. As we pulled out I noticed a man with a cardboard sign on what seemed the wrong side of the road. Traffic was nuts so I focused on not running into someone and quickly diverted my eyes from the man.

From the backseat a voice piped up…..”Dad what did that mans sign say?” It was my 7 year old Gavin who had asked. I responded “I’m not sure son as I didn’t get a good look.” He responded “I think we should drive around and see in case he needs help.” I shot a quick glance over to my wife who gave me a shrug indicating I was on my own in my response. I had hoped she would have some quick witted reply that would have gotten me out of having to drive back around the mall in Christmas traffic to have a look.

A quick note….we typically give money to people who ask regardless of whether they look homeless or not. If the timing is right and there is a cold drink in the car we have been known to give it to them. Right or wrong we want to raise children who are compassionate and willing to act when they see a need without casting any judgement. We work hard to lead that through our actions with a generous heart.

BUT we aren’t perfect parents and today wasn’t a normal day it was our special day. We were out making our yearly Christmas memories and I didn’t want to be distracted from that. As I waited for traffic to move again I contemplated my response.  Truth be told when you have a kid as cute as Gavin who has a heart the size of Texas you rarely say no. So around the block I went, pulling into the mall parking lot and driving as close as I could to in an attempt to read his sign.

From the backseat Gavin spoke again. “Dad, I have $10 of my own money that Grammy gave me. I want to give it to him.”   Proud that he would part ways with his own money I had him crawl over the back seat and exit the vehicle with me. As we approached the man I noticed his sign read “looking for work, skilled worker, down on my luck, please help.”

I noticed his eyes immediately went from me to Gavin as an overwhelming sadness seemed to grip him as we approached. It was as though he wanted to bend down and hug him as we came closer. I extended my hand and shook his as I shared that Gavin had insisted we stop. As Gavin handed him the $10 bill the man dropped to one knee and looked him in the eyes. He spoke kindly, “Young man, you remind me of my son who is probably your exact age. I miss him more than you can imagine. I bet he is just as kind as you, willing to stop and show a strange man you care.”

Over the next 15 minutes of conversation I asked a lot of questions and he obliged sharing his story. He was living behind Wal-Mart, had been married for a decade, had been a successful businessman but had a bad business deal and lost everything. As can happen in those moments he had turned to vices in an effort to ease the pain which lead him to being 100 miles away from home, divorced, without the privilege of seeing his son.

His ask wasn’t for more money. His ask was “please help me get a job as I am good at what I do.” He had a specialized skill set which one could only obtain with a college education (I have left out specific details to protect his identity).  He wanted to get back to his old self, he wanted another opportunity at life, he was hungry for change and willing to stand on a street corner sharing his story as he didn’t know where else to turn.

We left him with a connection, I had a good friend who owned a business in a similar line of work. We also left him with some encouraging words, a prayer of hope and a hug from a 7 year old.

When we got home I looked him up. With all of the information available today through social media I could see he was who he said he was. His story struck a chord that has resonated with me to this day. He was human, no more or no less because of his circumstances. He was touched by a kind act just as we were touched by his authenticity and willingness to share.

As I reflect back on those moments, I am reminded that this recruiting business is about people. I get to work with people who are experiencing career highs while others are working through career lows. Some are hopeful they can find a company as good as their last. Others are limping along wounded by misunderstandings, misrepresentations or mistakes. We are all vulnerable as we are all human beings. Yes we can all strive to be more but no one is exempt from failure. There are times when people need something as simple as another person listening or an act of kindness. From time to time I reflect on the “looking for work” homeless man. His story reminds me to slow down as I engage and interact with the great people I have the opportunity to serve. You never know the journey someone has taken to get to that moment.

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