A little over a week ago I was forwarded an amazing story out of Detroit Michigan. The story was that of a one James Robertson, a 56 year old man who for the last 10 years had endured a commute that involved walking nearly 21 miles round trip – just to get to work. Due to limited availability of public transportation and the high cost of owning a car, James had no other choice. What’s even more impressive is that even with harsh weather and naturally draining commute, James had a perfect attendance record.
After reading the Detroit Free Press story by Bill Laitner, 19 year old college student Evan Leedy took action and started a GoFundMe for James. In just a few weeks, that fund has garnered over $350,000 dollars for James. This is a huge sum of money that will undoubtedly change his life forever – a major supplement to the $10.55/hr he was making at his factory job.
Troublesome weather conditions, lack of a personal vehicle, subpar public transportation, etc. These are all real problems facing real hard-working people in America. James’ story inspired me to do more. Beyond donating to the fund, I wanted to raise the awareness of James’ story and help people understand the real issues there are out there with others who may be in similar situations.
I decided to walk in James’ shoes. On Tuesday, February 24th I mapped out my own commute to work and walked 16 miles to the Egnyte office in Mountain View, CA. I wanted to experience a struggle like James was experiencing on a daily basis. I set out at 5:45am, documenting my journey on Twitter, creating an experience that would help open my eyes and change my life forever.
Here are some of the takeaways from my walk in James’ shoes:
1) There’s a Bigger World Out There Than You
When I started my walk there was a dead silence and I was able to really get in touch with my surroundings. As I walked the cold, dark streets passing a countless amount of homes, some with lights on some without, I was faced with a stark realization that there is a much bigger world going on around me. This world is constantly in motion, whether I am involved in it or not. Comprehending just how big our world is can be a bit of a scary thing, but every single person has a place and a value. I know it may be cliché but when you think about your place, just remember – “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world!”
2) Everything In Life Comes at a Cost
When I say that everything comes at a cost it doesn’t necessarily mean just money. All things in life have some sort of opportunity cost, whether it is time, effort, goods, services, etc. For James, his livelihood was very expensive. Just to earn himself a living and survive he was forced into a 21 mile foot-commute every day – rain, snow or shine. When thinking about the time, effort, and physical stress he endured it made me think about what I would pay for my life or the things I would give up to maintain my livelihood. What would you be willing to sacrifice or endure to maintain your current situation?
3) Complaining Gets You Nowhere
It was inevitable, having not ran more than 3 miles in years, I was going to get tired. Looking around for someone to comfort me or help with my struggle, I realized it was just me. This is usually not the norm as most of us complain to the people around us at work or at home, “venting” if you will. However, just as it was for James, there was no one to lean on or complain to and I had to learn to move forward in that time of independence. Recalling James’ story, not one of his colleagues or friends mentioned him ever complaining of his situation. He moved forward with an internal happiness and pride in the life he was living. This reminded me that no matter how difficult the task in life, complaining will get us nowhere.
4) One Man’s Accomplishments Are Another Man’s Struggles
One takeaway that I did not think about until I was over halfway done was the idea that this was a major accomplishment for me, yet for James, it was just a part of his daily struggle. We don’t think about it but some of our luxuries are things that others may never experience and some things we do for leisure, like a long walk, run, or bike ride are things that others are forced to do every day. It makes you think twice about the dynamic of your activities, appreciating the simple luxuries you are afforded in life.
5) There’s More To Work Than A Paycheck
Another part of James’ story that I read, which I had time to think about on my walk, was the fact that his job was about more than just a paycheck. James considered his colleagues “family” and looked forward to getting to work every day. He even referred to work as “home.” On my journey to work I thought about how often I take the people around me for granted and how amazing the community of people at Egnyte are. My takeaway here is to understand the value of all those that are in life on a daily basis and take more appreciation in those relationships.
6) Quitting is NOT an Option
Throughout the walk there were plenty opportunities for me to quit. I was tired, weak, and obviously uncomfortable. However, I would think about James and his struggle to get to work every single day for over 10 years, never once missing a day or being late. For James, quitting was not an option as he needed that job to pay bills, eat, and ultimately survive. I, on the other hand, probably could’ve whipped out my phone and called an Uber, texted a friend, or found a bus stop. It was a very humbling experience which helped me understand the dichotomy of some people’s struggle. There are some who have multiple options available to them, including quitting, and others like James who don’t have many options available to them at all.
7) The Juice is Worth the Squeeze if You Appreciate the Process
Finally, this is where it all came together for me. By the end of my walk, all 4+ hours and 16 miles of it, I realized how much I had just experienced and learned. A lot of the times people say “eh, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze”, essentially saying the end result isn’t worth all the effort. However, after my walk, I venture to say that the juice is ALWAYS worth the squeeze if you can learn something from it or appreciate the experience you had making it. Try to focus more on your experiences versus your end results and see if your outlook doesn’t change for the better.
The Happiest Man in the World
James was recently quoted as saying, “If I can teach one person, or do something to help Detroit, that would make me the happiest man in the world.”
James can certainly smile big today as his story has taught me a number of great lessons. Even after the years of struggle that James endured he has maintained a positive spirit and outlook. He is someone I will look up to and admire for the rest of my life. His pride, respect, work ethic, passion, attitude, all of it – he is truly an example of an amazing human being.
With a little bit of help and participation in our #WalkInTheirShoes movement, James’ story will continue touch more lives than he ever could have imagined.
Please feel free to contact me personally or just map out your own journey in support of James’ story. Pick a day and make your commute to work by foot, document it on social media, and use the hashtag #WalkInTheirShoes!