Life-Changing Advice from a Stranger Named Chuck

By: Hailey Yatros

I once knew a man whose name was Chuck. Chuck was a regular at a restaurant I used to work at as I was putting myself through college. He was elderly, so kind, and always came alone. He’d ask for an ice tea, with only two ice cubes, extra packets of Splenda, and three lemons on the rim.

Whenever he’d walk in, I’d always turn to my boss and say, “Gosh. That makes me so sad that he comes here alone…I wonder what his story is…?” One day my boss responded back and said, “Then talk to him, get to know him, find out who he is.” So, I did and it quickly started to become an experience I would never forget.

Each time he’d come in I’d yell, “Hi Chuck!” And we would talk about everything. I asked him about his marriage, his previous work, what he did in his spare time (or when he wasn’t there) and I truly started to look forward to chatting with him!

Ever since I can remember I’ve been a person who’s always been very interested in other people. If they had pieces of advice, lessons learned, or anything that would make my life easier in some way, or inspire me to be better – I wanted to know about it.

In the midst of a conversation one afternoon with Chuck I’ll never forget the words he said to me, “Hailey, life is a lot like riding a bicycle. Sometimes, you’re going downhill with the wind at your back, you’re riding a high of an achievement, you have the momentum of life behind you, and things are great. Then at other times, you’re climbing uphill and it’s super difficult, your legs want to give out, you’re going – but at snail speed because you’re just focused on making it up the hill. Either way, though, the name of the game is not to get off the bike, you just keep moving forward.”

I was blown away by these words and even five years later I remember them. At this point, I might guess that he’s forgotten he ever said that to me, but I didn’t. His words still pierce through my heart and mind whenever I feel like I’m climbing uphill and life’s got me down.

So here are three Universal lessons I learned from my time with Chuck that you can apply right now in whatever season of life you’re in:

  1. Get Interested in Other People
    When it comes to building authentic connections sometimes as leaders we have to go first. We have to take the first step in extending a hand, asking the first question, creating the first introduction. No gesture is ever too small and you have no idea where it might lead you. A coaching client of mine sparked up a conversation in an elevator with a man she thought was just a janitor but ended up being the CEO of the company she was applying to. You just never know. So, get curious, start talking and getting interested in others and see what a difference it could make in your life.
  2. Don’t Just Hear Advice, Use the Advice That Is Given
    There’s a difference between being inspired by someone’s words and actually taking someone’s words to heart and USING them in your life. Putting them to action might be the most important part. If we take a look around us there are endless opportunities to learn from other people. Like my friendship with Chuck, his words were nice but in order for them to make a difference in my life and others I had to put them into practice. Is there any advice you’ve received that you loved but haven’t put into practice yet? Try to commit yourself just for this week to doing it and watch how positively your life can change.
  3. Ask How You Can Be of Service to Others
    My favorite author, Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “We came into this world with nothing and we will leave with nothing, so the only thing we should do with our lives is to give it away in service of others.” How powerful is this? In essence, the best thing we can do for other people is to be of value and see how we can benefit their life in some way. It could be a small piece of encouragement, a helping hand, volunteer work for an organization that you deeply believe in, anything that makes a difference. You will come to find that your greatest fulfillment comes from giving back and contributing in some way.

Remember, in each moment of your life, whether on campus, or with friends and family, you have the ability to deeply connect to them. It all starts with the willingness to put yourself out there, to look for ways to grow and learn, and then to use your new-found insights to change another person’s life. You’ll quickly find yourself living a life you are very proud of.