During dinner the other night, one of the people in our group looked at me and asked the question I didn't want to hear: "How did you become homeless?"
By now most people familiar with me have heard my story of being on the streets of Dallas in the late 1970s and struggling in poverty in Houston for many years after that. If you’ve listened to my audio programs The Missing Secret or The Secret to Attracting Money, you’ve heard the story there.
But I had never explained exactly how I ended up in such dire circumstances. When I answered that question at dinner, told the story, everyone at the table stared back at me. The woman who asked the question sat there with her mouth open and eyes unblinking.
She asked, "Why have you never shared this before?"
My friend Mark Ryan was sitting there, and said, "As long as I've known you, you've never told this story before. It's riveting. This changes everything."
Changes everything? Riveting? They all said I had to tell the story now. Mark went on to say, "Given the current financial crisis and with people losing their homes and their jobs, this story needs to be told more than ever before." I heard them, took a long drink of water, and realized that I agreed.
So here's the story...
I knew I wanted to be an author when I was a teenager. I wanted to write books and plays that made people happy. Everywhere I looked I saw unhappy people. I believed I could help them with humor and stories.
During that time of the mid-1970s, I watched sports. I don't today, but back then the Dallas Cowboys were the rage. Roger Staubach and Tom Landry were heroes. I got caught up in the excitement and felt the place for me to make my name was in Dallas, Texas.
I lived in Ohio at the time. Born and raised there. I worked on the railroad as a trackman, doing heavy labor all day long, working weekends and summers since the age of five.
I saved my money, packed up my bag, and took a bus to Dallas. It took three days to get there. I was lost in the big city, of course. Being born in a small town in Ohio didn't prep me for the hustle and bustle of a city the size of Dallas.
Before long, I wanted out. But I still wanted to be an author.
At that time major companies were building oil and gas pipelines in Alaska and the Middle East, and offering to pay big bucks if you were willing to go to either place.
I wasn't keen on going to a foreign country and doing more labor, but I saw a chance to make money, save it, and then go on a sabbatical where I could write for a few months or even a year.
It seemed like a brilliant strategy.
I answered one of the newspaper ads that promised to get me pipeline work at an extraordinary hourly wage. I went in their office, met an upbeat salesperson, and ended up giving him all of my money - my entire savings, about a thousand dollars at the time - based on his promise that I'd have overseas pipeline work in a week or two.
You might guess part of what happened next - but you won't guess all of it. Within a week or so, the company that took all of my money went out of business. Their doors were closed, no one answered the phone, and no forwarding addresses could be found. Shortly after that, the company went bankrupt.
And not long after that, the owner of the company committed suicide.
There was no one left to try to get my money back from. I was alone. I was broke. I was in Dallas, far from home.
I confess that my ego got in the way here. My family back in Ohio would have taken me back in and welcomed me back home. But I was headstrong and determined to somehow survive.
Well, I did survive - by sleeping in church pews, on the steps of a post office, in a bus station. It wasn't an easy time, as you can imagine, and I never used to talk about it. It was too embarrassing. When I told this story at dinner, everyone agreed I had to share it with you.
They said that people are finding themselves in the same situation - they trusted a government, or a corporation, or a person, or a bank, and now they are losing their homes and their jobs.
Hearing that I went through the same thing three decades ago and not only survived but prospered to a level that the Joe Vitale of 30 years ago could hardly imagine, ought to be inspiring to you, too.
I got off the streets and out of poverty by constantly working on myself - reading self-help books, taking action, scrambling at times by taking whatever work I could find, but always — always, ALWAYS focusing on my vision: to one day be an author of books and audio programs that would come from the ideas in those books that help people be happy and stay inspired.
If you're in a place right now that doesn't feel so good or seem too safe, I urge you to remind yourself that this is only temporary. This is the cure for despair.
As I heard someone say not too long ago, “The downtimes only last for a season; the grass will grow again”.
This is simply current reality, and current reality can change. You can help it along by doing what you know and need to do. But remember, the sun will shine again. It always does.
Your job right now is to focus on what you want and keep it in sight. Yes, keep taking action; yes, stay positive and surround yourself with positive people; yes, be of support to others.
But, remember, if I or anyone else can survive homelessness, poverty, job loss, or any other hard time, then you can survive it, too. Please hang in there.
One last thing: I admit that there were times I wanted to throw in the towel and get myself out of this life. Thank God, I stuck around. Had I left early, I would have missed a life of magic and wonder, success and fame I never dreamed of before, priceless relationships and experiences, and more.
I have no idea what wonderful good is headed your way - and neither do you.
What you have to do is stay the course and follow your heart.
And remember - Expect Miracles!