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25 Valuable Lessons To Learn From Humans of New York

Former finance professional Brandon Stanton created Humans of New York (HONY) in 2010 in order to document photos, and eventually the stories, of the inhabitants of New York City. Since it's inception, the blog has produced over 6,000 stories and is followed by over 11 million people world wide.

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1. Good Things Happen to Good People

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"There's a spot in front of the Pennsylvania Hotel that they let us sleep at night as long as we clean up after ourselves. I was sitting there the other night, when a man walked by and handed me a backpack. My other backpack had just broken, and so it was exactly what I needed. I thought-- 'That's a blessing.' Good things happen to good people. You really do catch what you throw."

2. Learn the Value of a Dollar

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“I’m trying to raise my daughter with the same values that I learned in Jamaica, but it can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance. When I was growing up in Jamaica, every time I wanted something, my grandmother made me go through the same list of questions: ‘Why do you want it?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ ‘Is it going to make your life better?’ There wasn't enough money for things we didn't need, so we were always forced to ask those questions-- even for simple things like a new pair of shoes. The necessity of that ritual really helped create a deep appreciation for the things we had.’"

3. Be a Good Friend

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“Friends should be friends together, and play together, and not let another friend be lonely. They should make a game together, and have fun together, and not let them kick people or punch people. They should also watch fairy movies and play in the park.”

4. Don't Settle

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“I think if we were all being honest with ourselves, very few of us ever meet The One. The vast majority of people just marry because they’re ready. I never really felt like I met The One. I don’t think my wife is The One. I mean, she’s a nice lady. But I don’t think she’s The One for me. And I don’t think she’d mind me saying that, because if she was being honest, I don’t think she’d say I am The One for her either.”

5. Take Care of One Another

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"They're always covering for each other. This morning I found them both sitting in the kitchen, and there was Reynolds Wrap strewn all over the place. One of them looked extremely guilty, and the other said she saw nothing."

7. Time is a Concept Created by Humans

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"I've got one of those bucket lists. I want to drive a race car. I wanted to join the Air Force, but that was just so I could jump out of an airplane, with a parachute-- but not from too high though. Just medium high. I also want to go up in a balloon, because that looks fun. And also I want to do that thing where you're holding onto that kite-looking-thing while it goes through the air. Then I want to catch one of those big fish with the thing coming out of its nose, where they have to strap you to a chair so you can reel it in. My friend says I'm too old for that, but I think I can do it."

8. Do What You Love

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"I just came back from ten months in Asia. I learned a lot about myself."

"What's one thing you learned?"

"If you do what you love, the way will always open."

"What do you love?"

"That's what I have to figure out next."

9. Keep Dancing

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"She taught me how to dance. We actually met at a graduation party. I was the only one not on the dance floor, and her friend bet her that she couldn't get me to dance. I'd already said 'no' to ten girls, but she talked me into it. We were together 55 years. She died eight years ago, but I still dance every day."

10. The Small Things Add Up to Be the Big Things

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"I think all the pressure that I put on myself has been paralyzing. When I graduated from high school, a lot of people wrote in my yearbook: 'You're going to do great things,' or 'I know you're going to make it big.' I realized recently that with all the time I spent trying to figure out what my 'big thing' was going to be, I passed over a lot of small things that could have really added up. The moment I became content with taking small steps, I started moving forward again."

11. You're More Than Your Weight

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"I've been overweight all my life. But I broke up with my boyfriend last year, and things weren't going well, so it got worse and worse. I'd try to diet, but I'd eat something that I wasn't supposed to. I'd try to go to the gym, but I'd leave early. I was trying to lose weight because I felt like I needed to be a different person. But time has passed now, and I think I'm approaching weight loss with a much more positive attitude. I know that I can be happy without losing weight. Sure, I wish I could wear prettier clothes. I wish I could take a photograph without my face looking like a football. But I know that I'm not my weight. And it's hard to come to that conclusion. You really have to battle to separate your self-image from your weight. Because weight is always the first thing that somebody sees. Somebody will see you after a few years, and their first comment is about the weight you've put on. Maybe I've become a better person these last few years. Maybe I've been a great friend to someone. Maybe I've read a lot of books and become smarter. Maybe the reason I've put on weight is that I've got a great job that can be stressful and doesn't leave me time to go to the gym."

12. You Don't Have to Be a Product of Your Environment

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“It’s been tough in law school. Cause you know, I grew up around here, and I’ve still got some of that ghettoness in me. I talk a little different. I came up with this sort of nonchalant attitude, and now I’m competing with a bunch of private school kids that are ruthless. I’m supposed to read sixty pages a night, and I’m realizing that I don’t read as well as I thought I did. I realized that public school kids are just behind. I did horrible the first year. I almost folded. But I pulled it back together. I took a tough internship that summer and came back strong. Cause it’s destined to happen.”

13. Always Keep in Touch

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"What's been your greatest accomplishment?"

"Keeping in touch with distant friends and relatives."

"Why is that important?"

"It's important to always have people who remember you at various stages of your life. It's especially important as you get older, because there are less of those people around. And they remind you who you are."

14. Sometimes It's Not Personal

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“People waste way too much energy taking things personally. That Facebook post is probably not about you. It was probably an accident that you weren’t tagged in that picture. And the person you’re dating is probably acting sad because that’s how they respond to setbacks at work, not because of anything you did.”

15. Listen

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"It takes much more than being physically present. Your family needs your attention. I realized this very young. One day I asked my wife why the children weren't listening to me, and she said: 'Because you never listen to them.'"

19. Don't Give Up On Your Dreams

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"I've been trying to get into a full time orchestra for the past 20 years. I'd guess I've been to over 200 auditions. It can be pretty heartbreaking. I tried out for the New York Philharmonic four times. One time I prepared three months for the Los Angeles Philharmonic audition, flew all the way across the country, and they cut me off after twelve seconds. But believe or not, I still have a certain amount of optimism about the process. And I think I'm getting better."

20. Believe in Yourself

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"I still see the same people on the corner that were there when I was eleven years old. It's tough to evolve when your surroundings never change. So I wasn't sure that I could be the one to make it out. The first time I took the GED, I failed. But for two months after that, I did practice tests everyday. And my aunt is a teacher, so when she was finished grading her papers, she'd help me break down all the problems that I couldn't figure out. And there were a lot of people in my corner. My mom encouraged me, and my sister, and my grandmother. Then the second time I passed. It felt so good to see something in yourself, and then to see it come true."

21. Take Chances

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"Do you remember the happiest moment of your life?"

"This one time I was in Hawaii with my family, and we were walking to the beach, and we came to the top of this giant hill. And I said, 'I'm going to take it.' And I put my skateboard down, and started rolling down the hill, and I got going so fast that the board started to shake because the trucks were loose, and toward the bottom of the hill I came to this crack, and the board got caught and I was thrown onto the pavement. I got all bruised and scraped and my mom was screaming because she's a total freakout."

"That was the happiest moment of your life?"

"Yeah, I was just glad I took the hill."

22. Treat Others the Way You Would Want to Be Treated

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"I came from the Dominican Republic when I was 15. The first day of school, I couldn't speak English and I didn't know anybody. I wanted to cry all day. I didn't even want to go to lunch. Six months later, he moved to the US, and came to school feeling the same way. So I showed him how everything works. We've been best friends ever since."

25. Remember You're Human

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"If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?"

"I'd tell them the same thing I'd tell one person. That if you understand failure, you won't be afraid of it anymore. Failure isn't diving on your face, or hitting rock bottom. That's just being human. You only fail when you decide to not try again. So it's entirely in your control. Once you understand failure, it's impossible to fail."

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