When I was growing up, I had a very unique friend. We’d met in my early teens, and he was a year or two older than me. He was hilarious, street-smart, weird, and a great friend. I also quickly discovered that he was homeless.
He was great at it, though. He’d been living on the streets for years, but “living on the streets” probably conjures the wrong image about him. He never actually slept on the streets, as far as I was aware. Instead, he crashed with people, staying as a guest of one friend or contact after another. He lived with me and my parents for about a two-year stretch while I was in high school.
He had some fantastic “rules” for how to live like this.
Rule 1: Always be valuable. If someone is letting you stay with them for free, make sure they LOVE it. Don’t be a mooch. Every house he ever stayed in was spotless and well-maintained because he’d constantly do chores, clean, fix things, etc. He knew if the question of whether or not it was worth letting him stay ever even crossed the minds of his hosts, he’d failed.
Rule 2: Never be in the way. If you’re a guest of someone’s hospitality, he would say, you should be a ghost. You shouldn’t be able to easily tell that he was living there. He kept his profile extremely low; he’d never leave any of his own stuff anywhere visible, he would never be just lounging in common areas, and even the chores he would do, he’d do while the other residents were at work or school. He kept all of his stuff in a trunk tucked away in the corner of our basement where it wasn’t in anyone’s way, and other than that and his bed he took up virtually no floor space.
Rule 3: Always leave ’em wanting more. He said this was the most important – never wear out your welcome. He’d usually move on right after he’d had a really great, entertaining time with his hosts. He wanted people to remember him fondly, so he always left on high notes. That way if he wandered through their corner of the world again and showed up unexpectedly, he’d be cheered and welcomed.
These strategies worked. Sometimes he would just vanish, and we’d miss him. Then he’d show up on my doorstep a year or two later and we’d be thrilled.
That last rule has a lot of applications, even for those of us that aren’t permanent nomads wandering the country. Your time with various people, groups, organizations – those times will end. It’s natural. But if you want to preserve your reputation, keep thoughts of you positive, and be welcomed into good company again in the future: control those endings. Leave on high notes and on your own terms. Go out with a bang, and leave ’em wanting more.