I was on a local business trip once – and since my meetings ended sooner than expected, I took the opportunity to get a neck and shoulder massage at this mini-spa I knew of before catching my flight home. The facility is very small and at street level with large windows – and a man walking past caught a glimpse of me through the window, looking decidedly blissed-out in the massage chair. He popped his head into the store and exclaimed, “Now that looks like a good idea! May I have one too?”
“Of course you can!” declared the shop’s owner. The man then settled into the chair next to mine and we got to chatting. He too was in town on business, to set up new premises in that province. It turns out he already owned other hugely successful and lucrative stores in the franchise in another city – but decided it was time to “conquer” this one.
“Why?” I asked.
“Er…Why not?” he replied rather quizzically.
“Well, because you sound pretty busy as it is…”
“And should you do well out here, then what?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Probably open some more stores, I guess”
He paused for a moment.
“Because that’s what you do!” he said, laughing nervously.
Sensing his discomfort, I diverted the subject to that of his family and his home. He expressed regret that he hadn’t seen much of either in recent months due, in no small part, to his latest enterprise. I asked about his interests and hobbies and discovered that he was a keen golfer who hadn’t teed off in over 5 years – again, because of the demands of his work.
“One day” he said sighing, “I’m going to take my family to live out by the coast and I’m going to play golf all day long!”
“That sounds wonderful!” I said.
“So why wait?” I asked.
“Oh well, I can’t. Not right now.” he mumbled.
“You’ve got several successful businesses that practically run themselves by the sounds of things. Surely you can afford to relocate immediately?”
“Then why don’t you?”
I could almost hear the gears in his brain groaning under the pressure of such a mental about-face. I knew what he was thinking…
“Can I really do that? Is it even allowed?”
It’s as if he needed permission. Much like how seeing another guy enjoying a mid-day massage during the week sanctioned the spontaneous decision to have one himself.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. I appreciated that he was driven, hard working and ambitious; that he enjoyed the challenges of his business and the heady thrill of success; that he wanted to leave a lasting legacy and ensure his family’s future financial security. And of course all that’s understandable – but it struck me as being a little sad that his fledgling family had had such little time with him; that he wouldn’t allow himself the pleasure of a round of golf every once in a while and that he didn’t regularly take pause to enjoy the fruits of his labour – beyond the odd family holiday.
I pressed him for more answers and after a while he eventually confessed that his work had come to define him – and that without it he felt lost and without purpose. He further admitted to being overly competitive and afraid of losing ground to rivals in his field. He also reluctantly acknowledged that there was an element of vanity or pride behind his need to claim new territory and by so doing, grow his ’empire’.
I really admire and respect people who have the courage to own up to that sort of stuff, so I found his candour quite endearing.
I said, “How’s this for a less radical idea then? How about taking one afternoon out of your week off to play a game of golf?”
At first he dismissed my proposal as being irresponsible and a little self-indulgent, but after some more gentle nudging he warmed to the thought.
By then my massage was over – and it was time for me to make my way to the airport. We exchanged business cards (as you do), shook hands and said goodbye.
And though neither of us stayed in touch, I sometimes think about him (and so many other guys I know like him) – and wonder if he ever took up golf again (golf, of course, being a metaphor).
There’s just one question I never got around to asking him that day – but I suspect that’s because I’d already guessed the answer…
“So, what’s your handicap?”