Thursday, April 28, 2011

Business is Business & Other Platitudes

I know a man who sold boats. He worked on commission. One day he sold a boat to his son, who paid cash. Weeks later his son was sitting next to the owner of the boat business, having drinks.

"How are you enjoying that new boat?" asks the owner. "Loving it," replies the son. "Heck of a price I gave you on it," says the owner, mentioning specifically what that price was. Pause. "Yeah. Heck of a price all right,thanks," son agrees. When he later asked his father why he paid $500 more than the price the owner believed the boat sold for, his father replied, "Oh that. That was my commission. Business is business, son."

Full disclosure: I'm not a business person. I'm a therapist. My husband is the one who makes sure we stay in business so that we can do what we do -- help people on an emotional/behavioral level to live better lives.

Recently I ventured out with him into a section of society I rarely visit -- a newly formed group of business people meeting to help one another become more successful. "It's not about business," the leader reminded members enthusiastically. "It's about relationships. No self-promotion allowed here. Introduce yourselves to each other, arrange to meet one-on-one. Get to know each other, find out who you like, who you trust. Ask yourself what you can do to help that other person succeed. Then they'll do the same for you." I found the concept exciting. At last! Business with a heart!

The next speaker presented his views on how to be successful. His voice was soft, his style unassuming, his presentation unpolished, even bordering on awkward at times, which rings of authenticity. My kind of guy. As I listened to him, however, I looked around the room. Something was "off," but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. (I'll admit to the possibility of projection -- my perception of others may have been tainted by my personal unease. Remember, I was out of my element here.)

Now, platitudes may be boring because we hear them frequently, but repetition is a teaching tool that helps move information from the conscious part of our minds (short term memory) to the subconscious part (long term memory, therefore more highly influential regarding attitude and behavior). So I didn't fault the speaker there; however, when his bottom line regarding relationships became, "The people you talk to the most must be people who make more money than you do," he lost me. I mean, given the choice, I'd rather cultivate a relationship with the Dalai Lama than with Donald Trump.

I have the honor, and I mean that sincerely, of having been named our city's Small Business Person of the Year back in 2003. I'm quite proud of that, and grateful; however, I immediately jimmied the title around to be "small business" (omitting "person") because there were many others behind the scenes who placed me in position to qualify -- my husband, our small staff, and most importantly the clients who, over the years, have trusted us to help them unravel their psychological snarls. "Business Person" was a hat that did not sit well on my head, yet there it was, part of a uniform I suddenly realized I was being asked to wear.

So I resigned. Retreated to the wings and left my husband to enjoy the spotlight. I established a mentoring program, the purpose of which is to train others in my field to raise their standard of practice by focusing not only on competence but on ethics and professionalism. I believe if your heart is in it, success is inevitable. By "it," however, I mean helping others, not earning money, and that's where I became highly selective in considering candidates for the program. Highly. As in taking the high road, raising the bar. And by "success" I don't mean adding zeros to one's income. I mean (warning: platitude ahead) making the world a better place.

Problem is not many subscribe to my philosophy. Our society flashes dollar signs in gaudish neon that lights the wrong way to success, if you ask me. Too many follow blindly, caring only that along the way there are lots of banks with ATMs, and places to shop for the trappings of wealth. Flashing neon turns me off. I look instead for what can simply be called, "the spark." It can be found in people, in other living creatures, in places, and in ideas. But it isn't found commonly. It is rare.

Ah! There you have it! My ramblings have led me to understand what it was that seemed off to me in that room full of business people. There was no spark. I mean collectively. Had there been, the room would have lit up with it. I genuinely wish the individuals and the group well, and concede that many there make more money than I do. Allow me to fall back on Princess Lea's admonishment to Han Solo of Star Wars fame: If money is all you love, money is all you'll get. Perhaps for some, it's enough,and they consider themselves blessed and give generously to charity (or not), as they seek relationships based realistically on, What's in it for me? I wonder if they ever wonder what Jesus's net worth was.

Of course, his meetings were of a different nature, and he did hang out with fishermen and spend most of his time talking to the downtrodden.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Romance, Royalty, and Reality

With all the talk about Princess Dianna's legacy, truly her greatest contribution to the world rests in her two sons and, in particular, the grounding she gave them in what we call real life.

Along with her Christian upbringing, perhaps Dianna learned from Buddha, who was born a prince and was so sheltered from reality that when he finally snuck off the palace grounds to explore the real world, he discovered (to his deep consternation)poverty, illness and death. A major religion evolved from his dramatic awakening.

Dianna was, in her day, quick to become the beautiful princess envied by none who observed her with a keen eye. A loveless marriage, overpowering in-laws who did not accept or approve of her, and the public humiliation of ongoing blatant betrayal by Charles all moved her along the path that molded her into a devoted mother determined to raise her boys her way -- as best she could. She also became a doer of good deeds in terms of the hundreds of charities she supported by her actions, not mere words. The world is indeed a better place for her existence.

Now there is Kate, who is dearly and obviously loved truly by her Prince Charming... the manifestation of his mother's dreams for him. I love that William gave her Dianna's engagement ring. What an honor for her, and for him a gesture with deep meaning. It seems that the high price paid by Dianne covered lessons actually learned by the monarchy, which allowed William to live in the real (albeit privileged) world, where he is marrying for love after earning a university degree, serving in the military complete with the risks of a rescue pilot,and sowing his fair share of wild oats. Kate's compassionate understanding of his struggles with his inescapable position in life speak volumes about her own character.

This prince and princess have had the best and the worst of examples set for them by their parents' marriages. Charles and Dianna's relationship has taught them how not to do it. Kate's commoner parents have offered inspiration and hope. William and Kate have not turned a blind eye or deaf ear, and their relationship has passed the test of time. They have both deep emotion and high intelligence going for them -- plus what Dianna never had: the freedom to be themselves and to reject the stuffy and senseless traditions that history has taught us have reaped misery for so many. This prince and princess face the future forewarned and forearmed.

The rest of us can benefit by the incredible potential and dare I say natural inclination these two have to follow in Dianna's footsteps, together using their position in life to make the world a better place. My hope for them is that they will continue on the path, the high road if you will, they have chosen for themselves, balancing their personal and private lives on the same tightrope that tripped and tethered Dianne, then took her life.

There is no such thing as too much publicity when it comes to these two, although my read on this is that William will take the bull (pun intended) by the horns when it comes to the media, to do what Charles did not -- protect the love of his life with fierceness and ferocity, as well as live his life and someday rule his country with backbone as well as dignity.

I don't care what Kate's wedding dress looks like or how much the event is costing. I care about their happiness. They've earned it, they deserve it, they exude it and the rest of us can and should let it wash over us like soft, foamy waves. Those of us who choose to can love their love and let our admiration for them inspire us to greater heights.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Horse Sense & Dollars Too

In my thirties I owned four horses, a sensible number based on the size of my family at the time. We lived in the country and had a pasture and stables for them at the back of our property. There were plenty of tractor roads to ride and, in fact, I could (and often did) jump on my mare to ride her bareback to the little grocery store with its wooden floor, just down the way from our house. My three teenage sons threw hay and shoveled up the… used hay residuals. It was ideal. Then came a divorce, and I moved back to the city after finding good homes for Happy, Blaze, Spinner and Cronie. I gave them away along with saddles, blankets, bridles and so on, to people I knew would care for them. It didn’t occur to me to sell the horses or the tack. They were a part of my life that was dear to me, and money doesn’t mix well with matters of the heart.

In my sixties I decided I needed one -- just one -- horse in my life again. Brandi’s former owner let me keep her for a month to be sure we were a good fit, after which I paid the asking price without trying to strike a bargain. My horse was worth every cent and it would have been an insult to her to attempt to pay less. We were a good match. I was rusty and she was… somewhat… patient with me as I relearned the ropes -- not aiming to show her or to compete, but to simply have fun together. From the beginning I’ve never thought of her as my horse. I think of myself as her person, and I feel privileged.

I first boarded her a 30-minute drive from my house, where we enjoyed the wonderful indoor arena but had no roads to ride. Eventually I moved her to a new place, thirty minutes in the opposite direction. She hated it. We had a great indoor arena but she had no shelter in her pasture, which was very large but butted up against a rural highway. There were roads to ride; however, I didn’t have the confidence to take her out alone, and the other boarders were… less than friendly. Which made them “nice” compared to the owners of the place, who were… not nice. Brandi has no papers, and I have no patience for snobbery. So I moved Brandi to the place where she is currently boarded.

She loves it, and has adjusted to several moves from one pasture to another. No covered arena, but roads to ride and I have the confidence now to go out alone. Layout of the land favors dressage, and long term friendships among other boarders is rather cliquish, but Brandi and I pretty much keep to ourselves to avoid the games many people play (usually without enough insight to realize how obvious they are).

Now comes the dilemma: my cost of boarding her has gone from $130 per month in 2003 to $350 and rising. My choices are to pay even more when the exact increase is soon announced, to avoid the stress of moving her to another facility (she doesn’t like change), to take her off pellets and let her waste away slowly on hay that she doesn’t digest well, or to find someone who wants her and can afford to pay the ever-expanding expenses. I see this as a lose/lose/lose situation.

Our business overhead and living expenses have increased too; however, my husband and I haven’t raised the fee for our services in the past five years, because we are loyal to our clients and want to remain affordable to them when they need our help. That’s called putting people first and money second, not a popular philosophy in today’s economy, though many pay it lip service. If we had increased our fee at the same rate as Brandi’s maintenance has increased over the past 8 years, we would be charging close to $300 a session instead of $180. But then we are in the people business, not the horse business.

The people boarding Brandi for me are in the horse business. I am not. Therein lies the problem. I am her person, and responsible for making the sometimes hard decisions that affect her. Right now as I mull over options my heart is hurting, just a little, not a lot. I’m not a barrel racer, but I feel like I’m over the proverbial barrel. Sometimes that comes with accepting reality.

I suppose business is what it’s all about these days, with success being measured by dollar signs. That’s why Frank and I make such a great team. My primary motivation is to help people, he is the one who sees to it that we can stay in business in order for that to happen. There are others in our field who charge more and may earn income comparable to ours, but they earn their pay by helping fewer clients than we do. They have other jobs and multiple income streams, rather than dedicating themselves solely to the practice of hypnotherapy which is, after all, a profession. In my opinion, at least. Similar to being a dentist. (Would you choose one to do a root canal if he was in his office two days a week, selling vitamins door-to-door three days a week, and mowing lawns on the weekends? ) Yes, food must be put on the table. But from my point of view “following your passion” means devoting yourself to that which is dear to you, even if it means eating more beans and less steak.