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The Five Million Dollar Day

Aug 18, 2007
It was one of those 'stellar' or rather 'solar' California afternoons. The sky was a deep, dark blue -- a storm having cleared out the skies the day before. We walked through rows of Brussels sprout plants that were beginning to lean with the weight of the sprouts. Surfers were scurrying down to the beach. The waves, ten and twelve footers, were breaking several hundred yards out and rolling in just right.

We reached the cliff and walked down the narrow path which still slippery from the recent rain. What could spoil this perfect setting?

I kept thinking back to the management meeting I had conducted the day before. There were six of us seated around a conference table evaluating employees and discussing how to create an employee buy-out program. We were fifteen minutes into the discussion when one of the managers said, "I have to say something".

My first impulse was 'oh boy'. In the past when these kinds of statements came up it was something like --'I quit' or 'We gotta fire Joe'or 'Someone's stealing the coffee money'. But that wasn't the case this time.

"My best friend stopped by to see me last night," said the manager, "we went to grammar school together. The good news was that his company went IPO last year and he took home five and half million dollars. That was the good news. That same day he got the good news from his accountant he also got a call from his doctor. He had cancer; it had metastasized and was non-treatable. He had 6-8 months to live."

There was a silence around the table. After a pause I made some comment about how sorry we all were and went back to our agenda. I lay awake that night thinking about the peculiar occurrence at the meeting. I did not think about the buy out -- that was simple. I kept thinking about the cancer and the millions of dollars.

What would five million dollars look like? Could you go down to the Credit Union and withdraw five million dollars? Could you get the 5M in gold? What would 5M in hundred dollar bills look like? The truth of the matter was, the five million really did not physically exist -- it was just a bunch of bits and bytes on a computer database.

Sure the money could be spent but only because others gave value to the database. If it were wiped out by something like a computer bug, would it still exist? What if everyone said 'your bits and bytes aren't worth anything anymore to us?'

Then I kept going back to the terminal condition. Would he get to enjoy his money? Would he give it away? Would he throw one big party? Would he live lavishly as his physical condition deteriorated? Did his quest for the 5M contribute to his cancer? Did he work too hard and lower his immune system? Was it a cruel joke played by fate? Was the doctor only kidding?

The more I thought, the more absurd my ideas became. Nothing made sense and a hundred years from now, I thought, who would care? As I sat on the beach my editor (and life companion) looked at me strangely.

'All this pure air, sea and beach and you are not enjoying it,' she said, 'business problems don't usually get you this down -- especially at the beach.' I then told her the story. She shrugged and started looking for shells.

I never resolved this one and concluded that there really was no resolution. We are all animals and the price we pay for not being a rock or the sea is mortality. How we live is all we really have and how we die in a certain sense is rather insignificant. In the total scheme of things it matters very little.

So when our teenager acts up I really have to put it in perspective. Are the annoyances really important? How would I feel if he had the cancer? Or my editor? Or me? Some would care - some would cry but for most, life just goes on.

The next day I was reviewing a motivational tape in my car on my way to a client site. The speaker was talking about discipline and how we must manage our lives with discipline to achieve business success. And then came the clincher: "And some of you instead of being disciplined would rather spend the afternoon at the beach."

That's me, I decided! Sure I work hard and will work hard in the future. But I will take some time. Even 5 million dollars can't buy an afternoon at the beach.
About the Author
Jack D. Deal is the owner of Deal Business Consulting. aRelated articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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