On January 16th, we will celebrate the 1st International Walk With Flowers Day. Click here to find out how to participate!
“It’s just business, you know…”
He shrugged and looked at me with an excusatory smile.
“Sure,” I was going to answer – but I paused and let his words ease down for a moment.
There was this guy, and he had given up his brick and mortar business in order to specialize in search engine marketing. It was working out nicely for him: He could travel, he made good money, and he enjoyed being his own boss. On the downside, he had to sit behind a computer for eight to twelve hours a day, sometimes for weeks at a time. I don’t remember if he had already been an alcoholic when I first met him, but he definitely was one by now.
Who was I to judge, though? People should be free to decide what to do with their lives. Still, he didn’t look too healthy. And what bothered me was that he was basically spamming Google in order to get his sites ranked. That, I told him, was messing up search for non-techie users, and it really wasn’t creating any value at all.
“Right,” he answered. “It’s just business, you know…”
A common phrase. An automatic excuse. Business is business, and life is life. We all know this phrase, and generally, we’ll just take it for granted. It comes up in many different contexts, in a couple of different forms:
- We’ve been friends a long time, but now I’m going to cancel your credit and take your house. You know I have to do my job…
- Sure, we’re burning down the Amazon. That’s what our shareholders are expecting, you know…
- I’m spamming Google, spending entire days creating bullshit content. But it pays the bills…
In this moment of reflexion, the web marketing guy sitting in front of me, taking a mouthful of cold and ridiculously expensive German beer, I understood that I didn’t want to accept this excuse any longer. I understood that it wasn’t really an excuse at all. The moment business becomes a part of our lives, it becomes more than just business. It becomes something personal.
Business without Being a Businessman?
I never was interested in business. Business was something for clean-shaven men wearing grey suits and ties, and I mostly got in touch with it when I strolled by the bars where they took their secretaries in order to unwind after work. Over the years, friends of mine had become businessmen, but somehow I never became intrigued by it.
This changed during the last year or so, when I noticed that I didn’t want to be employed. Like it or not, I had to sit down and learn some business basics in order to become my own boss. Thus, I started reading books and blogs on the topic, especially on how to make a living online. But while the knowledge I obtained was valuable in many ways, something was missing. It was just as if the same old businessmen somehow had stopped wearing ties and lost their secretaries (or outsourced them to India) – but continued to be unfriendly persons.
You see, internet business is thriving. The affiliate industry is moving billions of dollars, ebook authors can make a fortune offering solutions for desperate buyers, and the blogging scene discovers upcoming superstars month after month. If you are even remotely interested in technology and working on your own, learning from the experts in this field certainly is a commendable strategy. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor will your business – but it will be far easier to do once you know the basics of bricklaying.
Taking it Personal
What was the problem, then? In the beginning I supposed it was just me and my inability to accept the realities of marketing and business plans: I get most of the tricks on a theoretical level, but my body and mind resist to implement them.
The more I thought about it, the more I noticed that my resistance was the result of dashed hopes. The hopes of a dreamer, a romantic maybe – but still: Was it completely unrealistic to hope that work in the web 2.0 era could somehow be “better” than it was before? Was it completely unrealistic to hope that a better way of doing business could become part of a happier personality? Was it completely unrealistic to hope that we could make up new models of work that fitted into new models of life?
Sure, there’s lifestyle design: I don’t even want to open that pandora’s box again, but I think there’s some kind of consensus that it’s too much talk and too little walk. Then, there’s things minimalism: Own less than 100 items and you are admitted to this exclusive club. But while I love voluntary simplicity, I just don’t think the average Westerner’s main problem is that he owns more than two pairs of underwear. And, of course, there’s location independence: Live and work anywhere you like. Certainly my thing, but what about all those people who enjoy being where they are, but who still hate their job?
My point is this: You can work only four hours a week, own less than a hundred things, and travel the world – but still have a business that sucks. If that’s the case, it’s probably because your work is not aligned with the rest of your life and your personal code of ethics.
Walking with Flowers
When you walk the street with a bunch of flowers, interesting things will happen. People smile at you, they give you space to walk, and you will see this special glow in the eyes of many of them. Flowers are romantic, and most people have some kind of enjoyable memory of a day they received a bouquet, or they were giving one to a loved person.
Walking with flowers gets even more interesting when you start giving them away. And the idea is giving them to somebody you never met before. You can give your flowers away randomly or with a clear focus: The lonely lady with the bored face; the fighting couple; the tired street vendor at the bus stop.
A bunch of roses costs about 2 or 3 dollars around here. They may be more expensive where you are, but you can probably grow some in your garden. Be it work or money, it’s generally a small investment – but the returns will be huge, even though the common businessman won’t be able to measure them: Smiles, surprise, happiness. An invitation for coffee even, alhough that certainly wasn’t my intention.
I swear I saw a tear flowing once, when I gave a whole bouquet to a middle-aged businesswoman in Bogotá who had been making phone calls nervously for half an hour before I decided to get her some flowers. We didn’t even speak a single word.
If we enjoy voluntary simplicity, why not include some voluntary kindness in our lives? I think it’s nice to be nice, and I suppose most people would agree with that.
The Business Romantic
Wouldn’t business be a lot more enjoyable if more people were walking with flowers? Random gestures of kindness, random gestures of connection can be worth so much more than money, and I think they can have a deep impact on people.
No, I won’t accept any sarcastic comments here. I refuse to listen to the cynics anymore who say that giving away a couple of flowers doesn’t solve the problems of this world. Because, in reality, it does: Kindness and compassion is exactly what’s missing, and we won’t get it by presidential decrees. We’ll get it by being kind and compassionate in our daily life, and in our business.
This is a call for the romantics, a call for the dreamers out there, a call for the “woo woo” part inside of us: Let’s take business from the hands of cold and calculating men in grey who bore us to death with their focus on profits and sales. Let’s laugh at the business buffoons even though they take themselves so damn seriously. Let’s forget about getting rich quick. Let’s forget about getting rich at all – at least in the old and unfortunate definition of richness reflecting mere monetary status: We need no six figure income to be happy. What we need is health, a place to sleep, good food, and intelligent and entertaining relationships with other people: in business and in leisure hours, online and in real life.
If you’re employed, sitting in a cubicle and don’t want to take it anymore, accept that this is your life and you decide what to do with it. If, on the other hand, you’re self-employed or a business owner already, but concerned with nothing but web analytics, follower numbers, ROI, and SEO: Was that why you left your job? Was it really worth it?
I say: Conquer your fears and accept that life is more than business – but that your business will always affect your life. If you didn’t manage to align them yet, maybe it’s worth the frightening thought to just start over again.
I know it won’t be easy. But those checks that finance your life come from real people. People with problems, people with worries – maybe even people that care about you, and that care about what you do. Are you really giving them what they deserve? As far as I am concerned, if the business I do is not as good as the life I want to lead, I prefer going to bed hungry.
I’m not here to judge you. You can do that yourself. Just close your laptop, take a deep breath – and walk with flowers. If something feels wrong, you can smash your excuses within the blink of an eye.
On January 16th, we will celebrate the 1st International Walk With Flowers Day. Click here to find out how to participate!
Fabian you must of written this at a fever pitch, a shining beacon that cuts deep. The pain is uncomfortable as it should be, but oh so familiar. Faithfully the light shines down, splendid heart, piercing truth, combatre.
I will stand by you on any occasion, flowers in hand.
Thanks Jonathan! Glad to have you at my side! I have to admit I love your poetic comments – they always remind me of how limited my knowledge of the English language still is. Really looking forward to your site!
This post indeed was written in some kind of fever pitch… often, this is the best occasion to get the truth out, with the inner censor remaining powerless…
Sorry, I know comments are better when they add to the conversation; but all I have to say is: this is fucking brilliant. Bravo. Why do we pretend we have any problems beyond deciding to be happy? There’s no shortage that can’t be cured by love of life and compassion for each other. If you can’t manage compassion; just love life and it will all work out.
Thanks Lach! Loving life is the first step indeed!
This post is perfect Fabian. I don’t think many of us can claim to ever have written one. A perfect post. I’ve got nothing but admiration for it. And you.
Today I asked my supervisor how many people the boss asked her to hire.
But we haven’t got the work for three more people.
He just wants to play it safe. Make sure everyone works out, and then he can cut back.
But that means he’s planning to throw someone’s life into turmoil…hire them to cover his ass, then trim the fat.
Just business…??? I disagree. Not just business at all, but rather, a reflection of your value system. Of the way you view your relationships. And your own importance.
I suppose it’s all about evolution. Though I tend to think that evolution is, by its very nature, always about improvement. That is, changing for the better in every case. But I suppose so long as the end result is an improvement, a few dips in the road are okay.
Let us hope this dip in the road is temporary, and that we’re making progress despite appearances. You give me hope to hope just that.
While this post is far from perfect, I really appreciate your kind words, Jeb! The story you tell sounds so familiar, and it’s really another good example for the excuse I wrote about in the post!
Concerning evolution, I think we’re at an interesting moment in time because we – as human beings – for the first time in history really can influence it consciously. No animal before us could ever do that. This is precisely why I think that ethical behavior matters *a lot*: Even if the human race was “bad” according to their nature (I doubt it…), every single one of us is in the position to make a difference.
Fabulous post! I sat here nodding my head and smiling in agreement. If you’re new to business stuff or making money online (not saying that you are, just that this was my experience), it can come off as – pardon my language – really fucking skeezy. I don’t want to outsource and pay someone $4 a day to do my busywork, thanks! Or use emotional manipulation to get people to buy things they don’t need. After reading some business suggestions, I felt like I had to go take a shower and scrub the sleaze off me.
I also loved the woo woo post – it’s one of those things that people are ashamed to talk about, but in my experience when they do, the response is usually good. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to talk about!
If you’re interested in ethical entrepreneurship, I’d check out Connection Revolution – http://www.connection-revolution.com. I’m biased because Pace and Kyeli are my friends, but they’re also pretty awesome and run an awesome blog. And I believe they’re currently collaborating with another blogger on a product titled “Profitable Idealism”, which sounds fab so far.
Just found your blog today via Rock Unemployment (which I in turn found via some random blog click, go figure). Love the name & your banner – and the content I’ve read :)
Thank you so much, Michelle! I’m really glad you like TFA so far! I am indeed quite new to this online business thingy, and my experiences have been quite similar to yours, unfortunately…
I know the work of Pace and Kyeli over at FR/CR, and totally love what they are doing. One of the few examples of people really aligning work and life in a beautiful way. “Profitable Idealism” sounds like the way to go! :)
Thank you, Fabian!
A pleasure! :)
Now you’re talking Fabian! When we say it’s just business we’re creating a separation…and at the same time relinquishing our responsibility. Our responsibility to be present in what we’re doing. Our responsibility to be kind and compassionate to others and more importantly, ourselves.
Thanks Nate! Let’s build mindful businesses!
Bit late to the party… This post resonates a lot with my experiences. I now have an unwritten rule in life that if someone ever says to be me, in the course of doing business with them, “it’s just business….” I will never do work with that person again. Ever. Full stop. The phrase “it’s just business…” seems to have become a ‘get out of jail free card’ for people to act how they like in their working life. What these people don’t understand is what you do day after day at work, your repeated behaviour, is not what you do, it is who you are.
It’s never late, Matt, thanks for your comment! That’s precisely why I try to write things that are not dependent on the “news” world… :)
Our experiences are much in line, and I think your unwritten rule can be really helpful when defining with whom to work and whom to avoid!
Fabian, I’ve felt the same “disconnect” when reading about and doing business, especially on the Internet. There is so much advice, so many products about marketing, niches, conversions, storytelling, authority-building, and so on that you can’t help but feel overwhelmed or inadequate if you don’t keep up with the marketing “arms race.” Perhaps there’s too much hacking of the same system that everyone seems to want to abandon rather than creating something sustainable and more human. All of us who feel this way should keep trying different things and sharing so that we can create a new or different way of business.
Greg, I love your term of the “marketing arms race”… really helpful to describe what’s happening to many people: They feel pushed to apply strategies they aren’t really comfortable with.
I think one main issue we have to solve is getting new audiences in, instead of just getting more aggressive in pricing and marketing tactics. In the end, there’s a space for everybody – because only a small minority of people really creates stuff! And really, a single person can live fine with “1000 true fans” helping to sustain her, or even a couple of dozen, for that matter…
Totally agree with you about trial and error, and sharing the outcome! I’ll be reporting on how things go over here! :)
First time reader here and I’ll be back. Some people if they looked at their hourly rate when they became their own Boss would cry :) Every time I buy flowers for my wife I get those looks and smiles. I’ve never given one away to a stranger though….
Thank you Jim! Glad to have you here!
As for the flowers, try it one day… it may seem a little awkward at first, but it will generally be a lot of fun! :)
Fabian, just caught up with this one and have to say I agree with Jeb, it’s a stormer of a post. It reads like a real manifesto. I also love your line in your bio about not becoming a “business buffoon”!
Thanks Milo! Glad you enjoyed it!
I truly enjoyed reading this article. It’s nice to see that i am not alone in my thinking.
PS. off to reading some of your other postings. :)
Thank you for stopping by, Sarah!
I hope you’ll enjoy some of the other articles, too! :)
Putting words to this feeling locked up inside.
I’m glad so many have the same outlook.
A great sigh of relief.
Thanks to you, Forrest! Glad to connect with you! :)
This is such an insightful post Fabian.
I have to be honest, I was also caught up with doing “invaluable” business, cause it’s just business and it must pay the bills.
I changed, I wasn’t getting enough of it.
What I did was to be more real. To communicate more. To serve and have a vision for your clients/costumers.
Things change. We could be doing 4 hours of “work” (the stuff that we don’t love), but the thing is that, quoting from one of my favorite movies; A warrior does not give up what he loves, he finds the love in what he does.
We may be doing business with someone but come to think of it. If that person/client is really in dire need of help, even the littlest piece of advice is really helpful.
These are one of the good things that we could do in not just in business, but in life. Doing ordinary things extraordinary well.
Hey Marco, I love that notion of “doing ordinary things extraordinary well”. If everybody lived by this, the world would be a lot more beautiful. Also reminds me of a saying of my former boss: “If you spend the time to do it, better do it right.” Totally true.
From which movie is the warrior quote?
This is wonderfully put! If we could just realise that it is the small things that change the world in big ways, we would all do a little more, I’m sure. But we all want to see everything change right now, so we end up doing nothing at all. Except of course, complaining.
Haha, that happens to us all at times, doesn’t it? The only thing to do about that…? Keep walking, with a smile on our face! :)
This post brings a warm glow to my heart. Bravo!
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