Walk with Flowers

Walking with Flowers

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!