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To accumulate means that now there is more than before and then there will be more than now. It is a simple idea – then why do some people have so much trouble applying it to their lives?
Some years back I had a coaching engagement with a senior consultant. This person had risen to near the top of his profession and was, by most indicators, a thought leader in his field. After an increasingly successful career spanning almost twenty years, he began to wonder ‘what’s it all about’?
As we were negotiating the initial focus a single issue claimed the foreground of our discussions – the lack of any long-term relationships in his life. Like the proverbial Doritos – maybe you can’t eat just one but, no matter how many you eat, not one of them will be memorable over the rest. He described his life as ‘vanilla yogurt – just more of the very same and nothing much notable except success’.
Our discussion reminded me of the movie ‘Alfie’ – and Michael Caine’s amazing portrayal of Alfie Elkins. The core of the plot is:
For Alfie, the only real life is sex life; only then can he kid himself he is living. Sex is not used as the working-class boy’s way to ‘the top’. Executive status has no appeal for Alfie. Nor has class mobility. He is quite content to stay where he is, as long as the ‘birds’ are in ‘beautiful condition’, as he assures us they are in one of the candid, over-the-shoulder asides to the camera.
For Alfie, sex was the goal. For my client, business success was the new sex. And, like Alfie, the balance of his life seemed tilted towards the positive interpretation of his personal history. In the cost-benefit analysis, it was the benefits that were counted.
My understanding of women only goes as far as the pleasure. When it comes to the pain I’m like any other bloke – I don’t want to know.
It was only in the latter years of his career that he began to count up the costs. “I feel like I’ve been an oxen in harness,” he once said to me. “A dumb beast driven by a primal desire that made me more use to others than my life was use to me.”
It may be true following Benjamin Disraeli that “Youth is a blunder; manhood a struggle; old age a regret“. However, without some faith in the human ability to understand and change, my client would be right – we are all oxen in harness – without exception, beasts of burden in a senseless melodrama.
As we worked through the initial sessions, it became clear that my client was feeling that his life had been ‘non-cumulative’ when it came to human relationships. He had allowed – indeed, even expected – them to advance to a certain level but drew a line that he would not allow to be crossed. As Alfie said,
“I don’t want no bird’s respect – I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
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