The Price of Being Human

The first time I met Mr. G, he was wearing a light blue, short sleeved fishing shirt that he wore as a dress shirt. The shirt was neatly tucked into his dark denim jeans and he was wearing a pair of old Brooks’ Ghost running shoes, worn our not because he was a runner, but because he refused to buy new ones. His entire wardrobe, sans his shoes, was purchased at Sam’s Club, just as much as the rest of his clothes were I would later find out. 

He had white hair, combed slightly over to the side, not that he was trying to keep up with the latest styles, but probably because his wife wouldn’t allow him out in public with morning bed hair. Mr. G cared about his appearance, but not so much in a vain way, but more in the way that he respected the people he met enough no to insult them with sloppiness. 

He just seemed that way. You would think he was a retired math teacher if you didn’t know better. And I didn’t know better.

On his wrist he wore a nice looking watch, an aviator style with a leather strap, one that looked expensive, but in reality only cost about $50. I’m sure he perhaps wore more expensive brands in his former life, but now, in this phase of his living, less was more, and he was the type of man to be fine with that.

Kind and well shaven, Mr. G would sit and talk, to just about anyone in the clinic, about just about anything they wanted to talk about. He asked questions, lots of personal questions, like where they were from and what they like to do for fun. He never pried and was always gentle in his approach. He seemed to care more about who the person was, rather than what they did for a living.

You see, Mr. G, come to find out, was rich, the kind of rich that most people want to be and dream of becoming. When you sit down with a financial advisor and talk about retirement, Mr. G is the person you are thinking about, probably not in appearance, but in portfolio numbers. His bank account numbers are the numbers people dream about when they start their 401k’s and invest in the market at earlier ages.

One would really not be able to tell his net worth from the clothes he wore appearance most of the multimillionaires you see in the news are wearing much better clothes and don’t drive used Ford Escapes. Yet, here he was in my clinic, looking like your average Joe, and behaving as such. 

But Mr. G was an interesting character study, one of the type of people that you actually enjoy talking to because they actually enjoy talking to you. He doesn’t want to know about big things, he wants to know about the little ones, the small pieces of atoms that make up our little lives in this big universe. He would never interrupt, and he certainly would never one up your story with one of his, even though a man like him had plenty of life behind him to do so. He simply chatted with people, like a kid wanting to learn more about the new toy someone was playing with in front of him.

To give you some history, he was from a small town, worked hard, became the CEO of a company and retired. And to have him tell it, the CEO part of the story would take about as long as what you just read. It wasn’t that he wasn’t proud of his accomplishments, but simply he had already lived that part of his life and knew all about it, he was more interested in learning about new things, not talking about past ones. He was proud of his accomplishments, he even taught leadership classes and still sat on a couple of boards around town, but what really lit up his face was fishing.

We would talk for most of sessions together about fishing, where to go, what to use, the beauty of what it was. He was a true romantic of the pastime, the kind of person that read “A River Runs Through It”, and pretty much everything Hemingway ever wrote. To hear him talk about fly fishing in Montana is like listening to a preacher man talk about the golden streets of Heaven. He didn’t have to paint a picture of grander, he merely opened his mouth and talked about the place, and it was like listening to a four year talk about their favorite toy. The love and innocence just projected off his whole being, and one could not help but get excited about the story, for if a man like this loved a place like that the way he did, well how could I not too.

There really is something beautiful about old men talking about fishing, or hunting, or the love of their life. To sit and have someone with so many years behind them dial in on the one or two important things in life gives one hope, that all the noise that we hear on a daily basis, all the distractions, will finally calm down. That one day, when there are fewer days ahead of us, we will come to cherish the the few things we have learned to cherish, and hold on to them like a little child does a blanket.

He recently sold his place in Montana he would tell, the small place of heaven he was fortunate to own here on Earth. This was his sanctuary, his church, the place he would go to for months on end during the summer months, and fish all day. You could see the sadness as he would talk about needing to stay around here more, because of the grandchildren and the increasing number of doctor visits he was now having to incur. The sadness was not from living here or the things that were here. He loved his family and cherished them more than fishing.

He would tell me that he still knows people up there, that he could rent a room from any of them and still do his fishing if he liked, but the ranch was part of him, and you almost got the sense that he felt like he let the ranch down, that the land was a living creature that also would be sad too to see the old man go. 

A man with this much life experience, both personally and professionally had a lot of words, good words, sound words, about what to do and not do. He was all too kind to answer questions about his life and what things he would have done differently if given the chance. 

The one that sticks in my brain though is one that I have heard before, from many of the well to do retirees I have come across in my working days. Over the years I have had the chance to chat with some pretty well off people, and it has been amazing the advise I get.

Work hard, get into real estate, don’t get into real estate, invest in mutual funds, stay away from the market, do this, don’t do that. The list goes on and on, and not always consistent.

There is one constant, the one constant that every “good” man I have come across has said in one way or another. It hasn’t been anything to do with money, even though all the people I have asked seem to have plenty of. The one thing most of them tell me is this 

Don’t worry about being rich, just be somebody.

Don’t be wealthy, be worthy.

I told Mr.G that I have heard this type of advise before, that many men with like him has spoken the same type of “warning” in past sessions. It was almost haunting and refreshing. Like he was being prophetic, telling of the evils he has seen with his own two eyes about man and money, and how both can be destructive if used in the wrong way. But it was nice to see that someone like him, that had the amount of money he had, still hung true to the ideals of being human.

Mr. G, in his kind way told me a story. He talked about his place in Montana, about the small town it once was and how it isn’t anymore. He went on to say how so many millionaires have bought land around his lovely fishing hole, and how the price of ranches there are skyrocketing. 

And then he told me about a famous person, one that everyone would know by name, and how he bought a large parcel of land and built an incredible house there. The locals were upset because of the way he changed the landscape and distracted of the natural beauty of the place. He would talk about how no one ever saw the person there and how the house just seems cold and empty, even when the famous person is there.

And then he went on the tell me about the others, the people like himself that come to live there, even if it is only part time. He would describe the old pick ups and dirty boots, the humble way people would go to the store and chat around town. 

He would go on to say that most of the rich people there don’t want to be rich, they just want to be. They go there to take off their suits, to get away from being the CEO, to get away from the phones and decisions and the tall buildings. 

Just like a parable, he would talk about how the rich people there just want to be somebody, the richest people in the world go to Montana to become a cowboy, or a woodsman. He would laugh and tell me how much money people spend to be do the things that poor people do.

The famous person on the other hand, had just as much money, and power and prestige as the others. He came to the beautiful place looking for the peace that he had heard so many others describe, but he never found it, because he was more worried about what he had, rather than becoming the person he needed to be.

Some people go to the woods to recharge, but they want to change the woods more than they want to be changed themselves. And in doing so, they kill Mother Nature, and move on to the next spot to give them peace, which they never find.

Months after Mr. G and I had gone our own ways, I sent him an email. In it, I told him about a boy and his desire to catch a shark. I told him of the little boy and the sea, the beauty of the ocean and the memories that the boy would never be able to forget in this lifetime. I attached a photo of my son, and his sharks, and his big smile. I can image Mr. G reading the email, imagining himself out there, and I can see him smiling like a little boy himself looking at the picture of my little boy.

He wrote me back, and thanked me for all I did from him professionally, but more than that, for thinking of him and sending him the picture. You would have thought I sent him a check for a million dollars the way he gushed about the picture and the email I had sent.

But he didn’t need a million dollar check, I’m pretty sure he had held several of them in his hands over the many of years that he ran companies. 

He was happy to see my boy holding a fish and smiling, doing something millionaires in Montana pay good money to do….to be somebody.