Its the tail end of the lunch shift. I pretend to watch the office girls walking past the front window as I eavesdrop on two of my customers. I know that’s not very polite but its an interesting conversation. Besides, Im bored.
“I don’t know,” the younger of the two men says. “I thought Id be happier at this stage in my life.”
“What’s the problem?” the older man sitting across from him asks. “You’ve already made all the money you’re ever going to need.”
“Yeah,”the younger man says sadly. “But being rich isn’t all I thought it was cracked up to be.”
“It never is.”
Theres a long pause. Finally the younger man says. “My wife’s upset that we don’t have children. The doctors say we probably can’t.”
“How old’s your wife?”
“The same age.”
“Did you think about adopting?”
“My wife doesn’t want to raise somebody else’s children.”
I can see the two men reflected in the window. The older of the two men, a grey haired successful looking type, purses his lips and thinks about what he’s going to say next. I like when people think about what they’re going to say. It means they care.
“Listen,” the older man says. “So you may never have children. What does that mean for you?”
“I don’t know,” the younger man says.
“Are you, like, big into carrying on the family name?”
“My parents are dead. My sister has children. So……”
“Will it kill you not to have kids?”
The older man leans back in his chair. After a long pause he says, “Sometimes you have to exploit the negatives in your life. That may be how you have to look at this.”
My ears perk up. This conversation’s solid gold.
“Exploit the negative?” the younger man asks.
“You and your wife probably can’t have children of your own and you don’t want to adopt. Some people would say that’a a negative, right?”
“But not having children means you and your wife are free to do other things. You can travel, explore business opportunities, go to school – you’re not tied down. There’s a positive side to not having kids.”
“That sounds kind of cynical.”
“Not at all,” the older man says. “I have three girls. I love them to death. They’ve given me a bunch of grandchildren I adore. But any parent, if they’re honest, will tell you that there are negatives to having children.”
“You wouldn’t do it over again?”
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” the older man says. “But that’s the way my life worked out. Your life may be different. Are you comparing your life to other peoples? People with kids?”
“Your life may not work out the same way. And if you don’t live your life as it really is, you’re heading for trouble.”
“All I’m saying is this,” the older man says. “You have to look at the empty spaces in your life, see the possibilities, and turn them into opportunities.”
As I’m listening a quote from Sun Tzu floats into my head. “Go into emptiness, strike voids, bypass what he defends, hit him where he does not expect you.”
“So you won’t have kids,” the older man continues, “But you have a lot of money. Millions. Maybe not having children will give you the time and freedom to use that money to help thousands of kids somewhere. When I was your age I was hustling to pay for braces. I couldn’t spare a dime to charity.”
“You have a point there,” the younger man admits.
“Your life’s going to be what its going to be. But when you’re stuck my advice is to look inside the negative parts of your life for inspiration.”
“Lemons into lemonade?” the young man says, laughing softly.
“No,” the older man says. “If everyone tried following their bliss everyone would be trying to get to the same place at the same time. It’d be a fucking traffic jam. But since no one likes going into the negative theres more room for opportunity – less competition, less traffic.”
“I think I see what you’re talking about,” the younger man says.
There’s a lot of truth in what the older man’s saying. Frustrated with being a waiter I blogged about my experiences on the internet. Exploiting that negative allowed me to uncover opportunities I never would have dreamed possible for myself. I struck into a void, bypassed obstacles, and hit my enemy where he least expected it. Who’s my enemy you ask? Why myself, of course.
The two men finish their coffees, pay the check, and leave. I go outside to catch a breath of fresh air. I watch the younger man climb into an Aston Martin and drive away. As I stand on the sidewalk I think about what makes people happy. Kids? Money? Sex? Power? The right job? A nice address? Many people looking at my life would say I’ve made all the wrong choices. Sometimes I think they’re right. The demons of loneliness and failure are never far from me. But, in my less anxious moments, I realize my life is probably unfolding as it should. Screw what other people think of me.
Sometimes, for some people, the only way is the wrong way.