I was at a restaurant for lunch recently and happened to sit next to a group of businessmen. By their conversation, it seemed to me they were a group of old friends who had known each other for a long time, perhaps since youth. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but overhear their table conversation most of which centered on the fragile state of the economy and how each was trying to cope with it.
I recognized one of the men as the owner of a local hardware store who was complaining how he was having difficulty competing with the mega-hardware stores in the area (e.g., Home Depot and Lowe's). His store was much smaller than the mega-stores and, as such, he couldn't match their prices. Instead, he tried to focus on service which is the store's hallmark. Nonetheless, between the competition and rising health costs associated with his employees, he made the admission that he wished he had gotten into the insurance business as one of his cohorts had done.
The Insurance Agent at the table looked over at his friend and assured him he did not make a mistake and went on to describe his problems as an independent agent who covered home, health, and auto. Evidently, between the recession, Obamacare and recent hurricanes in our area, both individuals and companies had been tightening their belts. Prior to 2008, rarely did he have to leave his office as people were frequently calling for either a quote or an adjustment to their policy. More recently though, he had been knocking on the doors of his customers, including former clients, in order to drum up business. This was a nagging source of frustration for him as he had clerical support at his office whom he was now considering releasing. He then volunteered he wished he had become an accountant like his parents had wanted years ago.
The accountant said, "Not so fast." Business was not well for him either. Of all of his corporate clients, no more than two were making any substantial money. Everywhere else business was flat. Like the Insurance Agent, this caused him to call on his customers to see what else he could do for them. Then there was the problem of computer software for tax preparation which had become popular and was driving customers away from him. "If I had to do it over again," he said, "I would have loved to have been a programmer."
This caused the programmer to choke. He pointedly told the accountant he had no idea of the types of problems involved with producing software which he found very frustrating and monotonous. He claimed end-users don't know what they want; he is often asked to do nothing more than to patch existing programs or rewrite them. He particularly despised the unprofessional attitude of the other programmers in his department. He also found the experience unrewarding and wished he owned a small restaurant instead.
The restaurateur among them, who happened to own the restaurant they were sitting in, just rolled his eyes. He claimed his life was nothing more than battling with incompetent cooks, lazy waiters, obnoxious county inspectors, vendors who had no concept of customer service, rising costs, and patrons who complained about the slightest thing. Frankly, he wished he ran the local hardware store instead.
Only then did they all pause, look at each other, and laugh, for they had discovered none of them had the ideal occupation; that there was always problems associated with any job or business; and that there was no such thing as Nirvana in our business lives. We all want to believe someone else's job is easier than our own; that the grass is always greener somewhere else. The harsh reality though is each job has its own unique set of problems.
As for me, I just chuckled and wished they had sat somewhere else.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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