(Note: The story below was written by my speaker colleague and friend George Walter. George and his wife decided a few years ago to spend a year living in places they love all over the world. They alternate choosing where to live spending the last year in Nice, France. George and Barbie exemplify Living Rich by pursuing their passions. This post is a great reminder of the importance of doing just that. Enjoy!)
Right outside the front door of our apartment in Nice, France, it’s Pierre’s domain. There’s a very attractive, very French establishment with a terrific atmosphere, “Restaurant Le Brasserie Grimaldi.” Its proprietor, Pierre, works there morning, Noon, and night. We typically see him at least twice daily as we enter or leave our apartment building. He’s either standing cross-armed, wearing his hat and holding a cigarette, or taking an order, or preparing a tableside salad with seriously artistic flourish.
While we don’t dine with Pierre often, we did so recently because my long-time friends, Jack and Suzanne Healy, were visiting from Washington. They’re true connoisseurs of fine food and wine. Le Brasserie Grimaldi is their kind of place.
So, at the Healys’ suggestion, we ate there together, rather than just walking by, as usual. After enjoying an excellent meal, we chatted a bit with Pierre. I was completely surprised to learn that he speaks English! And he speaks it quite well. It was such an odd discovery. I mean, it’s not like we’d just met the guy. We had lived there for 11 months, and we exchanged daily pleasantries with him, stumbling along in basic French. My wife, Barbie, and his wife, Alexa, were friends. They went to the same yoga studio and sometimes took classes together. Despite all this, I never really had a conversation with Pierre … and I had no idea that he knew even a word of English.
In fact, I’d always felt somewhat awkward with him because, despite our daily comings and goings, I rarely patronized his restaurant. I’m simply not passionate about enjoying excellent food. We dined there with Jack and Suzanne because they are passionate about fine dining.
Studying the wine list on the night we dined with the Healys, Jack selected a Bourgogne Pinot Noir “Les Vendangeurs” 2008 to accompany our starters. He also told Pierre that he’d want to see the wine list again before our main dish was served, because, of course, Jack could not pair the Pinot Noir with his lamb… or my clam pasta … or Suzanne’s truffles … (or Barbie’s salad, for that matter)!
To accompany our main dishes, Jack selected the Saint-Emilion “Grand Cru Chateau Lavallade” 2007, although the first bottle of Bourgogne was still half full. (I only know these particulars because I saved the bottles so I could quote from the labels.)
I watched Jack fully enjoying the art of selecting the proper wine to accompany our meals, and Pierre quickly recognized that he was dealing with a passionate connoisseur. He smiled at Jack’s selections. They were both engaged in their passionate pursuits.
If I’d made the wine selection, it would have been a carafe of the house red without regard for our food choices… and I’d have been able to finish it off quite happily.
Pierre is the proprietor of a difficult, challenging, demanding enterprise. His hours are long; the entire outdoor seating area must be disassembled every night, and reassembled early the next morning. He runs the whole show, including ordering supplies, dealing with wholesalers, taking diners’ orders, advising his guests on wine selections, delivering the food, and working very hard at his multiple roles. His wife, Alexa, is there working alongside him on most days. And during the peak summer months, he also has a part-time waitress. Despite their remarkable toiling, they’re not getting rich, though.
In that first-ever conversation with Pierre and the visiting Healys, he said something quite simple that made me think about how I live my own life. When I commiserated about his difficult vocation, he said, “Yes, eeet’s very ard work, but it eeez my passion.” It was as if he recognized that the work was far too demanding for the financial rewards he received, but he just couldn’t do anything else. He was a French restaurateur; he had to pursue his passion. At the end of our meal, he asked, “Ave you ad an enjoyable mo-mont?”
After 11 months of passing him right outside our front door, I’ve never seen him smile as broadly as when we replied, “Yes, very enjoyable! Magnifique!” Creating moments of enjoyment by providing fine meals is his passion.
I’m sure Pierre would make more money doing just about any other work. He could be taking long lunches, instead of serving them. And, this being France, he could go on strike if he felt that he was working too hard. But, he wouldn’t be pursuing his passion, so he works at his own restaurant, instead.
This made me think about my own passions… and perhaps this encounter will encourage you to think about yours.
I just don’t care about fine wine and excellent cuisine. Those aren’t my passions. Just one night before our dinner at Le Brasserie Grimaldi, Barbie’s friend Barbara was visiting us in our apartment. I offered Barbara some wine. As I poured it from the plastic jug container, I said, “I hope you don’t mind $5.00 wine.”
After Barbara said that she thought it tasted great, Barbie said, “You had better hide that jug so that Jack and Suzanne don’t see it when they arrive tomorrow. You know how passionate they are about fine wines.”
Then, she began to tell Barbara about our wine connoisseur friends, and explained that, “George can’t tell the difference between a $5 bottle of wine and a $500 bottle.”
I quickly protested: “It’s not that I can’t tell the difference between a $5 bottle of wine and a $500 bottle. I can detect a slight difference. I just can’t tell you which one is the $500 bottle and which one is the $5 bottle.”
At that, both Barbie and Barbara fell all over each other laughing.
This happens to me a lot. Most of the time, it happens with Barbie and my daughter, Kelcie. I say something that is totally factual and not at all funny. At least it’s not funny to me. But apparently, others find my statements hilarious. I just don’t get it!
Well, during this dining out experience, when I observed how pleased Pierre was when Jack and Suzanne appreciated his fine meal, it made me ask myself two crucial life questions:
1.Aside from nurturing my personal relationships with my wife, child, and friends, “What eeez it I am zee most passionate about?”
And the even more important question:
2. ” Am I leeeving my life in accordance wis zooze passions?”
It’s worth asking yourself those same two questions.
In my case, I’m certainly passionate about my profession as a keynote speaker. I love to perform on stage, and “something comes over me” when I face an audience. It’s where I shine brightest, professionally. Since 1983 I have been a member of the National Speakers Association and have received its highest honor for platform excellence. I’ve been inducted as a lifetime member of the Speakers Hall of Fame. I love providing enjoyable performances (“enjoyable mo-monts”) for my audiences the way Pierre loves providing enjoyable moments for his guests. I’m always eager to present another speech. (Unfortunately, hustling for business isn’t my passion.)
I’m also passionate about architecture. In particular, I appreciate the specialized field called “adaptive reuse.” This refers to a very specific type of architecture in which structures originally erected for one purpose are adapted and reused for another. A couple of months ago, I booked the most expensive hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. What made it so special and worth it? It was a converted harbor crane on the shore of the North Sea in the Netherlands. It’s the only one of its kind in the world, and is a one-room hotel that’s built inside a functioning crane. From the outside, it looks about like any large crane you’d see loading cargo containers onto docked ships. Inside, though, it’s an amazing hotel consisting of just that one room. From the control cab, you can push a lever and swivel the entire hotel around to change your view. (I only wish I could have used the lifting mechanism to heft someone’s car.)
I make it a point, daily, to pause and appreciate good architecture, especially when the design is either controversial avant-garde, or clever with some little trick for the observers’ eyes.
I’m passionate about cultural explorations. That’s why I’ve traveled to and through 104 countries so far, and why I’ll keep exploring more. Most people think this is nuts. Very few people share my passion in this regard. But that’s the thing about passions. Other people don’t necessarily relate to them, and none of us has to be passionate about what others care most about. One of the things that makes me happiest is boarding a plane to fly for many, many hours … and disembarking in a remote part of the world, … where I hope to end up sleeping in a village hut with “primitive” tribal people. I don’t care if others find that odd. It’s my passion.
I’m passionate about using almost any mode of transport. People who don’t share this passion find any flight of more than a few hours painfully uncomfortable. I, though, will happily take a flight, sit in coach, and enjoy a 22-hour journey, with multiple connections, and cross 12 time zones, just because I love to fly. If there’s any railroad near me, I want to go for a train ride. If there’s a ski gondola to a mountaintop, or a metro tunnel that goes under a river, I want to experience it! Even riding on city buses gives me a little thrill.
Most of all, I’m passionate about slaking my curiosity. Whenever I spot a brown road sign pointing to a historical marker, scenic overlook, or other point of interest, I have an urge to pull off the road, despite the fact that it will slow my journey.
Or will it? Maybe feeding our passions is our journey. If so, taking detours is all part of the fun. And instead of hindering me, it makes me grow, in intellect, experience, and satisfaction. It feeds both my head and my heart.
So, how’s this for an important personal exercise for yourself:
Give yourself a passion checkup. What makes you feel most passionate? Are you living your life in accordance with your passions?
Or, as Pierre might put it: “What eeez it I am zee most passionate about? Am I leeeving my life in accordance wis zooze passions?”
If you’re not passionate about wine, don’t order the $500 bottle. And if you’re not passionate about long flights, detours, and bizarre travel, stay home. And if you don’t feel passionate about your work, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.