To Teach or To Sell? Or… Building my Body of Work

I stopped at a local diner to grab some coffee, sit down and plan my day. It was early and the line to the counter was disorganized. Just as a path seemed to clear to the nearest cashier, I was blocked. A man, a large man, roughly my age and height but much wider, with flowing gray hair and missing teeth that a skilled dentist might describe as “important,” stood in front of me.

“Do you live around here?”

A fairly standard icebreaker, I guess, given the venue.

“No,” I started, “but I work nearby.” This was in case he was going to ask me for driving directions.

He was not that foolhardy but he was direct.

“Okay. What do you do?”

“I teach marketing.”

“Good. You’re a teacher. So tell me this,” he started as he stood even closer to me. “If I just want some advice, should I have to pay for it?”

“Depends on the kind of advi…”

“Look,” he continued as he raised his very thick left arm over his head, “I know my body, all right?”

I had no reason to doubt him, unless his teeth count as part of his body.

“I don’t want to pay somebody for physical therapy. It’s like a dart board.”

Let me interject by assuring you that I’m not clever enough to make this up. This really happened. Indulge me for a few more lines and I’ll get to my point.
I asked a legitimate question. “How is PT like a dart board?” I’ve had physical therapy on a couple of occasions and while I’ve never experienced dart- or dart board-like symptoms, I still didn’t follow his logic.

“I mean that I’m this close,” he said as he moved his left shoulder really close to my face, I think to indicate how close he was to whatever it was that he was talking about. I’m glad he had put his beefy arm down before he did that.

“I know my body,” he repeated, “and I know I don’t need to pay some guy a lot of money when I’m really just this close to figuring out what’s wrong with my shoulder.”
Part of my brain wanted to see where this conversation would end up while another part of my brain wondered “where’s this coffee I was promised?”

“So you just want someone to take a quick look at your problem and tell you what’s wrong.”

“Exactly! When I’m this close, why should I pay somebody to tell me? I know my body. Like throwing darts and just missing by a little bit.”

“Is that how you hurt your arm?” I figured I was in a crowded public place so if this large man got angry, he could only do so much damage to me.

“No, man, I’m a body builder!”

This, I believed.

He then started telling me about his workout regimen, focusing, as you might have already guessed, on the upper body. Since my next pull-up will be my first pull-up, I just listened politely.

Okay, I promised I’d get to the point (no dart pun intended).

My new work out buddy thanked me for listening and walked away. I wonder if this meeting was somehow meaningful.

I’m reminded of the old story of the computer user who, despite many attempts and much time spent on trying to solve a technical problem, comes “this close” to figuring out what’s wrong. The IT specialist shows up and five minutes later, the problem is solved.

The customer begrudgingly pays the technician. “Seems like a lot of money for five minutes of work.”

The fixer smiles. “You want it cheap and fast and good, but you only get two of those three. You wanted fast and good.”

My new friend was in the same situation, and cheap and fast wasn’t working for him, either.

But let’s switch perspectives.

Why should a physical therapist (or anyone else) give away what they know, the skills they’ve acquired through devotion of their own time and effort and money and other resources?

When you’re good at something, you deserve to be paid.

And yet another way to look at it is that by doing things for free, you’re building your reputation, your credibility, your business, to the point where somebody will want to deepen that relationship.

Or you do something for free because you’re paying forward.

Or just because you like doing it.

Then, you can negotiate the exchange and maybe even earn a living.

What do you think of that?

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