It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others. – John Andrew Holmes, US congressman and senator in the early 1800s
Managing our money wisely is a necessary ingredient to a happy life, but certainly not the most important ingredient. I was reminded of this again last month when reading an article about an interview with an important American business leader. But first, a little background information:
Years ago I heard a story I have never forgotten. It was about a college student who had studied hard to prepare for a final exam. When the exam was passed out he noticed it consisted only of a single sheet of paper which was blank on both sides.
After the exam was passed out the professor got up and said, “I’ve taught you everything I can about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”
The student didn’t know the answer and failed the exam.
When I heard the story I had no idea who the student was. I wasn’t even sure if the story was true. However, the story stuck with me and it has been a good reminder over the years that everyone is important and worthy of respect.
Therefore, I was surprised last month to read in an interview of Walt Bettinger, CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation, by Adam Bryant of the New York Times that the story was absolutely true, and that Bettinger was the student.
Bettinger recalls that he was a senior and had a perfect 4.0 grade point average prior to that fateful test. Remembering the day Bettinger says, “Her name was Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name.”
Bettinger could have been bitter losing his perfect academic record in such a fashion, and I am sure he was disappointed. Instead he chose to learn from the experience, stating “It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved…I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.”
Bettinger now sometimes uses a twist on the only exam he failed to test potential hires at Charles Schwab. As part of the interview process he will take the job candidate out for breakfast. Unknown to the candidate Bettinger has arranged in advance to have the server mess up the interviewee’s order. He just wants to see how he or she will treat “Dottie” in a real life situation.
I have had a brokerage account at Schwab for many years. Their service is great, their website is easy to use, their fees are low, and I have always been happy with the experience. The small amount of money I have invested there makes me much more insignificant to a company the size of Schwab than the people who clean their building. To them I am just another “Dottie”. In spite of that I have always been treated with respect. Now I know why.
How are you treating the Dottie’s in your life?
Our Final Exam
One of my favorite books is a little story by Carol Lynn Pearson called The Lesson: A Fable for Our Times. It is a picture book, but definitely not just for kids. The book follows a little boy named Robert through his life, comparing life’s problems to tests we take in school.
The book ends like this:
“One day when Robert was a very old man and sometimes dozed off in the classroom, the teacher startled him by saying, ‘Robert, if your body had three heart attacks and one missing kidney and you got weaker and weaker until you could hardly breathe, how much would you have loved and who would remember you after you were gone?’
Robert swallowed hard and sat up straight at his desk and worked on it.
Suddenly he realized that all the lessons he had been learning all his life had really only been one lesson, that all the problems he had been working on all his life had really been only one problem – this problem:
‘Robert, how much do you love?’
Finally he leaned back and sighed and smiled.
And the teacher smiled.
And Robert moved up to the next grade.”
Remember, your final exam will not be about your net worth, but about whether or not you treated others as people of worth.
Are you doing enough to prepare?