The business of camaraderie

   Im having a little trouble adjusting. For the last few years, whenever anyone asked the perfunctory "Hows business?" question, I would shake my head, purse my lips and talk recession.
   Everyone seemed to be struggling. The fight was not to prosper but to survive. Conversation centered around who was the latest to go under and who would be next.
   The dialogue would go on indefinitely, discussing who or what was responsible for the sour business. Wed whine and moan and generally have a grand old time reveling in our camaraderie.
   Then slowly, things began to change. This is very difficult for me to admit, but therapy requires me to do so. So here goes: Business got better.
   Thats not enough. Ive got to open up. OK, business is good. Thats it, come on now, you can do it, let it flow, one more step, release your inhibitions. Ok, Ok, here it comes:
   Business is Booming.
   I did it! What a relief to finally change course and climb out of the recession rut. Doggone it, business is indeed booming, and I want the world to know.
   Unfortunately, the world, or at least my little world, doesnt want to hear it.
   "What do you mean business is booming?" my friend Simpson said when I told him the good news. "My business is still flat. Why are you doing so well?"
   "Weve made a lot of changes," I replied, sensing his jealousy, "and theyre obviously working."
   Simpson, who usually made daily calls to commiserate, suddenly stopped calling as often, and our talks became much shorter.
   I shrugged it off. Once I broke through the barrier, there was no stopping me. In a matter of weeks, my conversational skills went from stellar to pathetic.
   "Hows business?" yet another compatriot would ask.
   "Great," I would reply. "Booming. Fantastic. How about you?"
   "Not so good. Lousy." End of conversation.
   There was one saving grace my employees. While the rest of the world had little interest in celebrating my booming business, the employees who helped make it possible certainly enjoyed discussing the upturn.
   The problem was that their interest extended beyond conversation. For some inexplicable reason, they expected to share in the prosperity.
   It was time for more adjusting. First I had to learn how to talk about the good times. Now I had to learn how to pay for them.
   Bonuses. It had been a long time since anyone in my company had received an extra stipend. I sat down and with hands trembling penciled an equitable distribution of bonuses to key employees.
   Finishing, my first reaction was that I had far too many key employees. This booming business stuff was beginning to be expensive.
   I wanted to give my really key employees their checks personally. I first asked Ralph, my general manager, to come to my office.
   "Business is sure booming," I said to him when he arrived.
   Talk about conversation! We spent a good half hour discussing our contributions and patting each other on the back. This was even more fun than commiserating with my former compatriots about the recession.
   "Ive got something for you, old buddy," I said. "A bonus for sticking with me through the hard times and a grateful acknowledgement of your contribution to the good times were enjoying now."
   Ralph got all choked up. He was pleasantly surprised by the amount. It had been a long time coming.
   Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, was next up. Another lively discussion ensued about what a wonderful place the world is. We could have gone on for hours, but the phone rang. Ms. Ferguson answered; it was Simpson.
   "I dont want to talk to him right now," I said. "Ill just depress him."
   Ms. Ferguson, as is her style, relayed the message verbatim, then paused to listen. "Simpson says he just got his numbers for July, and hes up 16%. He says you can stick your arrogance in your ear."
   I smiled. Simpson obviously had yet to understand the lonely world of prosperity he was entering. But he would learn, as did I.
   We can only hope the education goes on indefinitely.



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