Smell More Roses

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

My New Year’s resolution last year was to smell more roses. At 47 years of age, by my measure I have been going full tilt for more than 30 years. This really started when, at 16, I changed from being a middling high school student to one at the very top of my class. While the reward is clear in both my personal and professional life, it has come at a cost. I have difficulty “shutting it off.” My tunnel vision, drive and “workaholic” nature made me tune out all but my job and my immediate family.

It wasn’t always this way. Growing up, my father was a successful lawyer, went out to lunch three hours a day, played golf every Friday during the spring and summer and joined an elite out-of-town golf club where he took his clients about 10 weekends a year. For frequent readers of my blog, you know that I attended many of these events with my father when I was young. Wasn’t he teaching me a lesson on “how to do things right?” Maybe, as Jerry Garcia sang in Shakedown Street, I had “too much too fast?”

What changed? Having three kids was a big change. Another was the travel demands of my job, which keep me on the road at least three days a week. So, what did I do? I stopped playing golf on the weekends. I stopped doing many recreational activities at client events. I turned down free final round tickets for the Masters. I turned down a free Super Bowl ticket when my team, the Ravens, was playing in the big game.

Now, I’m turning a new leaf. For the first time in several years, I’m doing many of the things that I had spurned, including several rounds of golf with clients at top-tier golf courses, going to client ski events at incredible resorts, jet skiing off the coast of Barcelona and canoe surfing on Waikiki Beach. It is cool, and I am sure helps advance several client relationships. But it leaves me feeling a little empty. Is this all there is?

One recent event put it all in perspective for me. About a month ago, one of the caddies at a golf club my father-in-law and I belong to was seriously injured when he fell off the roof of a house while doing repair work. Along with my youngest son, my father-in-law and I went to the grocery store to buy some food for Al the caddy, who lives alone and has no family. While waiting on line to check out, my father-in-law received a phone call from one of his golfing buddies, who said he had just played one of the finest courses in the world with several very famous people. I wondered whether I would rather have spent the day with my father-in-law’s friend on the golf course, or on line at the grocery store to buy food for an injured caddy?

I reached my conclusion as I was carrying groceries into Al’s building in a tough Baltimore neighborhood. After passing through several layers of security, we carried the groceries up to Al’s apartment. Upon entering, I looked down at my young son.  The look of understanding on his face gave me the answer.

Am I crazy that I was happier to have helped Al that day or would I have rather been on the other end of that phone call? No, I decided, because in that moment I realized that I had changed. The smell of the roses had changed in my life.

While I still am going to make an effort to get more balance in my life by doing a lot more of the cool things that my job and life circumstances offer, I am also going to teach my kids about helping others who are less fortunate than us.

What do your roses smell like? Do they smell like freshly cut grass on a golf course, fresh powder blowing in your face on a ski slope or the new leather on a sports car? Or do they smell like your grandmother’s chicken soup, your children’s hair or your dog when it gets back from the groomer?  Do they smell like the satisfaction of helping those in need?

A rose by any other name will still smell as sweet. It might also be another flower. Whatever your rose is, take the time to smell more of them.

By Spencer Levy, Americas Head of @CBREResearch | Senior Economic Advisor