Strolling back to my desk at a co-working space with fork and napkin in hand, practically drooling in anticipation of homemade Thai red curry leftovers, I glance to my left and see a man who looks a lot like my client.
The thought flits out of my head just as quickly as it arrives and I keep walking -- only to take a second look, and realize that it IS my client.
I pause mid-stride and say his name, and he looks up and says mine. Then he sets his computer aside, rises from his armchair, and steers me to a side table where we can have a proper chat.
Although we've been in touch, we haven't seen each other in over a year. I am excited to ask after his business, how the collaboration with the U.N. is going, what's new in his world. He obliges for a few minutes with a characteristic smile in his eyes.
Then, he stops himself and says:
"But, Jessica... I still haven't paid you."
The words hang in the air between us, utterly and unequivocally true.
Back when we agreed to work together, acting on instinct, I told him to pay me when he could and send me referrals in the meantime.
Since then he has gone above and beyond to make good on that promise -- recommending me to his colleagues, ushering me toward other story-driven collaborators, and serving as a reference for a potential client who needed reassurance from a fellow CEO before he felt comfortable hiring me. In fact, the last time we communicated, I had sent him a note of thanks for essentially convincing that CEO that hiring me would be the best thing he did all year.
Sitting across the table from him now, a bite of rice and curry sitting un-chewed in my mouth, I am not quite sure what to say.
Yes, it's true that he hasn't paid me. But it's also true that I decided -- what feels like ages ago -- to let the money go. In fact, I went so far as to delete his invoices from my accounting platform. In my world, he has already been absolved of any and all debt.
Some might argue that this looks a lot like me getting taken advantage of; like being the "too nice" business owner who doesn't know how to get paid for her value. And, if that were true, I might be persuaded to get all heated and self-righteous about it.
But it's actually true that the decision was made consciously, for my own peace of mind. At the end of the day, I knew that his intentions were good, that the relationship was valuable, and that even if he never paid me, it would be a bigger burden for him than it would be for me. In this case, letting go of the money was actually an act of personal power -- allowing me to be free of attachment, resentment, and ego.
This is what I am considering, when out of the blue, with a gleam in his eye, he says: "You know what? I'm going to pay you right now."
And with that he gets up from the table, retrieves his computer, pulls up PayPal, and sends the money through the internet in a single click.
As soon as it's done, we look at each other as though for the first time, and I can see how much LIGHTER he feels.
And this freedom, HIS freedom, is what allows us to catch up from a place of genuine human-to-human connection -- a place where not one, but BOTH people are totally un-attached to "how things should be," so that they can be 100% present to how they are.
Now, I want you to imagine for a moment how differently this encounter could have gone.
If I had been attached to the money and nursed resentment toward him; if he had been attached to the money and told himself that my services weren't that valuable; if EITHER of us had let the money loom so large that it felt safer, simply, to hide -- to pretend we hadn't seen each other, and go on with our respective days.
Instead, we were able to meet each other exactly in that moment, without attachment or aversion, in a way that gave us each a real gift, added joy to the day, and deepened our relationship.
Everyone talks about how business, like life, is all about relationships.
And yet, how EASY it is to be RIGID about things, so as to end up poisoning them.
And it's not just money we can be rigid about -- but ideas and rules and pride and principles.
I ONLY do things this way; it's SUPPOSED to be that way; she SHOULD have said or done x.
Those who live inside these kinds of stories get to enjoy "being right" and "having pride" at the expense of being truly free.
You can never control what other people do or don't do. But you can always control how you react, and what story you choose to reinforce about what it means. YOU are the only one who gets to build the world you live inside.
This week, ask yourself if you can afford to be just a bit more generous, in the place where it feels the least justified.
Ask yourself if it would take anything away from you, to offer a little more patience, understanding, forgiveness, compassion.
In the long run, you just might find yourself feeling all the richer for it.