I read a story about a former Undersecretary of Defence of the United States; he was invited to a conference to give the speech addressing thousands of people. He stood on the stage with his prepared remarks and PowerPoint presentation, and holding his cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup.
He took a sip of the coffee, looked at the styrofoam cup and smiled as he went off script and said: “Last year I spoke at the same conference, and last year I was still the undersecretary. They flew me here business class, when I arrived at the airport there was someone waiting for me at the airport, they took me to my hotel. They had already checked me in, so they just took me to my room. Next morning when I came downstairs there was someone waiting for me in the lobby, they greeted me and drove me here to the very same venue. They brought me in from the back entrance and took me to the green room and someone handed me a cup of coffee in a beautiful ceramic cup.”
He then said: “I am no longer the undersecretary. I took the coach and flew here by economy class. I took a taxi to the hotel and checked myself in, there is no one waiting for me in the lobby this morning and I took another taxi and came to this venue. I came from the front door and found my way to backstage and asked someone do you have a coffee and someone pointed me to the coffee machine at the corner, I poured myself some coffee in this styrofoam cup.”
He said: “The lesson is that the ceramic cup was never meant for me, it was for the position I held. I deserve a styrofoam cup.”
The story made me realise that as you gain fame, as you gain fortune, position and seniority, people will treat you better, they will hold doors open for you, they will get you a cup of tea or coffee without you even having to ask. They will address you as “sir” or “madam” and will bring you gifts and show you a great deal of respect.
None of that stuff is actually meant for you, it is all for the position you hold, or your class. What we really, only deserve is the styrofoam cup.
So remember the lesson of gratitude. Enjoy the respect, free gifts and perks that come with your position, but, be grateful for them and know that they are not actually for you. Time doesn’t stand still and what we all truly deserve is just a styrofoam cup.
- The reader is based in Dubai