“What is it that you actually do?” he asks.
I say nothing, my fingers pressing into my legs.
“I mean no offence,” he says again, “because I know you’re busy and you’re a CEO and, let’s face it, you outdo me in pretty much every department. But I’ve followed you for years; between what I’ve read and the interview, I’m finding it hard to figure out what your role is these days.”
I puff out my cheeks and lean back in my chair. “And I’m not supposed to take offence at that?”
“That’s up to you, isn’t it? This is what I do: I ask questions. I have no control over how people answer, or whether they like the questions I ask.”
“What if I asked you that?” I counter. “Would you take offence?”
“Not at all. I can tell you what my role is, and I can tell you what I do each day.”
I shake my head. “Okay, fine, I’ll play ball. I’m the CEO. I have other people around me doing the work and running the business. I oversee everything, have meetings and focus on new partnerships and strategies.”
“Like the new round of investment?”
“But what did you do during all that?”
“I told you earlier,” I say. “I had meetings. I told the investors about the future and what we have planned. If it wasn’t for me, we wouldn’t have got that $85 million. I’m the face of the whole company. You think Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg spend all day at a desk? Hell, no. They’re in one meeting after another. That’s all they do. Maybe you don’t get that, because you don’t own a company as big as mine.”
My heart is racing; my fists, clenched. I look at Jordan; he seems unfazed. He places another piece of sushi in his mouth and appears to consider his words. “So, what’s the plan?”
“For Contollo. You say you told the investors about the future and what you have planned. What is it?”
The script is still fresh in my mind after months of rehearsing and rehashing it. “We’re working on the next version of the software, which will open us up to almost any industry on the planet. Once we…”
“No, no,” he says, interrupting me. “What I mean is, what do you have planned for the business? You! It’s your company, right? You built it from nothing. Surely you have a plan for it. A dream, a vision. A purpose that drives you to do what you do.”
“Well, it’s to go public and become a billionaire.”
“Okay. Then what?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why do you want to be a billionaire?” he asks, a chopstick in each hand.
“Who wouldn’t want to be? Once you become a billionaire, you reach a level of success few others ever achieve. It’s a club I’ve always dreamed of joining.”
“Why? What would you be able get with a billion dollars that you can’t with the millions you already have?”
I laugh. “A lot of things. But it’s not about the money.”
“So, what is it?”
“Power, for one. And respect. If I’m being honest, it’s not about the money at all. I like money, but it’s not everything.”
“So, why is becoming a billionaire your purpose?”
“It isn’t. But when you reach a level that makes money irrelevant, to an extent, you reach a level where anything is possible.”
He continues to push. “Like what?”
“I don’t know… freedom, for one. True freedom.”
“Yeah, freedom. With a billion dollars you experience freedom like nothing else.”
“Really… like what?”
“Everything. You’re free from everything: money, restraint, responsibility. When you experience true freedom like that, you can be happy…truly happy. The impossible becomes possible. Nothing is out of reach.”
“True happiness,” he says, nodding his head. “What does that look like to you?”
“Everything I’ve just said.”
He laughs. “That’s the problem, Ferdinand. You didn’t say much of anything. You basically said that you have a dream of becoming a billionaire so you can join an exclusive club where freedom and happiness exists, but that money isn’t actually what matters to you.” He shakes his head. “Maybe I’m missing something, but that doesn’t make much sense. And, honestly, I don’t buy it. Becoming a billionaire doesn’t make you free or happy. It certainly doesn’t give you anything you couldn’t have with a few million to your name.”
“Have you ever spoken to a billionaire?” I snap.
“Yeah. A few of them. Have you?”
“Of course I have.”
“And that’s what you learned from them? That money makes you happy. That the bigger you become the easier it gets; that the only way to have freedom is to make a few billion?”
“Then what? What happens when you make a billion? Do you then have to make two…or three…or ten? Do you need to become the richest? Where does it end?”
“No, like I say, it’s not about the money.”
“What is it about? You have this company you created at college, and it’s great. It’s an awesome tool, bro. I use it. I love it. And if your purpose is to make life easier for people like me, and if the reason you want to make a billion is so you can serve more people, that’s cool. If that’s the dream, fine.
“But that’s not what I’m hearing. All I hear is talk about some exclusive club that once you join life suddenly makes sense. Look, I’m still trying to figure life out like everyone else, but I know enough to know that no club or amount of money fixes your problems. If you’re unhappy now, more money won’t make you less unhappy.”
“Who says I’m unhappy?” I say sharply, annoyed at the suggestion. “I am happy. I have a great life. I have a great company, one I started from nothing.”
“Yeah, from nothing. I didn’t have a trust fund. I got into Stanford on my own merit, earning a scholarship. I’m not one of those rich white kids who’s given everything in life. I had no help.”
I grit my teeth. “Yeah, really.”
“Calm down, dude,” he says, holding up both hands. “I’m just asking questions.” He leans in, pushing his plate to one side. “Look, as I said earlier, I’ve followed you for years. I’m in awe at what you’ve achieved, which is why your apparent lack of vision pisses me off. You built Contollo on your own, and you deserve to have what you have today.”
I stare at him, aghast. Who is this guy? Who does he think he is, speaking to me like this?
“But come on… you did not start with nothing. You were at Stanford, dude. You had access to the right people; people with money to turn your good idea into a reality. My guess is your first few clients were Stanford alumni, right?”
I grit my teeth and look away from him.
“Yeah, I thought so. And that doesn’t take anything away from what you’ve achieved. You’re a talent. You had a great idea and you had the hustle to get it done. But you had access to the people, money and opportunity that ninety-percent of people do not have.”
“Okay, sure,” I say. “But I earned my way into Stanford.”
“Yeah, you did. You’re as smart as anyone, and I imagine school was easy for you. Right?”
I feel anger bubble and build; my fingers bundled tight into my palms, beneath the table.
“Again, I’m not saying you didn’t work hard to get there, but you went to a private school. Your father’s a professor and your mother’s a publicist. Between them, they’ll have a huge network. They might not have funded your business, but I’m guessing they gave you a damn good upbringing.” He smiles and leans in again. “Let me guess, you had a tutor growing up?”
“Yeah, so what?”
“A few of them, right?”
“What about summer camp and other stuff outside of school?”
“And your parents helped you with homework?”
“Yeah, of course,” I say. My tone is quick; harsh.
“And they were supportive? And they loved you? They gave you their time and attention?”
I shrug again.
“This is the problem,” he says. “People like you and me trick ourselves into thinking we’re self-made, and that we started from scratch. You kidding me? You’re not self-made. There are people out there who grew up with no parental support, who went to some shitty school with teachers that didn’t give a damn about them, in a neighbourhood that typically sets them up for a life in crime.
“They have to fight for everything, and if they do manage to make it into college and graduate, they face a society that forces them to jump through hoops based on the colour of their skin or the country they’re from. What hoops have you had to jump through?”
I look at my $800 shoes that I don’t even like. My anger seems to dissipate; my insides, heavy.
“Your parents may not have funded your start-up,” Jordan continues gently, “but my guess is they would have supported you had you failed. There wasn’t much risk for you, yet there was a whole lot of reward. Some people know if they fail that’s it: debt, bankruptcy, putting their family in danger, they’re out on the streets… that’s real risk, dude. Are you telling me you would have faced all that had Contollo failed?”
“No,” I mutter.
He scratches his chin. “None of this makes you a bad person. I had the same opportunities and privilege as you. And although I know I have a better work ethic than most, it doesn’t take away from the fact I was set up to succeed. Not everyone has that, which is why it’s important you do what you do for the right reasons.”
“So, what… I’m not doing what I’m doing for the right reasons? I should shut it all down to go build houses in Peru?”
He laughs, picking up his drink. “No. People who preach that shit piss me off.”
“So, what? What’s your point?”
“My point,” he says, clearing his throat, “is that you get one shot at this. You have everything you need to change the world and make it a better place. What it is you’ll do, I have no idea. But you’re smart, young, you have talent and charisma, and access to all the money and people you need. I have no doubt you could join the billionaires’ club, but unless there’s a reason for it, what’s the point? Will you really be happy? Will you look back on your life as an old, withered man and say, ‘yeah, I made the best of it?’
“All I know is, I’ve met a lot of people over the last ten years. Some have been at the beginning of their journey and some are way down the line. I’ve hung out with people who have no money, and those with a few billion to their name. I have friends with big businesses and friends with really small businesses. And in general, none of that determines whether they’re happy.
“Some of them are. Some of them aren’t. Some get looked upon as successful people and placed on some crazy pedestal by society. But it doesn’t mean they feel successful on the inside. Yet I know some people who make fifty grand a year who are happy, successful, free and all the other shit we desire to feel.
“They know what they want. They have a dream and a vision. They have something that gives them reason to do what they do. Those people are the happy ones. It’s when I realised this that I personally let go of all the other bullshit that held me back. Which was a lot, by the way, because I also used to focus on money and fame, and trying to prove a bunch of shit to people who don’t matter.
“You want to know how and why I speak my mind like I do? Because I don’t care what people think anymore. I know who I am. I know what I’m doing. I know I don’t have it all figured out, but I do know what success is and isn’t to me. Do you? Have you ever even questioned it?”
The buzz of the restaurant takes over, silence falling between the two of us once more.
I look at him. I have no idea what to say. My chest feels empty, as though someone has struck me with a bat. I want to counter and prove him wrong, list reasons why I do what I do and break down my dreams, vision and purpose for the future. But I can’t.
“Shit,” I say under my breath. I rub my hands across my face. “I guess I used to. But lately…”
“Yeah. You know what’s really sad about that?” he replies, picking up his drink once more. “That’s true for most people. They follow a path they think they want, rather than taking the time to figure out what they actually do.”
I lean back in my chair, staring at the space above Jordan’s head. Lights dangle from the ceiling in a row, casting shadows above.
He continues to talk. I watch as he makes animated gestures, though my mind is lost, caught in an internal loop of questions I used to ask myself, but which have laid dormant for so long.
That’s it… I hope you enjoyed this sample.
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