By Samantha McKenzie
When I was growing up in the ‘80s, word on the street was “money talks and BS walks.” The street I’m referring to is Wall Street. I learned very early on that money was valuable and most people built their lives around attaining it.
As a junior in high school, I participated in a co-op program and had the opportunity to work at an insurance agency in lower Manhattan. Every other week, for an entire semester, I got a bird’s eye view of the financial district and the inner workings of a real business. My cohorts and I would take walks at lunch time to Liberty Plaza Park (now called Zuccotti Park), gawking at the number of men and women donned in dark suits, white collared shirts and briefcases. They were amazing. They walked fast, talked fast and reeked of money – that mighty dollar! I felt successful just staring at them.
If you weren’t wealthy, you were working on behalf of someone wealthy. I watched these nameless characters trot up and down Wall Street using money to buy people, and using people to get to more money. It was clear to me, money ruled the world and power followed right behind. In this environment, if you weren’t rich, you were about to be.
I was impressed then and I am still a fan of attaining wealth. I think money is a type of currency and has its value. Aside from securing the basic essentials, it affords us opportunities to travel, take on new adventures and live out our dreams.
But I value something more than money these days. Relationships. They are ruling the day.
A good relationship can get you through doors and into places that money can’t. I have built both my professional career and personal life on this fact. When I show up at work, I treat everyone with respect. I learned this from my parents. Every human being has a purpose. From the crossing guard who helps our children get to school safely, to the bus driver, to the teacher and the principal. We all participate in the chain of service to our community. We are all necessary to the success of each day. We are connected.
When I arrived at my new job five months ago, I would spend a few brief moments in the morning talking to the elderly gentleman, James, who cuts the grass outside my office building. I quickly learned that he had retired from Duke University after 30 years of service, and began working at N.C. Central University so he could earn a little extra money to see his grandchildren more often. They lived two states away. We talk about everything during these short chats – from the different types of grass across campus to what types of flowers should be planted for each season. He learned how much I loved flowers and how little I knew about how to grow them.
People want to connect to people. This is an underutilized gift in life: small acts of kindness and the art of building relationships with others. No expectations, just the sweet satisfaction of enriching another’s life. Weeks later, I learned that James had convinced his reluctant boss to plant flowers outside my building. It had never been done before.
This is the currency that guides my daily steps. Human beings make things happen for you because of the time and interest you invest in their lives.
Relationships rule the day.