A DIFFERENT DAY
Joe Vincent briskly stepped off of the elevator on the 17th floor, turned sharply to his left and then headed through the large mahogany doors that marked the entrance to the executive wing of Vincent, Martin & Richardson. VMR, as it was sometimes called, is where Joe had worked as a founding partner for the last six years. It was 7:15 a.m. when he locked the huge wooden sentries that closed behind him. He then made his way down the lushly carpeted aisle flanked by a gauntlet of cubicles on his left and windowed offices on his right.
Joe Vincent had made this walk hundreds of times before. But for some reason, something felt different about making the same familiar walk on this particular morning. He wasn’t certain what it was; however, he instinctively knew that this day was not starting out like any other day. Something was different.
Joe unlocked his office door while gingerly balancing a Starbuck’s cup in his right hand and holding his briefcase with the last three fingers of his left. Once inside, he headed for the large leather chair behind his desk, placed his briefcase on the credenza and then carefully pried the lid off of the steaming Styrofoam container.
As he sank into the comfort of his chair, Joe took his first tentative sip of the still piping hot coffee as he attempted to launch himself into his mental checklist of the day’s upcoming appointments, tasks, meetings and challenges, but something was missing. His energy level wasn’t quite the same as it normally was. He wasn’t running on all eight cylinders. Joe was definitely experiencing a not-so-subtle shift in his executive karma.
As he swiveled his chair around to face the credenza behind him, Joe leaned forward and reached to his left in order to boot-up his computer. It was time to check his daily calendar in detail and to review the onslaught of incoming e-mails.
Joe was always amazed to see how much e-mail was sent to him between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. the prior evening. It reminded him of how diligent, dedicated and oblivious to time that he had once been when the firm first opened six short years ago. Nowadays things were a little different. There were two other senior partners and a staff of 44 associates to help with the enormous workload. Frankly, he thought, it was their turn to burn the midnight oil. He was now in a position to cut back on the long hours … at least a little … his early start to every day notwithstanding.
As the computer began its usual serenade of electronic humming and musical chimes, Joe couldn’t help but to notice the magnificent view of the Charles River and the Boston skyline that his opulent corner office provided. It was a view that he had once cherished but had now seemed to take for granted over the past year or so. It was right in front of him every day. He just didn’t seem to notice it as much anymore. For a brief moment Joe began to dwell on the shame of it … not appreciating what he had once valued … a thought that he quickly dismissed.
There was no time for negative thinking. This morning was different. Joe was then suddenly and inexplicably filled with the excitement that he had experienced the first time that he sat behind his desk and looked out over his huge oak credenza at the City of Boston, below and beyond. Today, the world was once again his oyster.
His computer now fully booted, Joe clicked on to his calendar and was immediately reminded of an early morning interview with a law student who was interested in serving as an intern with the firm. Helping law students by offering them opportunities in its internship program was something that the firm totally believed in and had fully supported since the time that it first opened its doors. After all, this is how Joe had worked his way through law school and was also able to gain valuable “street experience” while studying for the bar exam.
The interview was less than 20 minutes away. Breaking his normal routine, Joe decided not to dive into his e-mail messages or to begin preparing for meetings later on in the day during the short time he had left before his guest arrived. This day was different. Joe decided to put his feet up on his credenza, enjoy his coffee and soak in the view of early morning sailors and rowers on the Charles River.
As Joe sat virtually motionless, looking out his window and up into the bright blue New England sky, he became increasingly relaxed and pensive. Joe’s mind began drifting … drifting back to his days in law school … drifting back to past relationships … drifting back to his childhood. This was indeed a different day.
The sudden, loud chirp of the telephone, shattered the enormous silence in the office, and almost sent Joe Vincent flying off of his executive chair and onto the floor. Miraculously, the cup of now, lukewarm coffee had not landed in Joe’s lap when his feet flew from the credenza to the floor. The golden-brown liquid had instead landed on the oak surface of the credenza and began slowly working its way towards the outer edge of his keyboard. Fortunately, the tiny aromatic river had not yet completed its path to the inner workings of his keyboard or to the nearby computer. As he quickly planned his next move, Joe began thinking that even this narrow miss seemed like too much of a price to pay for relaxation! Maybe he was better off working!
Joe placed the half-empty cup on his credenza and then wheeled around and reached for the telephone on his desk. While reaching for the telephone with his left hand, he used the other to grope through the bottom right-hand desk draw in a desperate search for some napkins. The time on the telephone window display was shown as 7:55 a.m.
Joe’s left hand quickly hit the speaker button as he turned his chair back towards the credenza to begin the unpleasant process of coffee recovery. “Good morning. This is Joe,” he said to the window separating him and his office from the City of Boston.
From out of the small speaker at the bottom of the phone Joe heard the tinny response, “Good morning Mr. Vincent. This is Robert Davis from Boston University. I have an 8:00 o’clock appointment with you today.”
“Yes, I know,” replied Joe. “Where are you now?”
“Well actually, I’m calling you from the reception area phone in front of your office doors. The sign said to call the extension of the person that you are here to meet with if you arrive before 8:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. So … here I am.”
“Of course. I should have realized that,” Joe said. “Hold on for a minute and I’ll be right out to get you.”
“O.K. Mr. Vincent.”
Joe hurriedly wiped up the spilled coffee and disposed of the napkins and cup in the executive washroom that was part of his office suite. He looked in the mirror, quickly washed his hands and then adjusted his tie. He headed out of his office and down the aisle towards the outer-office reception area.
Once at the reception area, Joe unlocked the expansive wooden doors, and then slowly pushed his way through to greet his guest. Seated near the telephone pedestal was a young, well-dressed man in his early twenties. Joe walked over to him as he extended his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Joe Vincent.”
While shaking his host’s hand, the would-be intern replied, “Hello, Mr. Vincent. I’m Richard Davis, but I guess you already know that since we just talked on the phone and I’m the only one out here right now.” Richard then began to show signs of what appeared to be a somewhat embarrassed smile. It was one of those tightened, half-smiles that usually surfaces when someone is wondering whether or not they have just put their proverbial foot into their proverbial mouth and are anxiously waiting for a reaction to see whether they are on or off of the hook.
Joe Vincent smiled back broadly in an effort to put his visitor at ease. He then looked at him and said, “Richard, based on that fine display of deductive reasoning, I’m guessing that you’re going to make a fine attorney someday. Why don’t we step back into my office and talk about that possibility?”
Now smiling widely, Richard replied, “Certainly Mr. Vincent, I would like that very much.”
As they started back through the main doors, Joe looked at Richard and said, “Let’s dispense with all of the formalities. You can call me Joe. In fact, everyone in our firm refers to me as Joe, not Mr. Vincent. God only knows what they call me when I’m not around!”
Now laughing, Richard said, “O.K. Mr. Vin… I mean Joe. You’ve got a deal.”
As they walked into his office, Joe extended his hand towards the sitting area, which included a small sofa and two guest chairs flanking a circular magazine table with the latest issues of Forbes and Legal Review spaced neatly on 5 I’M THIRD top of its glass surface. Richard opted for one end of the sofa and Joe sat at the other end, once again attempting to put his visitor at ease.
They were now at the point where Joe would normally check his watch and begin asking questions of the aspiring intern, realizing that a hectic schedule and a very full day still awaited him after the interview. Because of the value of his time, Joe always tried to limit his intern interviews to twenty-five minutes or less.
But this day was different. Joe strangely and somewhat unexpectedly found himself to still be in a relaxed mood, even in light of the earlier coffee catastrophe. He noticed his visitor quickly soaking in the full expanse of his office ... the desk … the paintings … the legal bookcase … and even some of his personal mementos and souvenirs.
Richard’s eyes then focused back on Joe as he said, “Wow, this is quite an office you have here. And, you’ve got such a great collection of art and souvenirs. I’m intrigued by that one plaque on the wall next to your book case … the one that says ‘I’m Third.’ I’m curious, what does it mean?”
“Well Richard,” Joe replied. “Actually, it’s not something that I usually talk about. It’s there more or less as a memento. I guess that you could say that it was sort of a gift. Something that I’ve kept with me for many years.”
Not wanting to pry or to push the envelope, Richard responded with, “Uh … O.K., I understand completely. It’s just that it really seemed to grab my attention for some reason, even though it’s sort of tucked away in the corner. I mean you have so many other beautiful things in your office. I have no idea why I was attracted to it in the first place. Just curious I guess.”
There was the inevitable pregnant pause that follows the point in a conversation when someone feels that they may have intruded on another individual’s personal space. Fortunately for Richard, Joe didn’t let the silence linger too long. He took in the full measure of Richard, the young, alert, energetic, aspiring law student, and saw a reflection of himself 10-years earlier. And then, for some unknown reason Joe said to his visitor, “I’m not entirely certain why, but I feel as though I would like to share the story of ‘I’m Third’ with you this morning. While I said that it is something that I normally don’t discuss, this day has sort of a different feeling for me. I think that I would like to make an exception and let you in on the secret.”
Feeling somewhat guilty, Richard replied, “Gee Mr. Vin… I mean Joe. You don’t really have to do that if you’re uncomfortable talking about it. Besides, I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with you. You probably have a lot of questions to ask me that would make better use of your time.”
“Normally I would,” said Joe. “Not today though. Today is a different day. Do you want to hear the story?” “Well, yes. Actually, I do.”
“O.K. then, here we go.”
Before beginning the story behind “I’m Third,” Joe asked Richard if he would like something to drink. Soon after Joe’s secretary arrived with two fresh cups of coffee, Joe leaned forward and sat on the edge of the sofa. He then looked over at the plaque on the wall, folded his hands in front of him, took a deep breath, looked at his guest and began talking.
“The story dates back to when I was a young boy and used to attend camp every summer. One of the campers there came from a relatively poor home. In fact, you could barely call it a home.
“Since his father and mother had divorced when he was only four years old, the boy lived in a small aluminum trailer with his mom and his aunt. The trailer was only 21-feet long and 8-feet wide. Their small dwelling didn’t even have a refrigerator. Once a week the iceman would come in his truck and deliver a block of ice for their icebox.
“They also lived without any running hot water or toilets. Hot water for bathing was created by boiling cold water on their small stove. Toileting or showering required a walk of more than two blocks to the community bathhouse … a walk accomplished at a much faster pace in the cold New England winter than in the summertime.
“Anyway, this boy did not have much compared to the other kids at camp. It wasn’t just the money. He was especially self-conscious about not having a father. On Fathers’-and-Sons’ Day the boy would always have to have a camp counselor act as his surrogate father. While he smiled through it all and made the best of it, he hurt inside. He wanted a father just like the other kids had.
“The only way that he knew to overcome the pain that lurked within him was to somehow show the other boys that he was better than they were. He felt as though that was how he could make up for what he didn’t have … by making a commitment to be #1 in everything that he attempted. He was the fastest swimmer, the best pitcher, the best hitter, and the fastest runner in his age group.
Richard leaned forward from the sofa as he was drawn into the story. He looked at Joe and said, “Wow! He must have been a talented young athlete.”
Joe thought for a second and then replied, “Actually, he wasn’t all that talented, at least not naturally talented. In fact, he was one of the smaller boys for his age in camp. What made him #1 was his unyielding commitment to show the other boys that there was nothing wrong with him … that he was as good as, or better than, they were … no matter what type of competition it was. He had to be better than anyone else. He was obsessed with being #1.”
The loud chirp of the telephone suddenly interrupted the flow of Joe’s story. As he said to Rich, “Excuse me for a second,” he reached for the telephone on the magazine table in front of them. Picking up the receiver, he said, “Good morning, this is Joe.” The voice on the other end of the phone was his secretary’s. She was reminding him of his 9:00 a.m. appointment with the Director of Human Resources.
“Please tell him that something has come up and I’ll have to reschedule for later in the week. And Joan…”
“Yes Joe,” she replied.
"Please hold all of my calls until I’m finished meeting with Mr. Davis here.”
“O.K. … I’ll take care of it for you.”
Joe thought for a moment, focused back on his story and then continued on with Richard, “Every summer we would hike up part of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. We would take a box lunch to eat along the way. Our goal was to reach Lookout Point, which was an observation deck located at the end of the hiking trail. From that deck we could look out over the beautiful valley below and see the peaks of the surrounding mountains. It was always a fun trip and a great event.
“Every year we made the trip, this one boy had to be the first to reach Lookout Point and step onto the observation deck; and, he never failed in reaching that goal. Then one year we made the same hike as we had the 3 previous years. It seemed that the boy that was always #1 must have gotten a little lazy or disoriented. He fell back in the line and was talking with some of the other campers when, all of a sudden, he realized that Lookout Point was just a short distance away … less than 20-yards ahead.
"What would he do now? He had to be the first to step on the observation platform.
"Once he collected his thoughts, he began running towards the front of the line as fast as he could, as the rest of the campers continued up the very narrow hiking trail. When he was about 4 or 5 boys back from the front of the line, he noticed that his closest friend was only about 20 feet from the platform.
“At this point he put it into high gear and pushed the boys in front of him off to the side as he ran by them. He arrived at the platform at the very moment his best friend was about to step on it. Not wanting to relinquish his perfect record of being the first boy each year to walk out onto Lookout Point, he lunged forward, pushed his friend aside and then quickly stepped onto the platform with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
“Unfortunately, his good feeling about being first again this year was short-lived. Before his second foot was firmly planted on the observation deck, he heard his friend scream. When he turned to see what had happened, he noticed that his buddy was stumbling backwards towards the edge of the cliff that surrounded the observation deck. It was suddenly clear to the boy that when he had pushed his friend aside, in his effort to be #1, that he had caused him to lose his balance. His closest friend was now headed for disaster.
“The boy quickly leaped off of the platform and headed towards his friend but it was too late. As he reached out his hand to help him, his friend lost the battle with gravity and slipped off the edge of the cliff.”
Now mesmerized by Joe’s story, Richard gulped and asked, “What happened next?”
“Well, two of the camp counselors ran to the edge of the cliff where the boy had fallen and looked over the side along with the boy who was always #1. Expecting the worst, they were surprised to see that the boy’s friend had only fallen about 20 feet or so before he landed on a rocky ledge that jutted out from the side of the mountain.
“That was the good news. The bad news was that the boy’s fallen comrade wasn’t moving at all. The boy yelled down to his friend, but to no avail. He continued to lie there motionless. The counselors were not much help either as they were completely unable to reach him and pull him to safety.”
“So, what did they do?” asked Richard.
“Fortunately, there was an emergency telephone box on the observation deck that the counselors could use to call for help. It took several hours for the rescuers to reach the scene and lower themselves down onto the ledge. Eventually, they were able to lift the boy to safety and transport him to a local hospital, but he was still unconscious.”
Eager to hear more, Richard asked, “What happened next?” “Well,” Joe replied, “the boy’s friend remained in a coma for two weeks. The boy visited him every single day during that time and prayed for his recovery.
“His friend had also cracked a vertebra and the doctors weren’t certain if he would ever walk again. Fortunately, after he eventually came out of his coma, major surgery and painful physical therapy allowed the boy to regain the use of his legs.”
After a long pause, Richard said, “That’s quite a story. How does it relate to the plaque that says ‘I’m Third’?”
“Great question,” Joe said. “Let me explain further. You see, when the boy who pushed his friend over the side of the cliff realized what he had done, just to be #1, he began thinking about the price others had to pay because of his own insecurity and obsession with being first.
“While his friend was in the coma, he carved a plaque as a gift for him. The plaque said, ‘I’m Third.’ It stands for, God is first, the other person is second and ‘I’m Third.’ He vowed that this would be his motto from that day forward and he wanted his friend to know it. He took the plaque to him soon after he regained consciousness.”
“Oh, I get it,” said Richard. “So, you must be the boy that was pushed off of the edge of the cliff. That’s how you got the plaque.”
“You’re pretty close. Actually, the boy that had to be #1 carved two plaques on that day. One was for his friend and the other was for himself. It was to always remind him of the fact that it’s not about being #1 at any cost that is so important. It’s about God, the other people in your life and how you treat them in your quest for success that’s important.
“Armed with that information, I’m sure that you can now probably figure it out. I’m the boy that pushed my friend off of the cliff. I’m the boy that had to be number one … at any cost. I’m the boy that came up with the saying, ‘I’m third.’”
“That really is an incredible story,” Richard said. But there’s one thing I honestly don’t understand.”
Somewhat puzzled, Joe said, “What would that be?”
“Well,” replied Richard, “it’s just that you are #1. Just look at your law firm and your position in life. Certainly, you must have had to compete pretty hard to achieve everything that you’ve achieved. You must have had to step on a few toes.”
“Legitimate point,” said Joe. “Adopting a philosophy of ‘I’m Third’ doesn’t mean that you sit on your hands and watch life pass you by. It’s O.K. to compete and to try to succeed. The only difference for me is that the rules have changed. Being #1 is great, but I also realize that success is as much about the journey as it is the destination. I now realize that there are consequences to pursuing success at any cost … getting what I want at the expense of others.
“Now, having said all of that, I’ll admit something to you Richard. Sometimes I get so caught up in my work and striving to succeed that I drift back into some bad habits. Every once in a while, I need to remind myself what life is all about. This is one of those times … one of those days. This is a different day. I could feel it when I awoke this morning. I’m certain that that is why I wanted to share my story with you today. It was more for my benefit than for yours. You see, today you are the messenger, the teacher, and I am the student!”
“Well, if I’m the teacher, I certainly have learned a lot from your story.”
“That’s just a side benefit of being a teacher, Richard. They often learn more than their students!”
Smiling, Richard looked at Joe and said; “Maybe we’ve both learned something today. I guess that’s what you would call a win/win.”
“Yes, Richard. There’s nothing better than creating a situation that’s a win/win, especially if you’re an attorney!”
“I want to thank you Joe for sharing this special story with me. In fact, as soon as I get home, I’m going to print out the words ‘I’m Third’ on my computer and have them framed. Then I’ll put the frame in a place where I’ll see it every day. That way it will help me to always remember that God is first, the other person is second and ‘I’m Third.’”
“Not a bad idea Richard. I like the way you think.”
Joe glanced at his watch. It was almost 9:30. He wasn’t really in a rush for some reason; however, he did need to finish his interview with Richard. Smiling, he looked at his visitor and said, “We’ve been having such a good time this morning that I guess I’ve lost track of time. Looks like we need to reboot and focus on completing your interview.”
“Sounds good to me,” Richard said. “What kinds of questions would you like me to answer?”
Joe put his hand to his chin and thought for a few seconds. He then smiled even broader than before and said to Richard, “Actually, I only have one question.”
“O.K.,” Richard said, a little nervously. “What would you like to know?”
“Well,” pausing for effect, Richard asked, “when can you start?”
“You mean I’m in the program?” Richard said excitedly.
“Yes, you’re in,” said Joe.
“But don’t you want to know more about my qualifications?” asked Richard.
“Looks like it’s time for your first practical lesson in practicing law,” Joe replied. “Here it is. Once you’ve got the deal made, smile. Then shake hands, say thank you and move on. Too many deals come unraveled by people trying to oversell. Nine times out of ten, they end up un-doing the deal!
“Normally, I would have some questions for you, but I’ve looked at your file and see that you have superb grades and excellent references. I know that you are a great listener and a quick study. Besides, today is a different kind of day. It’s O.K. to do something out of the ordinary.”
“Thank you,” Richard said while extending his hand towards Joe. “I’ll always remember this meeting and what you have shared with me today.” After pausing, “I can start on Monday of next week. Will that work for you?”
“See, you are a quick learner Richard. You’ll make a fine attorney. Yes, Monday will be perfect. I’ll ask my secretary, Joan, to work out the details with Human Resources. She will coordinate everything with you from here on out.”
“Thanks again,” Richard said as they both moved from the sofa and headed towards the door to the office. Shaking hands again, Richard looked at Joe and said, “I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. I promise you that you won’t regret it. And, I’ll always remember that ‘I’m Third.’”
“Somehow I’m certain that you always will,” replied Joe. Then, looking at Joan, sitting in the cubicle outside of his office, Joe said to her, “Please contact HR and tell them that Richard will be starting with us next Monday and let him have your direct telephone number should he have any questions before then.”
“Consider it done,” Joan said with a smile.
“Oh, Joan … one last thing,” Joe said as he turned and headed back to his office. “Please cancel my remaining appointments for the day. There isn’t anything that is so pressing that it can’t be handled later on. Just tell them that something very important has come up and I’ll be in tomorrow to reschedule.”
“I’ll take care of it,” replied Joan, once again smiling. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“Oh, I will,” Joe said looking back over his shoulder.
Today was, indeed, a different day.
We live in an era where there is enormous pressure to be #1. From the time our children enter school, and throughout their adult lives, they will constantly be reminded of the importance of being first in everything that they do. They will also learn that there are rewards that come with being #1 … the gold medal … the money … the publicity … the limousine … the glamour … the royal treatment … the relationships.
Unfortunately, many people today are so obsessed with winning, that they forget about the real rules of the game and how it’s best played.
A cheerleader’s mother plans to murder a competing cheerleader in order that her daughter can make the cheerleading squad. Tonya Harding orders Nancy Kerrigan to be attacked with a crowbar to injure her during the Olympic skating competition in order that she can be assured of winning the gold medal. Parents physically accost Little League umpires over a disputed call in a game. A high school hockey player’s father kills his son’s coach in a fistfight after an argument over the amount of playing time that his son was getting. Corporate executives, accounting firms, stockbrokers, and too many of our country’s political leaders, use deceit, manipulation and unethical practices (at the expense of others) to achieve their end goals … power and success. The stories are endless. The point is clear. Millions of Americans are obsessed with success and are willing to do whatever it takes to become #1.
I have written “I’m Third” in an attempt to attract attention to this national disease that is spiraling out of control … success at any cost.
There is nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best. There is nothing wrong with wanting to compete and to become #1. There is nothing wrong with being proud of our accomplishments. There is nothing wrong with commitment, dedication and hard work. There is also nothing wrong with giving our best and playing the game fair and square, even if it means that we will come in second, third or last. Competition is supposed to build character, not destroy it.
While “I’m Third” is based somewhat on fiction, it is also based on reality. It is a metaphor for my own life, my own reality.
I am the young boy that grew up in poverty, and without a father, in a 21’ x 8’ aluminum trailer many years ago. There were times in my earlier years when I wanted to be #1 at any cost, even if it meant stepping on someone else to get to the top. It was the only way that I knew how to make up for all the things that I didn’t have in life. It was the only way that I felt I could show the other kids that I was as good as, or better than, they were.
I have been blessed in my life. Somewhere along the way God helped me to figure out that it isn’t how many people you step on that makes a person successful, it’s how many people that you give a helping hand to that makes a person successful.
It is my great hope that this story will help many of its readers (children and adults alike) to understand the importance of putting others first in their quest for success. It’s not what we ultimately take from life in our journey towards success that makes the difference. It’s what we give along the way that makes the difference.
Maybe … just maybe … I’ve been able to make some small contribution towards the wellbeing of my fellow human beings by writing this book. If I have, then this book has indeed been a worthwhile undertaking.
For now, I want to wish you nothing but the utmost of success and happiness in your life. And, in closing, I ask that you always remember … wherever you go … whatever you do … be guided by those two powerful words … “I’m Third.”