On the Contrary Taking a Tip From Sawbones's Career

October 19, 2001
Iwas rushing through the white-tented terminal building at Denver InternationalAirport when my attention was diverted by a storefront massage business. Checkingmy wristwatch, I calculated that I had just enough time for a 20-minute chairmassage.

    I settled onto the light gray vinyl chair and placedmy face inside the cushioned headrest. The massage therapist introduced himself."I'm Lee," he said. "But friends call me Sawbones."

    He must have seen the cartoon question mark floatingabove my head in an imaginary white bubble -- Sawbones? -- for he wenton to tell me about himself.

    Digging his thumbs into the back of my neck, Sawbonesexplained that massage was a new line of work for him.

    "Do you like it?" I asked.

    "Yes, ma'am," he said, revealing a slightrancher's drawl. "I get to meet interesting people, especially here atthe airport. A few weeks ago, I massaged Timothy McVeigh's lawyer, who was onhis way to the execution... He was a little tense."

    Although that demanded a smart-alecky response, I couldnot think of one fast enough. Instead, I asked Sawbones if he worked only atthe airport.

    "No, ma'am. I also have an office by the StockShow Complex. I have another business. Custom cowboy hats."

    The cartoon question mark made another appearance."Cowboy hats?"

    "Yes, ma'am. I sell them at the Grizzly Rose,the country-western bar on I-25."

    I inhaled the rosemary scent of the massage oil anddebated whether to prod Sawbones for more information. Since I was unlikelyto meet another cowboy-hat-making masseur in the near future, I asked him ifhis massage business was growing.

    "Yes, ma'am. See, I do horses, too."

    "Horses?" I asked, feeling like I was beingsucked down a conversational rabbit hole.

    "Yes, ma'am. Horses like massage. They can gettesty though."

    "I'll bet," I said, picturing a blond Palominolying hooves up on a massage table.

    As Sawbones kneaded my upper arms, he asked what Idid for a living.

    "I'm a writer," I said. Actually, I didn'tsay that, because just then, his fingers pushed my head into the headrest, makingmy answer sound more like "Imamiffer."

    Sawbones was unfazed. "Really?! I'm a writer,too!" he exclaimed, as if we were distant cousins meeting at a genealogyconference. "I write scripts!"


    "Yes, ma'am. See, I also perform in Wild Westshows."

    The rabbit hole was getting deeper by the second. "Whatkinds of things are in your shows?"

    "Shoot-outs. Stuff like that. I have a friendwho looks like Abraham Lincoln. He's gonna be in our show tomorrow night."

    Now, I've never been that great at history, but itseems to me that Lincoln didn't have that much to do with the Wild West. I wasabout to ask Sawbones how Abe figured into his act when he pulled my arms behindmy back and away from my body like he was dressing a chicken.

    Soon, our 20 minutes was up, and Sawbones handed mehis business card. "Massage," it read. "For Horses andHumans."

    "Just for future reference," he added, "Ialso do home massage. It's only 50 bucks, and I bring my own table, oil, andCDs." I accepted the card graciously, even though I was fairly certainI'd never pay a man named Sawbones to tote oil and soft music into my house.

    It's been a week since my encounter with the custom-cowboy-hat-making,Wild-West-show-performing, horse-and-human massage therapist, and I can't gethim out of my mind. The more I think about Sawbones, the more I think he isideally suited to today's work world. He's adaptable, multi-talented, enthusiastic,and independent. Think about it. They say people in their twenties today canexpect to have seven different careers. Sawbones has all seven at once.

    Now, I know there are people who might find Sawbonesa little lowbrow and unfocused. But to me, Sawbones is wise. He can work indoorsor out. He has built-in job security. The bottom could fall out of the cowboy-hatmarket and Sawbones would still make it in the world.

    To check my impressions of him as a poster child forthe new economy, I referred to CareerIntelligence: The 12 New Rules for Work and Life Success, by BarbaraMoses, Ph.D. (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 1998). Here are a few of them:

  1. Ensure marketability: Sawbones has not one but several fallbackpositions. He has a broad network of contacts. And, with a slogan that reads"Healing the West one massage at a time," Sawbones clearly knowswhat creative marketing is all about.

  2. Be able to communicate: In the space of 20 minutes, Sawbones managedto sell me on his talent, enthusiasm, business savvy, and manners. I haven'tbeen called "ma'am" so much since I invited a vacuum cleaner salesmaninto my house -- something you should never do under any circumstances.

  3. Think income streams, not salary: By my calculations, Sawbones hasat least six separate income sources, all of which include the potentialfor tips.

    In fact, Sawbones has already figured out what many of us spend our entirecareers learning: how important it is to always try new things. "Ma'am,"he said, "I do all these things because I promised myself I would neverdo the same boring thing all day long."

    Now, most people I know have said this same thing to themselves at one timeor another. But the difference between Sawbones and most people is that he isnot afraid to tackle new challenges. Think about him the next time you're confrontedwith a new opportunity. Even if it doesn't work out the way you expected, youmight end up with good fodder for airport conversation.

Workforce, October 2001, pp. 26-28 -- Subscribe Now!

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