Success and the smoking woman.

Success and the smoking woman.

I had a woman come into my office a while ago wanting help quitting smoking. She was about 52 and had a heavy rattly cough. She sat down and looked me in the eye, and said, “I’ve got about 240 months of life left. I’ve had it with smoking. You think you can stop me?”

The woman – let’s call her Maggie – ran her own business, and was a hardened individual. She’d seen a couple of marriages come and go, and while successful in business had never really managed to find the satisfaction of a family life that anyone would describe as supportive. Instead, she’d found her fulfilment in her business. She’d seen two or three partner’s in business come and go, and she was no ones fool.

As I talked with her I was reminded that she was the same age as me. She looked a full ten years older, and while she was driving a high end Mercedes, parked seven stories below my office window, no one could fool themselves into thinking she was happy with where she was in life.

I’ve seen a lot of people come in to quit smoking over the years, and one way or another you can tell pretty quickly what chances each one has after a few minutes with them. Some people have an attitude that doesn’t help them overcome an addiction.

“No, I can’t stop you smoking,” I said. She looked taken aback. At Vancouver Hypnotherapy our advertising and marketing clearly lets people know we are the top game in town.

“So what am I doing here,” she said angrily.

“You’re going to stop yourself,” I said. “And then you’re going to pay me about $400.”

She softened a little. Now she got it. I couldn’t ‘make’ her do anything. What I could do was reinforce her own ability and intention. She appreciated that I was giving it to her straight. As a born marketer I have learned you can’t bullshit a marketer. You better tell them straight and they can like it or leave it.

“So, tell me, why do I feel so hopeless about this?” she asked.

“Well, it seems to me you’ve done pretty well in some aspects of your life. I can see you’re making it on several levels. But I don’t think you’re happy. Not really.”

“Sure, I’m happy. Have you seen my figures for the last month?” She managed to say it without a smile.

“So, why do you keep punishing yourself?”

“What d’you mean?”

“You’re smoking as much as you did ten years ago, and you’re getting nothing new out of it. You’re not ‘Enjoying’ it. You wouldn’t be here if you were. You feel hopeless about it because your smoking doesn’t react to you like everyone else does.”

She looked at me coldly. I knew I was getting through to her.

“When you have an employee who doesn’t do as they are told, you fire them, right?”

“And when a husband comes along and it’s not the way you want it, you kick him to the curb.”

“Well, it was a little more complicated than that, but…”

“And then along comes this smoking issue. It doesn’t respond to being fired, or thrown out, because you just reach for another. Just like your dad did.”


“Well, let’s see. Your father ran his own business, right?”

“Yes, a heavy equipment dealership in Calgary, Alberta,” she said proudly. “Forty years of it.”

“And he died of cancer, right? Or was it his heart?”

“How did you know that? Yes, he died in his office, actually.”

“Of course he did. And you will too, if you don’t sort this out. You see, Maggie, you are your dad. At least, you’re becoming him. For him the answer was to work hard and take pride in his business. He managed to keep a family together, but I’ll lay money that if he was growing up today, you’re mother probably wouldn’t have put up with some of the things she had to in those days. Women have more options today. She’d probably have ended the marriage, because just like you, he was married not to her, but to the business.”

“Are you psychic,” she asked skeptically.

“No, but I go with the statistics. Heart disease or cancer are the two most likely causes of death for a smoker of forty years. The culture of the day was to be a smoker, and to work a 50 hour week, in your fathers time. He was also in a business where he would hardly get far as a vegan wearing a kaftan and drinking carrot juice.”

“Okay, so what about me?”

“Well, the first thing you need to do is think about how you are defining success. At the moment you think you’re doing OK. You couldn’t be further from the truth. You have a serious problem, and it’s going to kill you – and a lot sooner than 240 months. If you don’t turn this around you’ll be lucky to see ten years.”

“What does this have to do with ‘success’?”

I looked at her levelly and said, “Everything. You see, you think you’re doing OK. You’ve been incredibly disciplined at being successful. Trouble is, you’re operating on a system that’s fundamentally flawed. If you had an accounting package that didn’t function properly you’d pretty soon change it. And that’s what you have to do here. I know it sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. Otherwise you’re going to die, and probably die miserable.”

“So what do you suggest?”
“First of all you need to realize that success is not something you measure with dollars. It’s a combination of things. There are four components to a successful life. One is financial, and you’ve got that nailed, but you can’t build a table with just one leg. It doesn’t stand up that well.

You need to bring in three other factors. One is time. That’s an important one. A young man of twenty has more wealth in many respects than an old man of eighty. Doesn’t matter how hard that man works, he’s not going to get any more time. Money you can earn – that’s the easy bit. Time, we all get handed about the same amount to do with as we will. You don’t get to earn one more day. You may be able to stop wasting it, or even stretch it out a little by looking after your body, but in the end we’re all given about the same amount and with each passing minute we become a fraction poorer.

Then there’s another success metric – health. If you have a terminal disease all the money in the world isn’t going to help much. Your physical health and your mental health are the most easily wasted resources. That flashy car goes just about fast enough to kill you if you do something stupid. Those beautifully packaged cigarettes are to your health what a casino is to your money. You look too smart to waste a moment in a casino. I think you can see the correlation. Every time you stick a cigarette in your mouth you lose another few dollars in your ‘health’ savings. And you’re not getting any new earnings in that account.

And then there’s the social wealth. When you earn someone’s trust, or their love, then you are richer for it. Aren’t you?”

“I guess. I’m not very social though,” she replied.

“You might want to think about that. How many years do you plan to work?”

“I’ll be retired in eight years.”

“And when the employees, the clients and suppliers are all gone who’s left?”

“I have a cat.” She was being sarcastic.

“Well, those last few years, you might want to think about sharing with someone you care about. You think you’re doing well, but – and I am sorry to say this – you’re failing on three out of four metrics. You really think you’re succeeding?”

“Well, maybe you have something there…” she said reflectively. “No one put it that way before.”

“Now, we haven’t even touched on things like the cultural wealth of loving art, music or theatre, or the spiritual wealth some people find. So you see what I’m driving at. You will end up exactly like your father if you don’t do something about this, and pretty quick. How old was he when he died?”

“He was sixty.”

“That’s about par for the course in those days, for someone living that lifestyle. You can do better, though. If you are serious about being successful, you can turn this around. You’ll have to think about building those other three legs on your table, though.

Your time you can’t do much about, except enjoying each day for what it is. Your health you can stop jeopardizing by being an idiot and smoking. As far as the social wealth goes, if you can find someone who doesn’t find you entirely repulsive, you might want to take a shot at tolerating their inadequacies and learning that not everyone is going to be exactly what you want them to be – and that’s just fine.”

“And that other stuff, the cultural and spiritual crap?”

“Oh, that just comes along when it’s ready. You can’t rush that. Not really. You have to find it for yourself. It might come, or it might not. Sure won’t if you die before you give it a chance, though.”

I don’ think anyone had ever spoken to Maggie the way I did. When someone pays me what they do to stop their smoking, though, they do so to hear what they need to hear. It’s not always comfortable.

Maggie had a brief hypnosis session, but she never smoked again – or at least not to date. She’s now built a couple more legs on that table. She let me know recently that she felt a lot more wealthy, and she’d plans to move her retirement forward to spend time travelling with her new husband.

Rob Hadley


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