Michael

“It’s good to see you! Come in, have a seat, and make yourself comfortable,” said Dr. Friedlander, holding the door open for his next patient. A young man of eighteen years walked in and seated himself on the couch opposite the doctor’s chair. He sported black and white formal attire from head to toe, and wore a solemn look of dissatisfaction.

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? How have you been these past few months, Michael?” inquired the doctor. “I see you still like to dress to impress.”

“I’ve been okay. Things could be better, but they are what they are,” replied the young man, unwilling to reciprocate the warmth of Dr. Friedlander.

“How did school go? I would be surprised if exams were very challenging for someone like you.”

“It was okay. They were okay.” Michael sat there with his arms crossed, staring contemplatively at a decorative sculpture on the table.

“Based on how first semester went for you, you seem to be at the top of your class. Additionally, unlike most of your peers, you were able to secure a summer internship related to your field of study. Things seem to be going your way, Michael; why are things always ‘okay’? Do you feel dissatisfied with your success — at least, that’s what I’d call it — and if so, why?” probed the doctor, noting that Michael had not changed very much since their last meeting despite having a job for the first time. Dr. Friendlander had expected that Michael’s time (albeit short) in the workforce would have alerted him to the plight and hardships experienced by others in the world, and would have enabled him to be happier and more appreciative of the current state of his affairs.

“Anyone in my position could have done what I have done, Doc. I have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, just like everyone else. It’s just hard for me to be excited about something that’s not a big deal,” replied the stoic patient.

“I disagree, but let’s say, for the purposes of discussion, that I accept your premise. If what you say is true, why then have so few of your peers been able to accomplish the same things?”

“They don’t want to. They’re just not trying hard enough,” said Michael while shaking his head, seemingly dismissively at his colleagues.

Though years of experience allowed him to hide it, Dr. Friedlander was infuriated by his patient’s assertion.

“Let me assure you that it is not that simple, Michael. There are members of your class who have and continue to invest their blood, sweat and tears into realizing their goals, but have not been able to make them happen. I know you dislike comparing yourself to your immediate peers, but I just want to make you aware of this fact. When you spend time around your peers, do you get the impression that they don’t want to succeed?” asked the doctor.

“Well, Doc, I don’t spend that much time around my peers or friends. The reason being is that, based on my experience, all they do is complain about how hard university life is academically instead of working hard to alleviate that burden. They’re so comfortable with being mediocre that it disgusts me. Note that it is the lack of effort that disgusts me; I respect those who try their hardest to finish every task at hand to the best of their ability, even if the results aren’t what they expected or wanted. But believe me when I say that most of my peers aren’t even close to exerting themselves,” replied Michael.

“Let’s focus on your expectations. If you are unhappy and dissatisfied, there must be some goals or dreams that you hoped you would have accomplished by this point in time. Could you tell me a bit about that?” inquired Dr. Friedlander, hoping to reposition the focus of the conversation on his patient and uncover his motivations.

“Not really. I’m just an average Joe doing things an average Joe would do. It’s not like I’ve cured cancer or anything…”

“You mentioned in the past that your father has been the breadwinner in the family for 30 years now, and that your mother won the battle against leukemia a year ago. Additionally, at the time of our last meeting, your brother was struggling to find employment despite being a fresh computer science graduate. You expressed a great desire to help your family back then, and I could see that it motivated you to try and excel academically and professionally. You’re in second year now, and you are approaching a point in your life where you can act on that desire, and realistically alleviate the burden on your father’s shoulders. Do you have any plans for that?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do. Plans are subject to change, obviously, but as far as I know right now, I’m going to work in the summers between school years to pay for my degree, and right after graduation, I’m heading to a tax haven to mint as much money as I can while I’m young. Preferably somewhere in the Middle East, but Washington state is the backup. My father is going to be able to retire in his fifties if he wants to, or he can keep working for fun. My mother can rest and recover in peace without having to worry about the cost of her prescriptions or any additional treatment. My brother…maybe the humiliation will spur him on to look harder for a job.” said Michael, smiling as he stared into the clear blue sky through the office windows. Dr. Friedlander couldn’t help but smile as well; this was the first time that he had seen Michael display emotion and show great compassion for others.

“Michael, I think that’s a very selfless and noble ambition. A lot of other men and women your age don’t think of giving back to their families that quickly and to that degree. In my opinion, this is a very potent, healthy and positive motivator for you, and that’s really good to see. While I’m sure your parents will appreciate this, you’ll always be their son, and they’ll want you to take good care of yourself as well. Restarting your life on another continent can be a very arduous ordeal; have you given any thought to how you will take care of yourself in this plan of yours?”

“Going to the other side of the planet is the best part of this whole idea! I hate going to school, and it is the primary source of discontent in my life. The farther I am from school — and that includes the people at school — the happier I am. And as for taking care of myself, they have food, water, and air in all of my prospective destinations. I do not lead a life of luxury, so comfortable accommodations shouldn’t be difficult to find. All I really need on top of that is an internet connection and a tennis court and I’m set, Doc.”

“What about your friends at school, Michael?”

“Like I said, can’t wait to get away. And besides, my best friend will be there wherever I end up going, even if it’s not any of the places I have in mind right now.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“His name is Benjamin Franklin,” said Michael, with a sly grin on his face.

“Michael, it’s wonderful that you care so deeply for your family and want to take care of them, but human beings are social creatures. Money can’t address your need for meaningful social interaction with other human beings. How will you be happy and sane with your family on the other side of the planet and no friends to…’hang out’ with?”

“Don’t be a cliche, Doc. Money can buy happiness, and you know it.”

“I don’t, Michael. Why do you say that?”

“Once you earn some money, it’s yours until you let it go. Provided you have enough, you can purchase whatever comforts and luxuries you want. Given that I don’t plan to start a family, I’m certain I’ll have enough.”

“What about the company of friends? Of other people? You don’t think that’s a prerequisite for happiness?”

Michael looked at the clock on the wall behind the doctor, and picked himself up after realizing that their time together for the day was almost at an end. He stretched for a few seconds, jutting his arms out wide, before removing three twenty dollar bills from his pocket and placing them on the table. He walked toward the door of the office and opened it before turning back to look at the doctor.

“The thing I grew to hate about people is how their loyalty can change in the blink of an eye. That’s where money is different. Money doesn’t judge you, doctor,” said Michael before leaving Dr. Friedlander, whose gaze was fixed on the face of Queen Elizabeth II.

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