I was thinking about my client Lindon the other day and remembering the last time we talked — about 10 years ago. I think I was the only person who treated him as an equal and was not overly awed by his money: He always got a straight answer from me, sometimes too straight. That morning he had called me over to his house saying he had a list of things he needed done, and so I went over to look at this list. Imagine my surprise when I walked into his study and he said to sit down, he had something important to tell me first.
He started out by saying, “Manuel, I’m a wealthy man,” to which I nodded — no shocker there. “I have a lot of cash just sitting on the sidelines not doing anything,” he explained. “I want you to help me buy a house a month for the next two years. I’ll pay cash and put that money to work. I think houses will be a good investment.”
“Sounds great” I said. “If I can help, count me in.”
During the conversation that ensued, he showed me an invoice for $135. “I just paid for the heater to be fixed at the house of one of the ladies in my church,” he added. “It’s not like it’s all me, me, me.”
Lindon was a right religious person, and so with the latest validation plus the former invoice, I thought I caught his drift.
“You’re wondering if buying a lot of houses and building more wealth will look right in the eyes of the Lord?” I asked. It was all I could think of.
“Something like that,” he answered.
I thought about it for a minute and almost laughed. Then I told him what turned out to be the deal killer. “Lindon, you’re not going to be judged on how many rent houses you buy,” I explained. “You’re going to be judged on what great things you could have done but didn’t.”
He looked at me like a deer in the headlights, and for a long time he kept silent, ruminating over what I’d said.
“Is that in the Bible?” he asked.
“Maybe not in those words, but in one way or another I’m sure it is,” I answered. “However, just now I was paraphrasing Voltaire. He wrote that ‘Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.’”
By that time, Lindon’s initial exuberance had vanished, and he looked downright worried.
“I’m not sure what to make of that,” he said and continued to frown.
“It’s not a big deal,” I commented. “But I do think it’s something to keep in mind. Next month, fix another heater, then send this first lady a card thanking her for the opportunity to help her. Mention that you’re looking for more like her, to tell her friends about you.”
That seemed to really upset him.
And I was right. A week later, he called to tell me I had really upset him. “I wish you hadn’t said that,” he added. “Now I don’t know what to do.”
That was the last time I ever heard from Lindon. I don’t know if he ever bought a rent house. I know that if I hadn’t said anything, he would have. He was so excited until a Frenchman reached across 240 years of history to spoil it for him.