I couldn't help but feel inspired, or was it sadness? You be the judge.
Thirty minutes into a recent car ride from JFK into the city on a hot, traffic-filled weekday, my 60-year-old inherited driver (Joseph, "but call me Joe") had become somewhat intrigued with a spirited business conversation I was having about launching a new line of fitness videos online. I hung up, and Joe said to me "Hey, you got any good workout programs for guys like me who work 70 hours a week in an unhealthy job and have a little extra weight that I know I need to get rid of? All I do is sit all day driving this car!"
I was intrigued. I fired back at him, "Well, what do you like to do?"
Twelve hours later on a plane ride back to LA, and his predicament is still with me. I don't know if I found hope in society or an insurmountable challenge that will take years to break.
On one hand I was inspired to hear that this humble, hard-working guy, who has never seen the inside of a gym, was determined to crack the code of how to get in shape and exercise. And not just exercise to lose weight for vanity purposes, but to do so for health reasons.
Joe told me of how he inquired with his company about programs and found out they offered $250 in support for a gym membership or money towards the purchase of a piece of home equipment. "Seriously?" I was shocked, but encouraged. I hung on to every word as he zoomed in and out of traffic.
He then proceeded to tell me how he opted for a stationary bike as his schedule simply couldn't support going to the gym. Yeah, mine wouldn't either if I had to get up at 6 a.m. to be at work at 7 a.m. and then work until 8 or 9 p.m.
Then I heard a quite a sense of desperation in his voice, despite his hallowed dark circled eyes leading one to believe otherwise. He says, "The bike is not enough. It's not working. I need some help, but don't know what to do. I want to make sure I don't get sick."
I then felt this sense of duty. Here was this guy, not even in a demographic that I would have ever expected to take exercise seriously, and he was sincerely asking for help. Was it a coincidence I was in the car? Was it a message? Nothing is by mistake. I continue...
I was determined. I offered him some suggestions only to encounter a few dead-ends. I said "how about watching my network and doing some of the exercise videos on digital cable?" He said, "We don't have cable, because of the limited time I have at home, I want to spend with my wife, and if we had TV, we'd never talk." How can you refute that? I retreated, "On your schedule, I can understand."
I then offered up the notion of going to the ExerciseTV website (and taking advantage of some of the free beginner exercise videos I had online. He said, despite being very computer savvy (side note: he was laid off as a systems analyst for some mid-sized company back in the early 2000s) that his wife and him got rid of the computer, again for quality-of-life and time reasons. Another sensitive subject, yet another dead-end. I felt every bit my next-gen, hard charging, digital era business age by this point.
I then asked, "Would you buy DVDs?" He said maybe. Now we're getting somewhere, I thought.
As we ended the ride, he offered up the idea of distributing my programming to his company's central office location in Manhattan and ends with "betcha never thought of that market." To be honest, I hadn't, but left thinking not about the business opportunity, but about what will become of him.
We said our cordial goodbyes, and I handed him my card in hopes that he might actually buy our newest Star Trainers DVD to hit the market this past month. I then stopped to think about the bigger issue which was actually reaching him in way that would stick. No matter how much marketing or workout titles I could put up online or in the local Wal-Marts, I would venture to guess it would be unlikely for him to actually try or buy something.
I felt sad. I also felt somewhat unable to affect change with people I didn't even know cared. On the flip side, I feel inspired. I felt inspired to see that even companies who would be the last ones to adopt 'health' as a corporate mandate were trying to do something. Was it for altruistic and sincere betterment purposes, or was it to reduce health care costs? I'm not one to say, as I don't have the facts. What I can say is that it is encouraging.
My hope is that whatever the motivation is, more companies take an active role in an employee's health. This may be the only way to reach the strata of society that has a silent desire to get in shape, but no resources or incentive. And taking an active role shouldn't just be about giving $250 and feeling like a box can be checked. Although, this is a good start, there needs to be a level of information and education that comes with it.
Enough so that a kind, hard-working guy like Joe, can feel like he can make a difference in his own life.