A five figure haircut that made me cry



On Sunday I spent Rs ₹₹,₹₹₹ for a haircut.

I voluntarily spent this money and I am very happy that I did.

The amount of money isn’t important. The haircutting salon isn’t important. The reasons for spending this ridiculous amount of money are important. The learnings from this spend are even more important than the act itself.

It all began with me showing up for my haircut. I sat down on the comfortable sofa after my temperature was checked, my mask was on and my hands sanitized. In about 5 minutes I was approached by a familiar face. I looked at him quizzically. I was aware he was a senior hairdresser in this organization and one I wouldn’t engage. I always want just a basic haircut and am very happy with an entry level hair ‘stylist’. My mask probably hid my facial expression and I somewhat reluctantly walked to get my hair washed; the first step to get it cut.

I noticed that only 2 of the 3 wash stations were functional. One was blocked to maintain social distancing. From the hair wash, I moved to the chair where my hair was to be cut. The same norms of social distancing were followed here; every alternate workstation was blocked. Everyone in the salon wore PPE suits. I was given a clean, new, disposable cape. As the hair cutting began, I engaged with the stylist and asked about the impact of the pandemic. What he told me moved me. The staff in the salon was reduced by close to 50%. They alternated working days for the helpers, which meant they only got to the salon half the time. No one was given a salary. Everyone was given a share of the day’s collections. Sometimes they had 10 or 12 appointments; weekends this moved to around 15. This was probably at 30% of their regular business.

When my hair cut was done, the stylist went up to the billing area and asked the person to raise a bill for a basic haircut. I stopped the person and asked to be billed at the full rate that the senior stylist normally charged. This just pushed my bill from a high 3-figure amount to a mid 4 figure amount.


I left the salon and as I walked down, I had a lump in my throat. I looked at my very expensive car. I looked at the sky and counted all my blessings. I looked around the market. All I could see were notices of restaurants and businesses that had closed. I couldn’t go home without doing something.

I walked to my bank’s ATM. I withdrew cash and walked back to the salon. The hair stylist met me. I handed over the cash to him and requested that he use his judgement and ensure that it is distributed among the helper staff. They need it the most. He looked at the currency notes. Then he looked at me and we didn’t exchange another word. We understood each other without the need to use words. I turned around and walked out. I had difficulty descending the stairs as my eyes welled again. But this time I went to my car and silently drove home.

I am not relating this incident to get any accolades. I have only two things I really want to share in the hope that it motivates each one of you achieve your objectives in live.

Giving is the single most effective act in healing your own soul. No matter what the pain, what the stress, what the disaster staring you in the face, just go out and give just one biscuit to a hungry animal. Then look into the eyes of that animal or bird. That look will give you the hope of living for another day. Inside you, it will build the power to face the world. The size of the act is of no consequence. Forget what the world will think of the act. Think only of the soul that you touch with your act. The feeling of giving without wanting anything in return will make you a calmer, stronger and most of all a caring human being. And only a caring human being will truly conquer this world.

The second lesson is for managers, budding managers and future leaders. The act of giving is the very life blood of being a good manager who one day becomes a leader. To manage people, you will need to learn how to give. Here giving isn’t in the material sense. It is in being able to device processes, policies and workflows that ensure the team works with a sense of belonging. Remember a robot will perform a task infinitely more efficiently than any human. But when you are in a crisis, the same robot will not have a single contribution to make to you. For a contribution you will need to find another robot and believe that the robot has the credibility to deliver a solution. We have ‘AI’ that works but creative thinking is a long way off.

To be a leader you will have to be empathetic, to be an outstanding leader you will have to live the pain of your people. For all who think that this makes a leader weak, take it from a practitioner, it doesn’t.

Don’t do anything that stretches your means. But within your means, find small ways of contributing to nature. It’s summer, even putting out a bowl of water out for birds won’t cost you anything, but it has serious benefits. I have a water bowl on my roof. It’s frequented by crows. I sometimes leave food that is no longer edible for us or discarded by my buddy Arrow (my friend who is a big German Shepherd). I never have to worry about monkeys coming to my rooftop or damaging my plants. The crows that feed off my roof take care of the monkeys. They just won’t let them stay on my roof!

We are going through extraordinary times. Many of my connections in LinkedIn have told me about job losses and the hardships they are facing. I listen and I respond. I can’t help everyone individually but there isn’t a moment that I am not thinking of solutions. I may not be able to come up with a lot. But I know that every little bit helps. So please, try and do something for those who are less fortunate. Don’t do it for them. Do it for yourself; who knows you may never get another opportunity like this one to make yourself a better person.

My best wishes and prayers to help each one of us get through; and get through, we will.

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© 2020 Vivek Mehra