Living the Transactional Life vs. the Generous Life

Lessons learned as a gigolo reflects on what went wrong

I was listening to some music yesterday while working, when all of the sudden a recording of “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” by Louis Prima came on. If you’ve never heard the song before, — at least to the first verse. You may recognize the melody. It’s an American standard.

The first verse of the song features lyrics that made me think a little. Take a look at them:

I’m just a gigolo
And everywhere I go
People know the part I’m playin’
Pay for every dance
Sellin’ each romance
Oh, what they sayin’?
There’ll come a day
And youth will pass away
What, what will they say about me?
When the end comes, I know
They’ll say “just a gigolo”, as
Life goes on without me

The song is a kind of cautionary tale about a man who has made a choice. He’s chosen one kind of life over another. He’s chosen a transactional life over a life of generosity — a life built around getting his share, rather than on just being generous.

He did things that others do for their own sake, and to connect with each other — dancing, romancing. But he did them as transactions. The value of those things, rather than in the acts themselves, existed only in what he got in exchange for them.

Sure, there was a time when this lifestyle he’s living had its perks. The money was rolling in, and the pleasures were — well — pleasurable, I’m sure. But as the years roll on, and the transactions continue, he begins to wonder about things. When he’s gone, what will his legacy be?

As it turns out, because each dance and each romance was simply a transaction, he failed to make any meaningful connections. When he’s gone, life will go on without him.

He got paid every dime he asked for, but all that got him was an empty feeling. The world paid him what he asked, and when he’s gone, they won’t owe him anything more. They’ll be just fine without him — because the transactions are done.

The same is true for us. When things become transactions for us — that is, when we stop doing them for their anything but money, social currency, notoriety, or whatever — we begin hollowing out our lives.

When we give with the expectation of repayment, and dwell on that, we cheapen things.

There are times when all of us become a bit transactional. We want the money, we want it upfront, and we’re not interested in much else. Or we want the notoriety, praise, or promotion. So our behavior and our thinking centers around that. And that’s okay from time to time.

But when we get more transactional, we stop being generous. We stop giving the benefit of the doubt; we withdraw inwardly — into our own obsession. That kind of withdrawal perpetuates more of the same. It’s a negative place to be. It sets us up to treat others — and ourselves — in less than generous ways. When we do that, we actually end up getting less in the long run. So we perceive that we need to fight tooth and nail for more, and it becomes our daily preoccupation.

The transactional existence makes us “just a gigolo.” Life goes on without us just fine.

Rather than putting our hand out to dance the night away with someone, we demand payment beforehand. Rather than relaxing into romance freely, we sell each romantic act, to ensure that we don’t get less than we give away. And trust me, people take notice. They will stop coming around. Fewer dances, fewer romances.

If you’re lucky enough to live to an old age and retire, as you look back on how you conducted yourself, it’s worth asking how generous you were. How much did you give without expectation of repayment? How much did you do that was for the good of the thing itself, or for others? The more there was, the more you’ll be remembered — because whatever you were paid wasn’t due to you demanding — it was given out of gratitude for your generosity.

Being generous doesn’t mean you don’t get compensated. It just means that you don’t make it the central motivation for what you do.

Written by

Author of “The Wabi-Sabi Way” and “Be, Think, Do”. Subscribe to my newsletter “Woolgathering”: .

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