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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


When “free” means that everyone loses.

So I was at a hippie-healing acupuncture-massage-chiro place. There are about a gazillion of those to choose from because, you know, welcome to Portland.

Waiting (of course).

Waiting for Chris, my massage therapist, who — for the record — is totally worth waiting for.

Anyway, I whiled away the time trying to rewrite (in my head) the piles and piles of ineffectual business cards at the counter.

Actually, they were so ridiculously bad that they were actually getting on my nerves.

To the point that I started worrying about turning into one of those asshat business guru-type people who are always going on about how “business is easy, if you just know how”.

And then you want to smack them because there is nothing more annoying than someone telling you something is easy when you can’t do it.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

I started chatting with the guy behind the counter to distract myself from my intense desire to careen around the room yelling “common sense, people… common sense!”

You need to listen to our conversation.

And if it doesn’t trigger a Moment of inspiration, understanding and bewilderment (like it did for me), you’re a smarter business person than I and you can skip the biggification posts and go straight to the wacky-ways-to-change-habits stuff.

“I just don’t really want to use my free massage until I need it.”

Me: Hey, so have you ever had a massage with Chris?
The guy: No, not yet. Should I?
Me: Ohmygod yes. Out of this world. He’s amazing.
The guy: Yeah, people seem to really like him. They don’t even mind that he’s always late. I should take him up on that free massage.
Me: You get a free massage? Awesome.
The guy: Well, I just don’t really want use my free massage until I need it, you know?

Whoah, whoah, whoah, what?!

Me: Wait, this is fascinating. I must know more. You get a free massage but you don’t want to use it. Talk to me about this.
The guy: Well, every healing practitioner who works here offers one free session to everyone who works at the front desk, to help us make recommendations about what’s best for people. You know, to let us experience their work so we can talk about it.
Me: Uh huh. Okay. That makes sense.
The guy: I know! It’s really great!
Me: So how many massages have you gotten?
The guy: One.
Me: Out of … what, fifteen? twenty?
The guy: Yeah. I kind of save them up until I really need them. That way, if I’m ever all sore or depressed or whatever, I could come here and get a free massage, which would be really cool.

In which I have a genius idea.

Me: So let me ask you something. If they didn’t give you a free massage, but instead you could get a massage with them for say, twelve dollars, would you do it?
The guy: Are you kidding? I’d have one right now. That’s a great deal.

And then try to understand it.

Me: So if it’s free, it’s something special and thus you have to save it until you’re ready for it… but if it costs twelve dollars, it’s (also) something special — but you’d go for it right away.
The guy: Yeah. You’re right. Weird, huh?
Me: With the free thing, you don’t want to use it up until you’re ready, but if it’s twelve dollars, you might actually have that on you and feel like a massage. Am I getting this right?
The guy: Absolutely.
Me: And is this just you? Or does everybody do this?
The guy: Oh, everybody. Hey guys! Do any of you use your free massages or do you save them until you really need them?
Everyone else: Confer, confer, confer
The guy: No, they don’t use them, but they would definitely go for a twelve dollar massage if they had twelve dollars that day.
Me: Someone should tell the massage therapists that.
The guy: Oh, I don’t know.

And then bring it to you.

Me: I am so going to write about this on my blog.
The guy: Huh? On your what?
Me: I’m going to go tell several thousand people about my great idea that you’re not going to use.

Let’s discuss. Not my genius idea, but the concept that free doesn’t always work.

Because it seems like there’s a lot more to say about what this weird truth means, why it is, and how you might apply it to whatever your thing is. I have thoughts.

55 Responses to When “free” means that everyone loses.

  1. mk says:

    Great topic–I think I’m more in line with the profligate souls. When I get a gift certificate I spend it! Here’s yet another variant of what can happen when you give something away.

    Last year I won $100 of bodywork from a friend of mine’s studio. I scheduled right away with a woman who worked there (not my friend because she doesn’t do massage any more). I’m not sure what the arrangement was with the bodywork person that I scheduled with. I scheduled 2 sessions ($50 is her normal rate) but I kind of got the vibe that she really didn’t enjoy giving her services away. I ended up giving her a $20 tip (which on my current budget is a large amount of $$) because she did good work and I felt a little guilty. But I haven’t scheduled with her again–even though I’ve been back for 2 other massages. If I ran into her again I would feel awkward because I didn’t schedule again…

    So perhaps one possible lesson is if you do give something away it needs to be really free, not given with the expectation of anything to follow? And perhaps the massages that were “free” to the workers carried some of this same baggage?

  2. rslmt83 says:

    Light bulb moment for me! I am a massage therapist myself, and got a lot of insight from this–thank you! From this point forward, anyone buying a gift certificate from me will be buying two instead–each for half the value of what they’re buying. Say a 60 minute massage. 2 gift certificates for 30 minutes each. This way, the recipient can book one appt and either use both and get the *free* massage, or pay half price and still be able to hold on to that *gift* for when he/she really *needs* it. Love it, love it! Thank you!

  3. […] third leg of this post comes from a conversation Havi started about free stuff. She’s dealing with the fact that if you people free stuff, they won’t use it, but if […]

  4. Amy says:

    I know this is an old post but it reminds me of something I saw on tv years ago. It was about the concept of free and how greedy people act for it. They did a social experiment, taking rocks from in front of a business, putting them in a glass bowl with a sign saying “free, take one”. Not only did people gleefully take the ROCKS, but some people snuck more than one!

    This, plus your post, really illustrates the Perceived Value that we all need to apply to our stuff. Charging higher or lower than our Right People think it should be can completely destroy the perceived value and they won’t buy.

    Thank you, Havi!
    .-= Amy´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  5. […] @havi discovered that free doesn’t always work. So before you start passing out bits of your product or service, you’ll first want to chew […]

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