Joe Pisani: A business card can feed the fishbowl, or the ego

Someone asked me for a business card last week. It took some searching, but I finally found one that was faded, wrinkled and dog-eared, hidden in my wallet where it was growing mold. With all the viruses and bacteria around, I should have sanitized it. Who knows what kind of outbreak it might cause.

I’ve reached the point in life where I don’t like to hand out business cards because I don’t want people bothering me. Nevertheless, I still have something to offer society, and a business card lets me stay in the game, so from time to time I pawn one off even though it looks like a historic artifact that survived the Great Recession.

Some people pass out business cards like Halloween candy, and they’re keeping the paper industry from collapsing. They put them in fish bowls at diners to win a raffle for a free lunch. They put them on cork boards at the cleaners, where you can find essential services like septic tank cleaning, massage therapy and bikini waxing. It’s better than the old Yellow Pages.

Nothing is more impressive than an embossed business card on high-quality stock to show people how important you are ... or how important you think you are. Getting your first business card is a momentous occasion that ranks right up there with your first beer, your first COVID vaccination and another first I won’t mention.

I recently went through my collection of cards from yesteryear and took a trip down memory lane. The changing titles charted the ups and downs of my career, which resembled those graphs the CDC uses to show the rise and fall of COVID.

Most careers have ups and downs ... and sometimes more downs than ups. You claw your way up the ladder until 55, and then the slow descent starts, and pretty soon you’re “expendable” in the opinion of the corner office. Sometimes it’s a rapid descent, and you reach the point where you’d be happy just to land a job with benefits at Starbucks, brewing matcha lattes.

I know a few fellows who went into a terrible funk when they left the working world. Some never came out of it. Others said they were writing books. Still others “reinvented” themselves, which is a fancy term that means you hand out a lot of business cards at Rotary meetings and golf tournaments to scrounge up enough consultant fees to pay your kids’ college tuition.

The truth is that after leaving the workplace, most people have an opportunity to do enjoyable things such as chauffeuring their grandkids to soccer practice. Some get part-time jobs at Home Depot, which is a tremendous learning experience for men whose wives believe home improvement is the foundation of a strong marriage.

Others follow a noble calling and become caregivers for a sick spouse or friend. (No business card necessary.) Care-giving is one of the most important jobs you’ll ever have in life and one of the least acknowledged in our meritocratic society. However, at the end of the day, those “jobs” will mean more than others when you stand before your Creator to give an accounting of your life. Honors and awards like the Pulitzer and the Oscar ultimately count for nothing even though people waste their lives pursuing them.

You never know when a business card might save a life.

Bill Mitchell of Mitchell Stores always has a card handy. It says, “Making friends is our business,” and after 30 years in a recovery program, he’s handed out hundreds of them to people trying to get sober and stay sober. He always writes a note of encouragement on the back, like “Keep coming,” “Stick with us” or “Call me before you pick up a drink.”

“I do it because people did it for me 30 years ago,” he says. “They paid it forward.”

A lot of people who have his card might never have gotten sober or stayed sober.

He recalled being at a charitable event where a woman walked up to him and took out one of his cards.

“Are you Bill Mitchell?” she asked. He said yes. She told him that her son had recently died.

“I want to let you know I found your card in my son’s wallet,” she said. “You gave it to him, and he carried it with him for the last six years of his life.”

Joe Pisani can be reached at