Every time Jeff Goldstein encounters someone he hasn't seen for a couple of years, he knows where the conversation is headed.
"They're going to ask me what I'm doing these days," he said, "and when I tell them, they're going to say: 'What?' "
For 32 years, he was a hard-charging, nose-to-the-grindstone commodities trader, overseeing deals that totaled hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now he's the embodiment of easygoing as he focuses on what he calls "M and M — massage and music."
Not just any type of massage. He reaches out to special-needs clients, including offering palliative care to people nearing the end of their lives. He also fronts a jazz group.
Goldstein understands that it looks as though he did a 180, pivoting from a world seen as the pinnacle of emotionless, data-driven analysis to one awash in touchy-feely empathy.
He doesn't put much stock in those clichés, however.
The futures trader as a cutthroat mercenary who would stop at nothing to make a dollar "is purely a Hollywood image," he said. " 'Despite what [last year's hit movie] 'The Wolf of Wall Street' showed, some of the most successful traders I know are also among the nicest people I know."
Goldstein, 56, left Cargill two years ago. It was not burnout, he insisted.
"You get burnout from mundane jobs, not from exciting and stimulating jobs," he said. "I didn't get burned out. But it was time to start a new life."
Instead of staring at computer screens all day, he decided that his new life would be centered around people.
"Both massage and music are about connecting with people," he said. "Both make people feel good."
His wife, Susan Goldstein, wasn't surprised when he announced that he was leaving his job to enroll in massage therapy school.
"I know that on paper, it seems like a big change," she said. "But it fits his personality. He's always been someone who wants to give something back. He's always wanted to do something that makes a difference, and this is the way he can do that."
David Dines, a Cargill vice president to whom Goldstein reported, came to the same conclusion.
"Jeff has always been a very caring person and looked after people," Dines said. "An example of this is that he was instrumental in getting a group of us [at Cargill] to cook and serve dinners on a regular basis at a Minneapolis housing shelter."
Full speed ahead
Goldstein doesn't look like someone who spent three-plus decades in a high-stress career. Soft-spoken, mild-mannered and quick with a smile, he could pass for being 10 years younger that his driver's license claims. But his demeanor can't completely conceal the fact that he's highly competitive. He has only one strategy: all-in.
Consider how he landed with Cargill in the first place.
"I was a business major at the University of Minnesota," he said. "When I heard that Cargill was coming to campus to conduct interviews, I slept in Blegen Hall so I could be the first one to sign up." He spent the night dodging janitors by hiding in bathrooms.
"It was the 1980s," he said with a shrug. "It was what you had to do to get a job back then."
He worked his way up the ranks, taking assignments in Chicago and then London. "I worked on the exchange floor with lads from the East End," he said. "I couldn't understand a word they said."
After a dozen years on the road, he and Susan — now accompanied by three children — returned to the Twin Cities in 1994, where he put together teams of traders that handled some of the company's biggest deals.
He does everything full-bore, his wife said. Even having fun. He and one of his sons recently returned from two weeks deep in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, relying almost solely on their fishing poles for sustenance.
"I've never seen anybody else with that sort of go-for-itness," she said. "If he's going to do something, he won't be satisfied until he's mastered or perfected it."
His newest endeavor at mastering something is singing. He has started taking voice lessons. But music has been a part of his life since his 20s.
Sitting down at the piano was his way of dissipating the stress from a day of futures trading. Now he's also taken that a step further, composing music and leading the Jeff Goldstein Group, which has released four CDs and plays regularly at the Lake & Irving restaurant in Uptown Minneapolis. (Their next gig is Wednesday evening.)
"We don't talk business much, although he probably could give me some great stock tips," chuckled Phillip Crump, the group's bass player. "We talk about music and how it intersects with life."
Emphasis on therapy
Goldstein is slow to get rattled. "I think one reason people liked trading with me was that I'm so mellow," he said.
There is a way to punch his "hot" button, however: Call him a masseur.
"I'm a massage therapist," he insisted. "The term masseur has a sexual connotation. I've had a thousand hours of training. I do actual therapy."
He opened a studio, Uptown Massage, at 3137 Hennepin Av. S. in Minneapolis, but he also makes periodic visits to assisted-living centers, where he offers reduced rates to the residents. In addition, every month he volunteers at Pathways Minneapolis, a holistic health and therapy center just down the block from his office, where he gives free treatment for people with life-threatening or chronic conditions.
"He came to us a year and a half ago and offered to donate his time," executive director Tim Thorpe said. And not just as a massage therapist; Goldstein also volunteered to play piano and sing at the organization's recent 25th gala celebration.
"I didn't want to limit myself to dealing with golfers with sore shoulders — although I do have clients at my clinic who are golfers with sore shoulders," Goldstein said.
"But when I go to assisted-living centers, I'm dealing with some people who have never had a massage before. And when I go to Pathways, I never know who is going to show up: people with breast cancer, leukemia, fibromyalgia, emphysema. … It's really challenging work."
"Early in my training, I was working on a paraplegic," he said. "He came back the next week and told me that after the massage, it was the first time he'd been able to press the button on his garage door opener. "
As thrilling as it was to close a big commodities deal, it can't match the kick he gets from what might seem like small achievements as a massage therapist.
"If I can give someone just one good night of sleep, I've succeeded," he said. "Providing help is the nicest thing you can do for other people."