Difficult Choices and Your Final Day

I have to make a hard decision— do I stay with the work I’m passionate about, or go for promotion by taking on assignments I don’t particularly enjoy?

That was the situation faced by Nelson, a 45-year-old manager with a large corporation, facing a career choice predicament.  For several years he had been engaged in project work he deeply enjoyed and was making positive contributions.  His boss desperately wanted him to continue with that work, as did many clients with whom he shared a high degree of trust and sense of mission.  At the same time, however, Nelson was also being pressured by upper-level management to broaden his experience as a necessary prelude to promotion to senior executive responsibilities.  He had been conflicted about his situation for some time, but his dilemma suddenly escalated when he served on a selection committee for the type of executive position to which he aspired. That experience brought home the reality that to get promoted, he had to diversify his work experience.  In a highly agitated state he came to counseling demanding to know what he should do.

What option would you choose if you found yourself in a similar situation?

What advice would you give Nelson if you were his career coach?

I simply asked Nelson how long he expected to live.

“What does that have to do with it,” he said.

“Just go along on this,” I said.”  It is germane to your dilemma.”

“How do I know how long I’ll live?” he asked.

“Make it up,” was my response.

When he said 87, I asked him to imagine himself at that age, on his last day on earth, and consider the following scenarios.

  • First, review your life and consider how fulfilling it would be if you remained with your current work.
  • Next, consider how fulfilling it would be if you were to pursue senior executive responsibilities.
  • Finally, consider other scenarios that you could explore

After reflecting upon these scenarios for several moments, Nelson concluded that being an executive would not ultimately be all that fulfilling.  He did have a rather startling insight, however, in realizing that he would have serious regrets if he did not create his own consulting business specializing in the kind of work he had been doing.  Besides his passion for this type of work, Nelson discovered that he also harbored entrepreneurial instincts and a need for the kind of autonomy that a consulting practice could offer.

When you find yourself faced with challenging choices in life or work, you too might find it helpful to consider your options from the perspective of your last day on earth.   Addressing a dilemma from this point of view can provide the detachment needed for a long-term perspective of what’s required for ultimate satisfaction. What is it, in your final moment, that is likely to give you a sense of a life well lived and relatively free of regrets?


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