You Miss 100% Of the Shots You Don’t Take

I was a very successful lawyer, making a lot of money, so-called dream job, etc. but I realized I was just going through the motions. It came down to just checking the boxes. As I thought about it I realized that everything I was doing at this point was just an exercise with no real meaning.

That was a quote from Michelle Obama in discussing her recent book, Becoming. She was being interviewed by Oprah.

I tend to be a multitasker, especially with the TV on. Listen, but not really listening until a key word or phrase comes up. The “check the boxes” caught my thoughts as I know of so many people in this situation. The external view looks perfect, every box is checked, but inside there is an emptiness that is yearning to get out.

Our organizations are full of box checkers, going through the motions with a listless persona. Some have even masked the emptiness with a façade of joy, yet it is like a cancer that erodes inside inch by inch. This heavy burden takes it toll over a period of time, from depression and anxiety to a host of health problems. Is there a cure?

Uncheck or live happily ever after

I thought of the time that I had a huge corporate role, an officer of the company, but it got so that I was one of the checkers. Absolutely hated Mondays; sitting in meetings and mentally you are drifting away. This built up over a period of time and then the crescendo. I gave it a long thought over one weekend and decided that I was NOT going to put myself through this any longer. I calculated my severance and financial options, which totaled about 6-7 months giving me a cushion. Monday I went in and resigned.

Just the simple act of writing that resignation letter was like losing pounds on a diet that actually worked. Gave my 2 weeks and floated through that time period. On my last Friday there was the little going away get-together, and everyone was wondering why I made this decision. I gave no answers because no one would possibly understand.

While the doubt was there on the following Monday morning, I felt overwhelmingly that yes, I did make the right decision.

Rear mirror view was crystal clear

I now look back on that period and realize it was a game changer. There were some detours I had not planned and multiple disappointments as I tried to get back on the entry ramp. But the totality of the move was profound.

I now look forward to Monday mornings, I absolutely love what I do and would do it without pay if I had to. As I travel the vast majority of time, I tend to be at my happiness reading industry and organizational material during my quiet time. Someone said to me, “You are always peering into your laptop.” My response was that is when I am at my happiest.

My exercise in unchecking the box is not be for the faint of heart. I liken it to an airline pilot flying a plane in the dark of night. There is absolutely nothing to see outside the window, but according to the coordinates, she will stay on track and eventually get to the destination. My sojourn was to live by faith and not by sight.

People struggle with careers. When you talk with them, it seems everyone wants to do something but are afraid to pull the trigger. They talk a good game and it is like a loop, same conversations over and over again. Excuses are abound and abundant.

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Regret minimization

My thought is don’t wait; it can’t wait. Jeff Bezos said in 2001 interview that life should be lived with no regrets or as he put it regret minimization

“I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, ‘Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have,'” explains Bezos. “I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision.”

He went for it and the rest is, as they say, history.

Remembering what we didn’t do

I saw a commentator recently who was talking about a football [American] player who dropped a pass as the game buzzer sounded. His remark was this: You will always remember the dropped passes more so than the catches. In the long-term, what you fail to do bothers you far more than what you tried but screwed up.

So if you are in box-checking mode, you need to give some thought to where this is all going to end up. Will you one day sit back and marvel how you took a winding road of uncertainty and turned it into beautiful tree lined boulevard? Or will you painfully be sitting somewhere looking into the rearview mirror of life regretting everything?

It is something to think about. By the way my tree lined boulevard started with a resignation letter.

Good luck.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.