Owning Your Choices – For Non CFOs

“So many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life…

Thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore. And for that I am truly grateful.’ -Patrick Pichette, Thursday 11/03

Late last week the CFO of Google, Patrick Pichette, announcing his plans to retire. The entire statement was honest yet humble; his core message, direct: there’s just more to life. It’s an easy thing to say when you’ve spent seven years at the top of the most successful enterprise of the 21st century. Pitchette acknowledges that his position is unique in that he has the luxury of making a calculated leap.

He is by no means free-falling. For many of us, choosing experiences over a stable job is a high risk choice, but does it need to be? Or did we make it one?

The following are a few snippets of Pichette’s statement, embellished with ideas exploring how the layman, ie not the CFO of Google, ie you or I (presumably), easily misplace priorities and accept that as life. And more importantly, why we don’t have to.

This story starts last fall. A very early morning last September, after a whole night of climbing, looking at the sunrise on top of Africa – Mt Kilimanjaro. Tamar (my wife) and I were not only enjoying the summit, but on such a clear day, we could see in the distance, the vast plain of the Serengeti at our feet, and with it the calling of all the potential adventures Africa has to offer.
And Tamar out of the blue said “Hey, why don’t we just keep on going”. Let’s explore Africa, and then turn east to make our way to India, it’s just next door, and we’re here already. Then, we keep going; the Himalayas, Everest, go to Bali, the Great Barrier Reef… Antarctica, let’s go see Antarctica!?” Little did she know, she was tempting fate.
I remember telling Tamar a typical prudent CFO type response- I would love to keep going, but we have to go back. It’s not time yet, There is still so much to do at Google, with my career, so many people counting on me/us – Boards, Non Profits, etc
But then she asked the killer question: So when is it going to be time? Our time? My time? The questions just hung there in the cold morning African air.

This question begs another question. A question that is seamlessly illustrated by Louis CK through an imagined dialogue with god: what is a job?

‘What is a job?? What is – Explain to me, what is a f***ing job?’
‘Well you go like uh and you work at a place where people call when their game doesn’t work and you help them figure it out.’
‘What do you do that for?’
“For uh money’
[Louis C.K.] Source: LYBIO.net
‘Just eat the sh*t on the floor! I left sh*t all over the floor! F***ing corn and wheat and sh*t grab it up and make some bread, what are you doing???’
‘Yeah but it doesn’t have like bacon around it…and like…I like when it has like…bacon on it and bread’

Being member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers, it has been a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences. But as I count it now, it has also been a frenetic pace for about 1500 weeks now. Always on – even when I was not supposed to be. Especially when I was not supposed to be. And am guilty as charged – I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.

Patrick Pichette,  wanted to change the world. That’s the best reason for anything. His goals were admirable and his dedication shaped our generation, in a way. But this is not an ode to Patrick Pichette, it’s a question of how much success can satiate that hunger to just keep going until you hit Antarctica? And Mr. Pichette’s answer: There is no amount.
Too many young people focus on the frenetic pace with which the goal is achieved, rather than the goal itself. In the end, it’s only too easy for the original goal to be distorted with one left ‘chasing paper’.

“Growing up in Greenland has ruined my relationship to wealth for good. I see that it exists. But I could never strive for it. Or seriously respect it. Or regard it as a goal.”
Peter Hoeg, Smillas Sense of Snowflakes aka Miss Smillas feeling for snow.

Not everywhere in the world views wealth as a goal in and of itself. We all seem to be waiting for some imaginary milestone to start living. One last thing to acquire before giving anything you love a shot.  To say that only people like Pichette are awarded the luxury of throwing caution to the wind only perpetuates the myth that we ourselves created. Perhaps to fill a void, or create some kind of meaning, we tunnel ourselves deep into the daily grind.

Instead of creating meaning it’s sold us a one way ticket on the ‘more more more’ train; distracted from where our priorities could lie. Countries like Greenland and Sweden, have completely taken themselves out of the equation and jumped another line altogether.

When our kids are asked by their friends about the success of the longevity of our marriage, they simply joke that Tamar and I have spent so little time together that “it’s really too early to tell” if our marriage will in fact succeed.
If they could only know how many great memories we already have together. How many will you say? How long do you have? But one thing’s for sure, I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.
When Pichette says ‘she deserves more’,  by now it is obvious, he is not referring to finances or status. You can be sure that in those regards, they’re set. To be wanting is part of human nature, but where that wanting takes us is the difference between ticking off a list and actual fulfillment.

Whether a CFO or a call center worker, or an artist or a banker, every minute decision takes a yes or a no. Every which way you’ve gone has taken a thought process. We are given choices every minute. That’s kinda incredible.

…In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavours and family/community…Carpe Diem.”

Choose your trade offs wisely, and hopefully you’ll never get stuck wondering ‘How the eff did I get here?’ Or at the very least own your choices. They are, after all, only yours. And that’s kinda incredible.

I don’t know if we fully appreciate the fact that we got out of the food chain – that is a massive upgrade because for every other living thing life ends by being eaten, that’s how all life ends. Is every single life except human life, every life ends like this. Ahhh Ahhhh – Ahhhhh! We’re the only ones that get’s to die old in a bed just, I love you, bye.

-Louis CK

Full statement:


The Royal Commission – Assisting Abraham

This week, The Royal Commission into Child Abuse, Case Study 22, saw leading figures of the Chabad-Jewish world of Melbourne, Australia forced to step down from their roles; To finally be held accountable for decades of what can lightly be called ‘poor judgement’ and harshly described as gross misuse of power and neglegence in a childcare setting.

From a generation of new parents, unsure where to put their trust and their children, to the people who make ignorant, damaging remarks, everyone is affected.

‘He asked for it.’ ‘It’s in the past’ and ‘Stop harming our community’ are remarks thrown around all too calously. The people who suggest such hurtful remarks are speaking from fear. They live in a society of their own making where you are tainted by association. They wonder who will walk in the street with them when anyone finds out that they are supporting a victim.

This society breeds paranoia not only between victims and those who should have been their advocators, but also between victims and civil authorities. Through threats and intimidation victims were robbed of any chance of dignity while from the inside a community collapsed.

With the ongoing invstigation surrounding David Cyprus, former security for Yeshiva College, and his involvement in pedaphelia within the school, an annonymous victim, AVB, has cautiously and responsibly led a new wave of justice. And what is he met with?

 The Guardian’s David Marr documents, (19/02),

 “Cyprys’s  lawyer at the bail hearing, Alex Lewenberg, was complaining about the help he (AVB) was giving police.

 “I am not exactly delighted,” said the lawyer, “that another Yid would assist police against an accused no matter whatever he is accused of. That is the reason why I was very disappointed, because there is a tradition, if not a religious requirement, that you do not assist against Abraham.”

 No, this is not a religious requirement. There is a religious requirement to protect the hurt and advocate for the disenfranchised. Although there is no precedent set for ‘Assisting Against Abraham’ on this scale, even the concept begs the question, who is Abraham?

It seems to follow that when a Jew has information on another Jew, he keeps quite out of solidarity. Standard pack mentality. It seems to suggest the notion that Assisting Against Abraham, dobbing in a wrong-doer, is throwing ‘One of Us’ under the bus. If that is the message ‘Assisting Against Abraham’ stands for, where does the onus for protection lie? Seemingly with the perpetrator. Throwing a perpetrator under the bus is not traitorous, it’s retribution. By not speaking up it is the victim who is thrown under the bus by default. Is he or she not Abraham?

In the times of the Ir’ai Miklat,  the cities of refuge for those who had committed crimes perpetrators were kept outside of society and yet still afforded life. It’s a kibbutz style prison. There is no Ir Mikla to send these perpetrators to, to protect our community. Instead, we exiled the victims to live in their own world of isolation. The decision making process is more than flawed, we have been burnt by our board.

The popular Yiddish phrase Tracht Gut Ven Zein Gut, Think good and it will be good, has become bastardised over time. ‘Think good, and it will be good.’ It’s premise being straightforward, it’s message highlighting the power of thought. Somehow the concept of  Tracht gut ven Zein gut became redefined as Out of sight, Out of mind; It’s all going to work out in the end; Someone else will take care of it. This simple saying  inadvertently allowed a generation of people to turn the other cheek and place all their faith, and their vulnerable, in the hands of people they should have been able to trust ,who, in hindsight, were out of their depth. We let the ‘thinking good’ fester into a deluded false sense of security and it’s come back to bite us in the behind. But another Chabad-Jewish principle is that the thought must eventually lead to action, otherwise what is a thought?

Listening to a story tape for kids, a teacher tells a story of The Alter Rebbe, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe. In the story, as in most of these stories from Russia, A Simple Jew (capitalised because this is actually his name for emphasis) is wrongly accused of theft. His friends warn him that his judge is not Jewish, and this foreshadows great peril for said Simple Jew.

This story is an accurate depiction of life in pre 1989 Russia. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain things were not only bleak, they were vehemently hostile. A Jewish person going before a judge of any kind for the most minute of crimes would result in some kind of jail time at best. Think pre civil rights America. But thankfully, unlike post civil rights America, that is not a reality we are faced with today. So why are our children being told stories still depicting that life? As a lesson in history is somewhat understandable. To understand where you are going, you must know where you come from. But as a soothing story over rest time? There is a wound in the fabric of our society and  continually breeding distrust of the authorities will only tear it apart further. It’s not just a children’s story, It’s our children.

This is an example of subconscious truths we raise our children with. Our society is evolving, and has been for generations and generations, our relationships to greater society need to change. The paranoia of the authorities that we so rightfully developed over generations is now superfluous and has instead created a new threat much closer to home.

As the old adage goes: Absolute power corrupts, Absolutely. When put on the stand, the mindset that allowed room for  ‘trucht gut ven zein gut’ to represent a community that forfeited their say to powers that be, and cultivated an attitude of complacency rather than affirmative action, has been found wanting. It’s time for the thought to become an action. To create new, trusted ties and demand results when they are promised.

In light of the allegations, before the royal commission was even a glimmer in anyone’s nightmare, the community has been changing. As the first story broke in 2012, just as parents were sending their children to camp, a viral video came out presenting a string of Rabbis, heads of camps and Directors, supporting staff and safety. The clip was released in anticipation of the upcoming summer camps. For the first time people were standing up and saying ‘We’re looking out for you, We won’t ignore this.You are our priority, Honestly.’ The entire bureaucratic system has been remodeled within schools from creche to high school. More than PR for the schools, the community itself is under construction.

When one belongs to a community so small that, even after being afforded a pseudonym through the court, you are still recognisable, and make no mistake, when he got on the stand, we all knew who AVB was – voice masking and all, speaking out is understandably terrifying. The families that have come forward are heros simply for setting the precedent of honesty. We now have the opportunity to create a partnership, a meeting ground between our communities values and the civil authorities. If we breed mistrust, we will reap mistrust.

These are crimes that we can no longer hide from. And finally, we aren’t trying to. That is the only way that our thoughts and intentions will lead to real, lasting action.