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:


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