Career Advice – NOT!

An email arrives out of the digital ether – “can you help me make a decision on whether I should leave BIGCO in order to join NEWCO?”

I’ve lost track of the number of colleagues, former graduate students, friends and family who are kind enough to ask me this question.

The challenge is to never answer the question, rather the response is to suggest a process for arriving at an answer.

So this gray rainy day at the end of a glorious Seattle summer, I share the following:

You need to go through both a head and a heart process.  With the head process you want to do an analytical or A/B comparison between the two opportunities.  Make a list of things that you can assess on a 1 to 5 scale and then rate the two opportunities. You are looking to see if they are marginally the same or quite far apart.

You might also create three columns that are time horizons for how you think each opportunity will play out. The first is immediately, the second is two to three years out, and the third is five years out.

As you look at this list reflect on your career objectives and/or your life intentions and then check to see that the list is complete and whether any of your ratings change.

Then reflect from the heart.  Here you want to do more meditation stuff.  Just let your mind be blank and pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that surface.

I’ve attached a document, “Should I Stay or Should I go?” that has several meditations.  I would first read through AND listen online to Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech.  Then I would go to page 11 and do the “Ideal Walk in the Woods” exercise.  You might also be interested in the four human centers exercises as well on page 13.

The opening up of the reflective windows starts with getting in touch with your dream. The eloquence of Martin Luther King works like magic each time someone engages with the material with an open heart.

martin luther king

“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Finding Your Sword

While the meditations in the “Should I stay or should I go?” document will help you answer your question right now, you should also be thinking about what you are going to do with your talents.

For many years, I worked diligently to figure out “what to do with my sword (my talents).” Yet, I was never comfortable or fully committed to the paths forward that I came up with. Every so often I would go back and re-read The Pilgrimage to see if I could figure out what Coelho had decided to do with his sword.  Try as I might, I couldn’t find anything in the text that let me know what Coelho decided.

Then I realized that I didn’t even know what my sword was.  There wasn’t one core question in the book, but rather two:

  • What is my sword?
  • What do I do with my sword?

I decided to use a different process from personal reflection to get at these two questions – I would seek wisdom and guidance from those colleagues, family and friends who knew me best.  I sent out the following email:

Dear treasured colleague,

I recently re-read Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage for the third time.  The book is about a journey that Paulo took in Spain to the shrine of San Tiago.

The Pilgrimage: A Contemporary Quest for Ancient Wisdom by Paulo Coelho

From the first reading, I have endeavored to come to the insights of Coelho that life is not about acquiring a sword, but about figuring out what to do with the sword.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to answer the same question – what am I going to do with my sword?

Yet on this re-reading I had to laugh at myself as I realized I had not ever asked the question, what is my sword?  No wonder I couldn’t answer the second question.

As someone who I trust and value and who has known me for a long time, I would appreciate some help in your point of view on “what is my metaphorical sword?”  What do you think is my best skill?  What is my special gift in this world?  What is it that I’m really good at?

Thanks ahead of time for your insights.



I was stunned by the seriousness and depth that my treasured colleagues returned.

From my oldest daughter Elizabeth came this prized response:

“Ok, so I have been thinking about this for a few days and here is what I have come up with…

(It is quite possible that my perspective has been shaped by your note about how “A vine is a machine for transforming terroir into stories” and by the “Digital Wizard” story and I am a shameless copycat.  But perhaps there is something useful in what follows nonetheless.)

“You have many talents. From my perspective, the keystone in all of these is that you identify (and create) stories and communicate them to relevant individuals far earlier in the unfolding “tale” than anyone else is able to.  And this lets you shape the story more than most others. I would wager that what allows you to do this is your ability to be open + curious to new people and ideas (ie: true enjoyment of “networking” in the deeper sense), and your tendency to be humble + interested enough with the people who matter that they want to teach you about new fields (ie: you don’t seem to pigeon-hole yourself into one domain).  And you “get” how business works, so you are able to write some of these stories in the marketplace.  You also have passion — you care about the underlying story — which gets you very excited at times, but also very upset when someone else comes in and starts editing with a giant black marker.

“To be totally low-brow: What you do best can be likened to reading a Clive Cussler book.  You know how these books start off with four seemingly unrelated chapters occurring many years apart?  Some of us need the connections spelled out in the later chapters, while other readers can predict the connections right away.  It seems to me that you are in the latter category, in terms of reading real life events.  You are able to grasp unrelated interactions and see the story weaving through many disparate events about 10 years (+/- 5 years) earlier than anyone else in related fields is able to.  You see the arc of the story line before most of us have even identified the main players.  And you appear to have a good memory for remembering key players in earlier chapters, to bring them back into the story when the time is right.

“You have said yourself a number of times that you have had to figure out how to “lead” people to see the story line in your head by “planting seeds” that will eventually sprout to get them to get themselves to a place that they can’t be dragged to.

“So, perhaps you are a farmer of ideas. (And after refraining from using a witty comment about “hammering swords into plowshares” I think my work here is done.  ;)

However, the response that helped the most came from a longtime product marketing colleague, Mason White:

“Your sword? I have had most of a flight to pare this down to a bumper sticker.

Your sword is sword-making.

How Skip makes swords:

Reading, listening, observing and discussing BROADLY and then reflecting to better frame the problems at hand, understand the relevant environment and synthesize a set of plausible potential solutions. Developing a set of definable concepts and vocabulary to improve communication about the problem, environment and solutions.

Wash, rinse, repeat to sort through the impacts of the candidate solutions. Present the choice space and a recommendation.

How many times do you suppose you have done this as a student, employee, teacher, consultant, executive, mentor and parent?”

As you combine your head (analytic) responses and your heart reflections, pay attention to how your energy is flowing as you shift your focus between the two choices.

Always remember what a gift it is that you actually have a choice.  You will not go wrong which ever path you choose.


For a humorous look at the wonderful world of innovation and new ventures, check out Fl!p and the gang at Fl!p Comics.

This entry was posted in Flipped Perspective, Learning, Paulo Coelho, Spiritual, Values. Bookmark the permalink.

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