I was at a friend Richard’s house for dinner the other night and he did something interesting.
It was one of those random potluck dinners where Richard knew each of the guests he invited (duh), but none of the guests knew each other. We were all somewhere in the earlier phases of careers across a smattering of interests - business, education, energy, academia, etc etc.
As everyone settled in (getting through those ever-awkward “Hi, I’m __ , my day job is__ and I enjoy long walks on the beach, how about you?”), Richard brought in a guest to speak. His name was Jeff, a man in his mid-fifties and successful executive of several Fortune 100 companies. From Richard’s introduction, it seemed like Jeff had “made it” - picked the right roles at the right companies to ride into the right career. A bunch of right decisions.
Richard then put Jeff on the spot, asking him tell everyone 1 thing he wish he knew 30 years ago - when he was choosing between what jobs, jumps, and careers to take on.
Jeff’s advice: choose what’s hard.
He described joining a Boston-based tech company out of college, rising up the ranks for a few years before being asked an unenviable task: head to France, work with labor unions and help turn around a fledging piece of the company overseas.
Jeff said it was as tough as he thought it would be. But it was even more than that - it was taxing, perplexing, frightening, filled with challenges that appeared only when he landed on the ground in Paris. I wondered how quickly I would have second-guessed that decision, grabbed a baguette and a flight back to Boston.
And yet Jeff said the decision wasn’t the wrong one - it was, looking back, the best one he could have made: it was that hard, ugly, no fun sludge of work that crafted his skills, honed his abilities, opened his eyes in ways that would shape every step that came later in his career (and life).
On the podcast a couple months back, former eBay CEO John Donahoe said the same thing: as humans we naturally want to avoid hard situations. But that is where we grow. That is where we form our DNA, our fabric to who we are. We don’t get that when the going is green pastures. We get it when the going gets tough.
Jeff wrapped up his point with a suggestion: when you’re faced with a new opportunity, and you’re deciding between taking a jump for it, or staying the course, ask yourself which path would be more tough. Which path would be harder.
And then take that one.