Q. After a successful career and a sabbatical, I thought about what mattered, and I’ve decided I’d like to spend my time working with a nonprofit. How do I go about that?
—Former executive at a Fortune 100 company
This is a good question. And one that spurs me to ask you one: Do you know what success looks like for you at the next stage of your journey? I like to use an exercise where you picture yourself onstage in front of work colleagues or people whom you admire the most from your industry. You have the opportunity to tell them your story: all of the challenges, all of the accomplishments, all of the choices you’ve made. When you are finished, you get to see their reactions. There are only three choices:
- They are amazed.
- They think that this is what you should have accomplished.
- They are unimpressed.
Clearly, we know which camp you want them in. What does “amazed” look like to you? What would you view as wild success?
I am encouraging you to think about this because you are at a seminal point. And, I think you need to be careful. You are a successful executive, which means there are a lot of people who will want your talent and time. When you were in your previous role people knew you were busy, so they didn’t expect to command your time. Now they will. Therefore, you have to have a very high bar on what you are interested in and where you want to invest your time.
Too often I see good people get stuck in things they don’t want to do and that are hard to escape. Don’t put yourself in that position. You have earned the opportunity to make choices. I suggest you test out a variety of opportunities to find things that are soul food. You are not starting one new job. That means that you can build a portfolio of many things you want to do.
This also gives you a chance to test things out before you join something formally and fully. Spend a day a week trying it out before you go all in. And once you determine what you want, carve out the time—you’ll need to make sure you have a swim lane for all of the disparate things that you want to do.
One surprising thing I’ve seen, which is worth noting: Often you think you might enjoy something, but you don’t end up enjoying it once you actually do it. Given that, you need to be able to shed what’s not working and keep your eyes open to all possibilities. Don’t rush into anything—take the time that you’ve earned to test things out and make the right decisions.