January 25, 2020
By Dave Bushy
In his book Fate is the Hunter, Ernest K. Gann describes his career as an airline pilot in the 1930’s and 40’s, flying piston-engine commercial airplanes in all kinds of weather throughout the world. Woven into the book is a theme of evaluating the risks and the rewards of his chosen profession and wondering whether he would remain in what was then a place of everyday danger and peril. Would he ever leave?
As he flew along one night with his copilot, Gann discerned that the man had picked up on his emotions. He wrote:
“And from the special warmth in his eyes I thought he knew what I had been thinking. So I told him without elaboration that I had a silly notion which I intended to honor.
For me, when was now.”
Each of us has times of reflection and reevaluation in our personal and professional lives. And we all struggle with the very same emotions that Gann felt more than 70 years ago. How do we know we have reached the point that “When?” becomes “Now.”
Think about the times in your career you have made professional moves. The easiest ones – while the most disruptive for sure – are when change is thrust upon us. We suddenly get promoted or we find out that we’re being fired, or the company shuts its doors. Change just is, with little or no choice.
The more complex and thornier ones involve choice and decisions and the complexities of our own hearts. And Gann’s words perhaps hold the key to how we approach career decisions: We are best served by honoring ourselves and the process we go through with decisions. Honor to me is integrity and choice in respecting our own beliefs, while exploring our emotions – and then integrating them both. Effectively we honor the process with the unique human capability of connecting the head with the heart. That’s what Gann did with the most difficult decision of his career.
There are a lot of other ways of deciding. You can make all the lists you want, or use Plus/Delta or discuss it with your best friends and colleagues. They are useful and I often learn from clients new ways they have tried. I would never discount them.
Understanding the many factors in a decision is important. Lists can do that. Talking to others is also of great benefit, especially those wise women and men who know how to ask questions and not give us answers. Those are the wise counselors who make a difference in our lives.
And how do we integrate what we know as fact, what we believe might be true, and the intuition and feelings we have about our potential career decisions? What is the right way to go?
That’s the work that we do ourselves, giving ourselves permission to meditate, pray or take that long walk in a quiet place. In coaching we sometimes suggest to clients to imagine a beautiful piece of ground where nothing is yet growing. Metaphorically, work the ground and notice what “figure” emerges for you. Allow curiosity to guide you. Does the figure speak to both your head and your heart? As you work to make meaning to the figure, explore ways you can (again, metaphorically) “fatten” that figure.
Answers oftentimes emerge if we ask ourselves the right questions and give ourselves permission to fully explore our options – effectively, if we “honor” our notions and feelings, just as Gann did so long ago.
Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches – bostonexecutivecoaches.com – is a former U.S. Army officer and senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry.