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Mona, director of engineering for a mid-size software startup, sat in her office, depressed.

“I have five more hours to make the biggest decision of my life,” she said to herself. “And I don’t have any idea how to proceed.”

She decided to look in on William, her head of product. As she went down the hall to his office, she noticed the office seemed like one big party. She knocked on William’s door jamb.

“Come on in,” William said. “You’re not celebrating?”

“No, I’m not. Everyone else seems ecstatic with the direction our new chief executive officer is taking this company. But, I’m not certain that’s where I want to go.”

“Ah.” William nodded knowingly. “And our new leader-in-chief doesn’t want to hear that.”

“No. He’s made it clear we’re all to get behind the new direction without question. If I’m going to leave, I feel I should tell him before the board meeting tonight. I don’t know how to decide.”

“Would you like some help with that?”

“Yes, please.”

What matters to you?

“What is most important to you about your job?” William asked.

“The people.”

“What about the people?”

“I’m providing them a place to apply their creativity.”

“What is important to you about that?”

“We are all creative. The world needs our creativity. I give my people a way to support themselves, do what they love, and further our business goals, all at the same time.”

“What is important to you about that?”

“Two things: one, we need a world that supports itself if we are to make it an equitable place; and two, if our business doesn’t make enough of a profit, it’s not supporting any of us.”

“So, you want your employees to make a good living from their creative sides?”

“Yes. We’re all happier the more we’re engaging our creativity.”

“And what’s important to you about us all being happy?”

“The happier we are, the more innovative we tend to be.”

“What’s important to you about being innovative?”

“Innovation is what drives breakthroughs. If we give our customers a breakthrough on their problems, they’ll come in swarms.”

“What’s important to you about swarms of customers?”

This stumped Mona. “I don’t know. I would have thought I’d say that’s how we support ourselves, through their purchases. But, that takes me back to where we’ve already been. Also, I didn’t say swarms of paying customers.” She pondered this quietly for a minute. “Impact. Swarms of customers mean we’re having an impact.”

“And what’s important to you about having an impact?”

“The world is becoming a better place.”

“What’s important to you about improving the world?”

“It will disappear if we don’t improve it fast.”

“What’s important to you about keeping the world around?”

“We don’t have a second planet to escape to. We must save this one, or we’re all extinct. Huh.” She sat back, reflecting. “So, my decision comes down to whether continuing to lead this engineering organization or moving to a different company seems most likely to keep the world around.”

“It might come down to that,” William agreed. “At the very least, that’s one critical factor involved.”

What signals your best option?

“I still don’t know how to decide,” Mona moaned. “How can I ever know whether one company or another will better help the world thrive? I can’t forecast which company will succeed or fail. Just because one seems poised to revolutionize renewable energy, feed the world, or some other awesome achievement, doesn’t mean it will. I’m no better off now than when I knocked on your door.”

“I don’t know how to predict that either,” William said. “I disagree that you’re no better off. At the very least, you know that’s something you care about. You can at least estimate the likelihood a particular company will make the world a better place.”

“That’s true,” Mona decided. “For whatever else I value, too. That doesn’t feel like enough to make a decision this dramatic, though.”

“You make impactful decisions every day,” William pointed out. “How do you decide which projects to fund and which projects to cancel? How do you decide who to promote? How do you decide which meeting to attend when you’re triple-booked?”

“The right answer has a glow about it,” Mona answered without hesitation.

“Why wouldn’t that also be the case in deciding whether to stay or resign?”

“Well…it already does. But I’m not certain I trust it.”

“What’s different with this decision, versus all those other big decisions where you do trust it?”

“I have lots of experience telling me it’s accurate in all those other cases. I don’t have that experience about my career.”

“Has the glow ever led you wrong?”

“I don’t know how to know. I can’t A/B test life,” Mona said with a laugh. “But, those decisions have always worked out reasonably well at the very least. Very well, oftentimes.”

“So, maybe you can trust it with your career, too?”

“Maybe. Probably. I’m not sure.”

What is your backup plan?

“What needs to be in place for you to trust the glow about this career decision?”

“I guess I need a backup plan. Some way to know I’m safe if the decision turns out to be horribly wrong.”

“What would that feel like?”

“A backup plan? An easy exit from the job. Enough money saved up to carry me while I find a new job. Support from my family for taking the chance.”

“How can you get each of those?”

“I can simply ask my family. Probably they’ll give me the support unhesitatingly. The money, I just need to do a few calculations and then check bank balances. The easy out, I’m not sure. Knowing I’m not leaving my team in the lurch. Not being embarrassed to duck out after just a few days, or weeks. A few other things, I’m not sure what.”

“Do you believe you can get each of those?”

“Yes,” Mona replied with confidence. “With a little thought, I can get everything I need.”

“In the next five hours?”

“If that’s all I do for the rest of the day, yes.”

“Are you able to do that? Focus on this and cancel or skip everything else?”

“Yes. Nothing I’ll miss will matter if I don’t get this decision made.”

You have everything you need to decide

Mona looked at William, feeling hopeful for the first time since the announcement of the new company direction. “Thank you, William, for helping me find my way through this decision. Understanding what’s important to me about my job helps me know which aspects to consider as I ponder what to do. Knowing the glow that signals my best option for other choices will probably also do the same here reduces my anxiety. And being confident in the support of my family and the rest of my backup plan reminds me I’m okay whichever way I decide.”

“We always have everything we need to move forward,” William said. “Sometimes, we need a little help recognizing that. I’m glad I could provide that help today. Please let me know what you decide.”

Mona turned back as she left William’s office. “I certainly will.”

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