There you are sitting on your death bed. Yep, you had a good life. And although many people have come to visit you and feel sad for you, you aren’t sad. You are content. You did absolutely everything you wanted to do and had a ton of happiness along the way. If you had to live your life over again, you can’t think of one single thing you would do differently. It was perfect. …Really?
Well, I’m sure none of us will be on our death beds thinking life was perfect, but we don’t want to be there being regretful for so many things either. We don’t want to be there hoping that this is just a bad dream because there are so many things we didn’t get done! No, that’s not a good state to be in either during your final moments. But maybe somewhere in between the perfect life and the one full of regrets is one that is just right. Is it? Only you can answer that.
So, your 95 year old self gets one chance to come back to present day, right now, and give you advice. What would elder you say to current you?
“Don’t work so hard” or “get a job”?
“Was that argument really that important? It wasn’t.”
“Did you really have to be right?” “Could you just let someone else be right for once?”
“Don’t wake up unhappy.”
“Smile a little more.”
“Time flies; don’t put off your goals.”
“Be nicer to people.”
“Spend time with your family.”
“That project, I forget its name. It has been many years. Anyway, that project you worked late evenings and nights for, it wasn’t worth it. Your family and especially your kids needed you at home.”
Those are some suggestions. I’m sure you can come up with your own. My point, and the point of a recent training class I took (that ironically was sponsored by my employer, Microsoft) was to make sure you have your priorities in life set correctly. On your death bed, when you look around, who are you going to see? I guarantee it won’t be anyone from work! It will be family and friends. Hopefully, it will be somebody and not just you, alone in a room. But even if coworkers won’t be by your side in those final hours, that doesn’t mean that you won’t regret how you treated them. So now is the time to make amends.
Make sure you put family first and you allow your team members to do the same. Goals are great to have and being a driver for results is also a great way to have job security. But when you are 95 years old, are you really going to care about the fact that you met a goal now? Are you so focused on driving for results that you don’t realize that you are backstabbing others or throwing them under the bus? Are you so focused on meeting goals at work that you miss seeing your kids accomplish milestones in their lives?
Even if your 95 year old self is alone in that room during those final minutes, you do have one other voice with you, your conscience. Will your conscience say you did everything right in life, or are there some things that occurred where you ignored your good conscience? If you did, then those are your regrets.
I hope that all of you one day get to experience a near-death (or close) experience or something that startles you into understanding that you can’t take anything for granted. Telling you doesn’t do you any good. You have to internalize it. When I was in college, I was a victim of a hit-and-run and was laid up with a broken leg. It could have been worse, but luckily wasn’t. Now, every single time I go for a run, and enjoy the freedom of being able to, feeling my feet pounding on the ground, feeling the movement of my legs, knowing there may be a time in my future where I won’t be able to do this anymore. Bad experiences like that accident can change you, can make you less likely to take things for granted, and can allow you to accomplish goals you otherwise may put off until you are on your death bed regretting them.
Life is important. Happiness is important. If you are like me and get happiness from your job, that’s awesome. Try very hard to hang on to that. If you are like me and feel good about your priorities and getting to spend time with your family and kids, then good for you! Don’t take it for granted, it will change. Change is inevitable. Work will get busy, kids grow up.
For all of you expecting some insights into engineering management from this blog post and instead got to read this philosophical text, don’t disregard it. A good manager thinks about all of this, not just about work, but about life. And about the lives of your employees. Who in your team needs to have a more balanced life so that it’s not all about work? Who in your team is happy with their jobs? Who’s happy and accomplishing their goals and who will be the 95 year old regretful person? At least I know it won’t be me.