What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

MG Thinkers 50 Blog

July 27, 2015

by Marshall Goldsmith

Let’s dive into one of my favorite coaching exercises. This exercise will help you determine where you are and who you want to become. I love this exercise. I hope you do too!

First imagine you’re 95 years old. You’re just about to die. You’re given a gift. To go back in time, to this moment and to tell yourself what was really important and what wasn’t, what really mattered and what didn’t. What advice would this wise “old you” have for the “you” who is reading this page?

Take your time. Answer this question on two levels: personal advice and professional advice. Jot down a few words that capture what the old you would say to the young you.

Once you’ve written these words down, the rest is simple: Just do whatever you wrote down. Make it your resolution for the rest of the current year, and the next. You have just defined your “there”!

Though I cannot define “there” for you, I can make a rough prediction about what some features of your “there” will look like. A few years ago, a friend of mine had the opportunity to interview people who were dying and ask them what advice they would have for themselves as a younger person. The answers he got were filled with wisdom.

One recurring theme was to “reflect upon life, to find happiness and meaning now,” not next month, not next year, not when they got the car, promotion, relationship, but right now. Many older people say they were so wrapped up in looking for what they didn’t have that they seldom appreciated what they did have.

A second recurring theme was “friends and family.” Consider this: You may work for a wonderful company and you may think that your contribution to that organization is very important. Yet when you are 95 and you look around at the people at your deathbed, very few of your fellow employees will be there waving goodbye. Your friends and family will probably be the people there, so appreciate them now and share a large part of your life with them.

The third recurring theme was the reflection to “follow your dreams.” Older people who have tried to achieve their dreams are always happier with their lives. Figure out your true purpose in life and go for it! This doesn’t apply just to big dreams; it is also true for little dreams. Few of us will achieve all of our dreams. Some dreams will always elude us. The key question is not, “Did I make all my dreams come true?” The key question is, “Did I try?”

So, now that you have the wisdom of that 95-year-old you, use it! Know that you need to be happy now, to enjoy your friends and family, and to follow your dreams! Let the journey begin.