Setting Life Priorities

Harvard Business Review

November 24, 2007

by Marshall Goldsmith

Imagine that you are on your death bed. Here comes your last breath. But just before you take it, you are given a beautiful gift — the ability to go back in time and give advice to the person reading this column.

What advice would the wise old you — who knows now what’s really important and what isn’t – have for the you that is reading this column.

Whatever you are thinking now: just do that. In terms of performance appraisals, this is the only one that really matters. If the old person on the death bed thinks that you’re the right thing — you are. If that old person thinks that you’re screwing up — you are.

These three themes emerge often in the advice given by older people who are actually facing death:

1. Find happiness and meaning now — not next week, next month or next year. The great Western disease is “I will be happy when … When I have the BMW! The condo! The promotion!” Don’t get so wrapped up in looking at what you don’t have — that you fail to appreciate what you do have.

2. Love your friends and family. When you look around your death bed, no fellow employees are going to be waving goodbye. Understand that friends and family are important. They are the only ones who are and who really matter.

3. If you have a dream, go for it. If you don’t go for it when you are 35 — you may not when you are 45, 65 or 85. None of us are going to achieve all of our dreams. If we do, we will just make up new ones. People who at least tried to achieve their dreams are happier with their lives.

If you ever get confused on what really matters, just take a second and check in with that “old you” who is waiting to die. Keep listening to that person’s wise advice. You won’t regret it later.