by Arbinger founder C. Terry Warner
Note: We have chosen to re-publish this piece, originally written in 2001, because it so clearly illustrates what it means to put an outward mindset into practice. Keith’s difficult decision highlights that it is not always easy to live an outward mindset. Yet when we do, we know deep in ourselves that it was the right choice. Enjoy!
One day some years ago, Keith, the creative director for a major advertising agency, phoned me for advice. The team he headed had been responsible for an eminently successful advertising campaign for a client I’ll call X company. As a result of Keith’s success, he had received an offer from an even larger and more prestigious advertising agency to become its creative director – to take one of the most coveted creative positions in one of the most successful organizations in his business. He told officials at X Company of his intention to switch firms and they said, “We’ll switch with you” – meaning they would shift their business to the new agency that had offered Keith the job.
Disaster. Keith’s present agency had unwisely become so dependent upon the X Company account that losing it would mean the agency would have to close some of its offices. Keith’s friends and advisers insisted that he jump at this once-in-a-lifetime employment opportunity. But then he began to think about the many people an office closure would throw out of work, people he knew, people in the mail room, on the production teams and custodial crews, and so on, some of them struggling, some without any good employment options. What should he do?
I would not have advised him in such a personal decision even if I had been confident in my opinion. But I could respond to the tone of his voice. It evoked an image in my mind, which I described to him. In this image, an expensive book of photographs lay open on a table.
The full-page picture on the right was of Keith surrounded by many admirers – he was the focal point; the picture was about him.
The picture on the left, in which he did not appear at all, showed only the people he had been concerned about.
After I described the two photographs I waited through a long pause. Finally Keith said to me, “That’s the most important thing anyone has said to me.”
Then came another pause, even longer. “But it is such agony,” he said.
“Perhaps a few lines from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets might help,” I responded. (In line 2, the word pyre means a pile of wood for burning someone or something.)
The only hope, or else despair,
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre – …
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
“Keith,” I said, “whichever choice you make, a part of you is going to die. The only question is, which part?”
He did not take the job.
To live an outward mindset, we must let the self-deceptive parts of ourselves die.