From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

A Walk in the “Woulds”

You never find yourself until you face the truth.

Pearl Bailey

I was doing well, running a district office in Denver for a Fortune 500 company. I had a company car, was making good money, was my own boss and could come and go as I pleased.

And I was bored. I was discovering the stress associated with doing something that neither held my attention nor gave me pleasure. I found myself getting into the office by 10:00 A.M. to avoid the rush hour traffic, and leaving by 4:00 P.M. to beat the traffic home. Subtract two hours for lunch, an hour for whatever, and I was working three hours a day.

My wife suggested that I go back to school to get a graduate degree. I took her advice, and my future was forever changed.

I was well-schooled in the world of business, comfortable with a spreadsheet and calculator. But because I had found people so different and so unpredictable, I’d stopped worrying about the people involved in a project with me and focused on just moving forward. Enter Leonard Chusmir, a former executive with Knight-Ridder and a formidable instructor. Leonard taught me that people do matter. He taught me to look behind the drama in people’s lives. He helped me to see better the “why” in what people do or don’t do. The power of his teaching lay not in the ability to analyze others, but in the ability to analyze myself.

Then I met a fellow night-scholar named Bruce Fitch. He ran the Professional Development Program for the Colorado Outward Bound School, and he asked me to participate in an upcoming program. He had a “Rolex” group coming in—senior executives making lots of money. Bruce felt my business background would help supplement the staff’s professional background in mountaineering.

So there I was with a group of “go-getter” executives and managers from a Fortune 500 organization. We’re out in some of the most beautiful land in the world. We’re hiking, we’re climbing, we are having the time of our lives.

I became friends with the group’s senior ranking executive. “Would you like to go for a walk?” he asked me one night. We walked through the clear, star-filled night with the full moon as our guide. I was as content as a person can be, when suddenly, this senior executive started to cry. Then his shoulders started to heave and he appeared to be unraveling. I was schooled in business, not the human heart. We were miles from base camp and I was at a loss as to what to do.

After a while he began to speak of a life lived with no relationship with his wife, his children, or even with himself. “Do you want to know what a day in my life is like?” he asked. “When I finally get home, I have two or three martinis and fall asleep in front of the television, only to wake up and start over the next day. I’ve been dead from the neck down for as long as I can remember. For the first time, on this trip, I feel alive.” And then he thanked me. I realized that this man’s awakening to the poverty of his life was what my experiences, friends and wife had been telling me.

With that insight, I sat at the crossroads between could and would. I could continue to live my life as I had been, or I could choose a life that would make a difference in someone’s life, such as this man’s.

Today, I only work with clients on what they would like to do, not on what they could do. I invite everyone to take a walk in the “woulds.”

Jeff Hoye

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