Know When To Run

By Jillian Vorce from The Jillian Group
Adapted from 20/20 Mind Sight by Jillian Vorce and Phil Fragasso

A few years ago I received a call from a colleague inviting me to a meet-and-greet with some high-level state politicians. The woman had been asked to access her network and introduce people who would make effective political candidates. She said mine was one of the first names that came to mind and I agreed to attend. The night of the event, I made a conscious decision to focus solely on listening and observing. I deliberately suspended my own thoughts and judgments about the various topics being discussed, and I monitored my feelings as I listened. Some of what I learned that night intrigued me to the point that I agreed to a one-on-one meeting with a prospective campaign manager. When he asked if I could see myself as an elected State Representative, I said, “Absolutely. If I do choose to run for office, I will win. Period.”

I attended several additional meetings with other state politicians and operatives, and realized they were making assumptions and jumping to conclusions about who I was and the perceived value I could provide their cause. They were seeing me through a self-serving lens. This caused an epiphany of sorts. I took a big step back and asked myself this: If all these people describe me as such, is that in fact who I am? The answer was obvious. I was not who they needed me to be – nor did I want to become that person. I began to feel totally disconnected from these people. Their polarized perspective reminded me of a grade-school playground. I would be on the “Yellow” team and the party line was that they were way better than the “Green” team. It struck me as an “Us vs. Them” pep rally, and I wanted no part of it.

At one level it was an easy decision – these were not my people. On the flipside, however, I’ve never been a quitter and that aspect of it bothered me. Really bothered me. The more I thought about it, my misgivings about walking away from this opportunity had more to do with society than with me. We’ve all heard the adage that “winners never quit and quitters never win.” I’d always viewed myself as gritty – someone who could face down any challenge – and I viewed that character trait as a guiding principle in my life. But I also understood that it’s okay to walk away from opportunities that aren’t a good fit. I realized that quitting – or refusing to start in the first place – is sometimes the only thing to do. Every opportunity we choose to pursue represents another opportunity we won’t have the time or resources to pursue. Every decision represents a trade-off. More of this means less of that. It’s a delicate balancing act between ambition and genuine purpose. For me, the best way to maintain that balance is to listen to the unfiltered information my heart and mind are feeding me. How do I feel about the trade-offs? Am I being motivated by the desire to contribute to the greater good or is it merely a personal ego trip? Does the opportunity bring me one step closer to my long-term aspirations and personal goals?

I realized that had I chosen run for office – regardless of whether I won or lost – the campaign would have permanently morphed my personal brand and compromised the person I’d worked so hard to become.

Here’s how I got to that decision. I conducted a “pre-mortem.” The “post-mortem” is a well-known organizational technique to review the good and bad of a completed project. It’s akin to a medical autopsy to determine the cause of death; but just like an autopsy, it does nothing to benefit the now-deceased patient or the completed project. The post-mortem is designed to identify problems so as to not repeat them; the pre-mortem identifies problems and issues before they arise. Like most people, I seem to be hardwired to charge ahead and get working on a project without thinking it through to the end. “Time’s a wasting” is my all-too-frequent battle cry, and I bet it’s yours as well. But it wasn’t the approach advocated by one of the greatest minds that’s ever lived. Albert Einstein described his decision-making process like this: “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”

Einstein valued the pre-mortem more than the post-mortem – and who am I to argue with his genius? Like Einstein, I’ve decided that good decisions and effective solutions can only arise from an in-depth analysis of the problem/issue – before getting to work on it.

In my personal and professional lives, I begin by asking why and why not. I try to thoroughly consider the ramifications of my words and actions. I strive to see both the forest and the trees. I want to ensure that I recognize both opportunities and black holes for what they are. I won’t be able to avoid every black hole – like the opportunity to run for office – but I will be more confident in seizing genuine opportunities when they arise.

In my mind it all boils down to one simple principle: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It’s worked for me, and I hope it does for you as well.