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September 21, 2015

Why This Millionaire CEO Quit His Job (And What He Taught Me About Priorities)

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This is Mohamed El Erian’s mansion in Laguna Beach, California:

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He was the CEO at PIMCO — a global investment firm worth $2 trillion — where he was known as a fearless leader making global impact in the financial sector. 

Then out of the blue … he shocked the financial world: 

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Everyone wanted to know, why? Why would he suddenly resign without warning? What happened? Was he involved in a trading scandal? Did he get fired? Is he going to jail?

Not quite. Mohamad El Erian resigned for one simple reason:

His 10-year-old daughter presented him with a list of 22 milestones he had missed in her life.

Heartbroken and devastated at what his 10-year-old daughter just handed him … he stared at the piece of paper in shame. He had missed:

  Her first day of school

  Her first soccer match

  A parent-teacher conference meeting

  A Halloween parade

The list, sadly, went on to list 18 more events he had missed in her life thus far. After the initial humiliation wore off, he tried to justify it:

I felt awful and got defensive. I had a good excuse to miss each event! Travel, important meetings, an urgent phone call, sudden to-dos …

But then he became brutally honest with himself:

As much as I could rationalize it — as I had rationalized it — my work-life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my very special relationship with my daughter. I was not making enough time for her.

Shortly after, Mohamed El Erian resigned as the CEO of PIMCO to spend more time with his daughter. Happy with his decision so far, he’s encouraged others to take time and reflect on their priorities:  

Hopefully, as companies give more attention to the importance of work-life balance, more and more people will be in a better position to decide and act more holistically on what’s important for them.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. It’s easy to forget why we are working so hard. So through Mohamed El Erian’s story, I try to apply his lesson to my everyday life …

Always make time for what matters in the end.

I wonder when I’m laying on my deathbed, which will I remember?

  • My daughter scoring the first goal in her first soccer game … or working late to optimize a presentation I had the next day.
  • Saving money to fly out to my best friend's destination wedding in Thailand … or saving money for a new Mustang convertible.
  • Flying to San Francisco to potentially close a business meeting … or flying to Michigan to support my uncle through chemotherapy.

Of course, there are opportunity costs for everything. Choose one option, forego the other. We are constantly trying to achieve this magical formula:

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But somehow, it always feels like this:

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It’s called work-life balance for a reason. It’s difficult to balance time between the two. Yet in the end, work is not ends to a mean … but means to an end.

Sure, we can (and should) be passionate about our career. About setting goals. About surpassing goals. About our progress. About change we’re making to the world, or in our industry.

But in the end, where pure happiness lies, is our relationships with those we love most. For validation, here are the most common regrets from the dying (as reported by a nurse in hospice care):

1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

Notice a pattern?

Relationships are at the core of not only our happiness, but our regrets. So when confronted with conflicting options, I ask myself the following — what decision will I not regret when laying on my deathbed?

Then I choose that option.

Our life is a collective summary of the thousands of decisions we make every day. Yet if we make conscious decisions, rooted in long-term thinking, we won’t stumble into the mid-life crisis experienced by Mohamed El Erian. Or worse yet, a late-life crisis, regretting decisions after it’s too late.

In other words, if we prioritize now, it’s impossible to feel regret later.

Mohamad El Erian's story has profoundly shifted my priorities in life. Perhaps it will impact yours as well. 

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Topics: Productivity

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