Monday, August 25, 2008

Would You Rather Have Your Pinky Toe Cut Off?

We had just spent several sweaty hours at a professional baseball game, and my youngest son was balking at getting in the car for the two-hour drive home. Having gotten a bit carsick on the way to the game, he was negotiating getting a hotel room and staying the night.

All I could think of was a cool shower and the comfort of my own bed, so I stood tough in the face of some serious whining.

"I'll tell you what," I said. "I'll play a game with you on the way home."

"It's dark! We can't see to play anything!" he argued.

"Sure, we can," I said, trying not to let the exhaustion I felt creep into my "enthusiastic mommy" voice. "We'll play 20 questions. It will be fun!"

My son, still in negotiation mode, said: "How about if we play 'which would you rather?'"

Since I had never heard of such a game, I asked him to start us off.

Settled into the cool, dark confines of the back seat and headed home, he launched his first question: "Uh, OK. Which would you rather have: Your pinky toe cut off -- permanently -- or both arms broken and in a cast for a year?"

I was sort of taken aback by the game (was this going to be about missing body parts?) but after a moment's consideration I said: "Well, I can do without my pinky toe. It's not like I would fall over without it. And I'd hate to be in two casts for a year. Think of all the bad hair days. I'll go with the pinky toe."

For the next two hours, we played the game. My husband and other son quickly joined in. At times the questions were fun: Which would my 13-year-old son rather do -- carry a Hannah Montana backpack to school or have his head shaved? Would my oldest rather have a date with Jessica Alba or get a new Porshe?

Often, the questions to me were about my career: Which would I rather do, work for the former boss who yelled at me a lot or the other past boss who was sneaky and mean?

While giving up my pinky toe was a pretty easy decision, some of the queries were much more tough. My initial response would often come to a halt as I pondered aloud some questions about where I wanted to go in my career and my life.

I was struck by how simple the questions were, but how much they clarified the things that I found truly important. It wasn't one of those cases where I said, "Oh, gee, I can't make up my mind. I don't know whether I'd want to work for the yelling boss -- who could be nice at times -- or the sneaky and mean boss." I knew I'd rather work for someone who was openly a jerk than someone who gave snakes a bad name. (It dawned on me that was probably why I had recently decided not to apply for a job where the management had a bad reputation. To me, the money was not worth the stress of a snarky boss and I'd rather put my energy into something else.)

In the last couple of days, I've thought a lot about the game my family played on that summer night. I not only learned a lot about myself, but also about what others thought I considered important. They also learned a lot about me.

So, on this Monday morning, I'm going to ask you to play "which would you rather." Spend some time playing this game with people who are close to you. You're going to be amazed at what you'll learn about yourself:

1. Which would you rather have: Three months doing a job you really hate -- for a lot of money -- or a job for a year that you love, but for much less money?

2. Which would you rather have: A prestigious award from your industry or a 25 percent pay raise?

3. Which would you rather have: Three weeks vacation at a destination of your choice or your boss giving you much more recognition?

4. Which would you rather have: Being able to work on an important project or everyone getting along at work?

5. Which would you rather have: Catered lunches for a month or an hour alone with the CEO to tell him/her your ideas?

What would you answer and why?


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Anonymous said...

1. 3 mos @ a lousy job you hate for a lot of $ or 1 yr fun job?

3 mos at a lousy job. that's not a long time and the money gives you freedom long term

2. A prestigious award from your industry or a 25% raise?

Award will get you a better job long term with more money

3. 3 wks vaca @ ideal spot or more boss recognition?

Boss recognition. Small daily treats are better than a few week vacations. And the recognition will pay off long term

4. Work on an important project or everyone getting along at work?

Getting along. Daily pleasures are better than daily stress.

5. Catered lunches for a month or 1 hr w CEO yakking about your ideas.

Depends on your ideas and the CEO, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Boy, Anita ... you're making me think hard on a Monday morning! Great questions; here are my answers:

1. I'd rather do a job I love for less money. If I'm not happy at work, I'm probably not happy at home either.

2. Industry recognition. While not as tangible right now, it's likely to transfer to much greater benefits for the future.

3. The vacation. 3 weeks wherever I want is just too irresistible! BTW: You had me at "3 weeks"!

4. Co-workers getting along. I may not be as productive as I'd like on the important project if people around me are bickering all the time.

5. I'd go for the hour with the CEO. Who needs lunch anyway?!

Anita said...

Recruiting Animal,
Thanks for playing along. In answer to the last question, you brought up a good point...are you prepared to talk to the CEO, and do you even want to? Do you have good ideas ready if the opportunity presents itself? Something many of may not even consider...

Anita said...

Interesting to see how your answers differ from Recruiting Animal. I felt more at peace with myself after playing this game -- sort of like a gut check of who I am and where I want to go. Ask someone close to you if they can guess what you answered....
Thanks for playing!

Anonymous said...

1. A job for a year that you love: I'm not interested in being a personal tax accountant, beside I probably waste 6 months out of those 9 by procrastinating.

2. A prestigious award from your industry: What george said... (look above)

3. More recognition: I'm on of those people who don't use up the vacation anyways, I have enough for now.

4. Everyone getting along at work: It can cut out a quarter of time in all projects + less politics, beside I will figure out a way to get into that important project, somehow.

5. An hour alone with the CEO to tell him/her your ideas: I can use this opportunity to create or get into that important project + I can just order my own lunch.
Another 'Would you rather':
If you know you are leaving the company. Would you rather leave the company now OR stay for a juicy project for months before leaving?

Anonymous said...

Quite the provocative topic, Anita! For me, the answers to 1, 2 and 3 are easy: the job I love for less money, the prestigious award, and more recognition. All three offer potential for better gains down the road. If I'm in a job I hate, am going nowhere, but being paid more handsomely than I expected, being miserable is just not worth it, especially if it affects your life outside work, as well as your health. Taking it to an extreme, if work can kill you, all that money is worthless.

Questions 4 and 5? That depends on the workplace culture (No. 4) and how receptive the CEO is to your ideas (No. 5). If your company has hired right and looks for "cultural fit" in its potential employees, then getting along may never be a problem, and tackling projects can come easily. And if the CEO is a boorish control freak, go ahead and feed me while I look for another job. :-)

Anita said...

Oh, that last one you came up with is a GOOD one! My first inclination is to go ahead and leave right away, because I hate long goodbyes. But if I think more about it, a juicy project would be worth staying for because it would be such a benefit in the long run. Very thought provoking...thanks!

Anita said...

I know plenty of people who say they hate their jobs, but stay because they need the money. I wonder how they would answer such questions. As I get older, I am much less inclined to take jobs I don't like. When I was younger, I always thought I could tough it out, but now I don't WANT to tough it out. Interesting how bad jobs can change your perspective.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

1. A job for a year (or longer) that I really really love, whatever the money! About 4 years ago, I was seriously pushed to rethink my priorities, and the money is pretty low on the list since...

2. The pay raise will never lead to the award; the award may lead to the pay raise...

3. I have no boss and I can take vacation where and when I want, but... the recognition of a client goes a long way!

4. As a project manager, I'd try to get everyone happy and motivated to work on that important project, but if tensions should build, then our personal lives are far more important than any project!

5. From experience, 20 minutes with that CEO may open the door to many many lunches...

Anita said...

I have found it interesting in this conversation to see how many people really want a job that offers them an industry award -- they desire recognition not only from the boss but from their peers. And, they see it as a step toward future benefits. But I wonder which they desire more -- simply the recognition, or the money?
Thanks for making me look deeper at this issue.

Anonymous said...

It took me just a few minutes to answer these questions yesterday, I didn't even have to think about the answers, and I have been wondering why it seemed so easy/straightforward whilst some of the questions could actually point to difficult tradeoffs.

Today I realized the questionnaire ignores an important dimension, which in real life is complicating our choices: uncertainty!

The choices presented here seem to be between certainties: Would you rather take that holiday or get that recognition? What is worth most to you? Easy! But in real life, we are often uncertain about the options and the outcomes? If I could work on that (all-important/challenging/extraordinary) project, how would the team cope with the deadlines and the stress?, Who would be the project manager?, Is he experienced enough?, Can I trust him/her to take care of the human side of things?, etc.

Anita said...

Yes, there are uncertainties, but that was a cool part of the game. You couldn't ask these just had to play it out in your mind and decide what was important to you. Maybe the destination of your choice would be in the midst of a typhoon...but was it the time away that was the most important thing? And, here's the real clincher -- it got you thinking about your career and your life. And, the fact that you joined the conversation again today proves that the game did just that for you!