Good advice isn't truly good unless it is taken. And sometimes, deep inside, lie unanticipated consequences.
In the prime of my career, around age 40, I faced two enviable options. One was to remain in a decent job with a company that thought enough of me to send me to graduate school at a big name university back east. The other was to take a secondment abroad, sponsored by the aforementioned company, for a four year, handsomely financed stint in London.
In my youth I rarely sought or took advice. It wasn't that I trusted my own intuition so much as I cowered beneath a shroud of timidity. My father had disappeared when I was in high school, victim of premature artery disease, and from then on I cast a jaundiced eye toward anyone pretending to fill his role. It was my own shortsightedness, but there it was.
So when I encountered these two generous offers from my employer, both with strict expiration dates discouraging procrastination, I went out on a limb and sought advice from a long time friend of the family, a big deal executive at a big deal company. He carried credentials swathed in money and ivy league diplomas. Plus he was a good guy and I knew my dad held him in high esteem.
I quickly outlined my predicament on the phone that day, fully cognizant of the value of his time. He proceeded to ask two key questions: Was I afraid to move abroad? I answered yes, I was, partly due to a comfortable life in the midwest with a good salary and two children under the age of four. His second question gave me more pause: How would I feel if, at age 80, I sat around lamenting the fact that I passed on an opportunity to live abroad in a dazzling city? And on top of that, how would I feel if all I had to show for it was a lousy diploma that claimed I was pretty well schooled in the mundane art of business? "I've only every truly regretted things I chose not to do," he said in his board room patois. "You can always go to business school, even when you're 80."
I took heed. I sold my house and cars, said goodbye to our friends, and headed with family in tow for The Old Blighty. Over the ensuing years I enjoyed tremendous professional success, adopting London as if it were my own, covering exotic business assignments in exotic places, and grew personally beyond measure. However, my personal life blew up spectacularly when my wife tired of my travel and lust for our new life and moved home to marry an old boss; a horrific outcome. It took me years to regain my footing, and I'm still dealing with the detritus of divorce. But at the end of the day, our old family friend's advice was right for me. There were cracks in the marriage to begin with. Living abroad merely expedited its rupture. But it also left me with a broader understanding of the world and myself. At the end of the day, I would change nothing. I have no regrets. And I shudder at the thought of business school.