The Road Not Taken: Why Rearview Mirrors Are Bad for Driving Your Career

In this series of posts, Influencers explain how their career paths might have changed. Read all the stories here and write your own (please include the hashtag #RoadNotTaken in the body of your post).

“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window,” proclaimed management consultant and educator, Peter Drucker.

At some point or at many points in our careers, we are presented with an opportunity in which we have to choose which road to take. Lacking the advantage of clairvoyance or 20/20 hindsight, this decision can be a formidable challenge. Should you stay on your current path or venture on a new one?

In the early ‘70s, as an ambitious young executive at Columbia Pictures, I faced this conundrum. I had become increasingly curious outside of my daily work about the emergent video technologies that I believed would affect theatrical media. I took the initiative of investigating, writing and speaking about these innovations in addition to my substantial company workload.

The notoriety my efforts achieved resulted in an unexpected career opportunity

The notoriety my efforts achieved resulted in an unexpected career opportunity. I was offered a job with a large technology company. It was incredibly seductive – an enormous increase in pay, headlines, recognition as an expert, and what appeared to be a far more accelerated route to a top career. But, was it the career I was aiming at? Was it the road I should take?

I paused at this juncture and sought the advice from a wise individual who was not a stakeholder in either opportunity. Rather than tell me what to do, he asked two of the most important questions that would forever impact the trajectory of my career.

What was my passion, and who were its beneficiaries?


My dream was to make movies. My purpose was to move peoples’ hearts. He then told me to take that dream, give it a time limit, and it will become my goal. This meant I had to stay focused on making “the main thing” the “main thing” and rather than take the fork, remain on the road I was on.

I kept the pedal to the metal, never looking back despite the explosive growth of technology and packaged media. I never questioned what “coulda,” “shoulda” or “woulda” been had I taken the other road. Why?

Because rearview mirrors are good for driving cars, but not for driving your career.

Simply because rearview mirrors are good for driving cars, but not for driving your career. Looking back is a waste of time and can cause your business future to crash and burn. Instead, I dedicated myself to realizing my dream, ultimately running studios – Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, Casablanca Record and Filmworks, producing blockbuster, critically acclaimed and Academy-Award nominated or winning films like Rain Man, Batman, Gorillas in the Mist, The Kids Are All Right, The Color Purple and Flashdance, and moving the hearts of millions.

When you spend time agonizing on the career road you didn’t take, the treasures or time bombs that might have developed, you are engaging in self-flagellation that no air bag can buffer. It is an exercise in futility. After all, you can’t possibly foresee all the forces that would have played on you had you pursued the other gambit. Your focus for true success and happiness in business depends entirely on the choices you make today, not the ones you didn’t make, and taking ownership of the consequences (good, bad or ugly).

It is far more productive to analyze your decision-making process — how and why you make your calculations – not the result. Instead of second-guessing yourself, hone both your intention and attention on the decision you make as if your career life depends on it. Because it does. This process will improve your odds and help to put the wind at your back. Otherwise you will spend endless hours of driving in circles without ever reaching a destination.

When you’re faced with alternative career paths, develop your own CPS – Career Positioning System – the features of which should include:

  • Options:

    You always have options. Write them down, record them, listen to them, say them in the mirror, let them live and breathe until you make the decision. Then, forever surrender the road you don’t take.

  • Decisiveness:

    If you don’t make a decision, someone else will make it for you. Why not be active in your own rescue?

  • Wisdom:

    Seek an unbiased advisor who is a fount of knowledge and experience and whose perspective is not clouded by your fear, ego, or enthusiasm. He or she can help you shape the questions that will reveal to you the most authentic road to take.

  • Model:

    Model success. Have acute sensitivity to others who have made similar choices and analyze their successes and outcomes.

  • Gaps:

    Create a gap in the process, whether it’s sleeping on it, meditation or taking a hike in nature. This pattern interrupt will allow your subconscious, intuitive mind to help inform your decision.

Never look back at the road you didn’t take. As the say, “the past is history, the future’s a mystery, and the present is your gift – which is why they call it the present!”

Photo credit: BeautifulLotus / Getty Images

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