What will the decisions you make today look like from your deathbed?

January 10, 2022

“One of the things that really helped me at the early stages of starting my career was thinking about the decisions that I make today from, you know, my deathbed, from the age of ninety.”  

This was the response of Michael Cockburn, described as “carpenter turned co-founder of the office-working app Desana”, when asked by the BBC to share his CEO secrets. You can watch the interview here. Readers of a Jesuit website may have heard a familiar echo in his words.

In his book of Spiritual Exercises, dating from the mid-sixteenth century, Ignatius of Loyola speaks about decision-making processes. One suggestion he makes is “I will consider, as if I were at the point of death, what procedure and norm I will at that time wish I had used in the manner of making the present election. Then, guiding myself by that norm, I should make my decision on the whole matter.” Maybe in this respect little has changed in the last five centuries!

Notice, though, that Ignatius is recommending that from the deathbed perspective you consider not what decision you should have made, but rather how you went about it. Not whether you should have decided to be a lay-person instead of a priest (or, indeed, a CEO rather than a carpenter); but how you might best have come to that decision. Ignatius wants to help people make decisions well, and he is more concerned with how you go about that, than with the specific content of any decision.

What does a good decision look like, according to Ignatius? It is essentially one taken freely. Not constrained by habit or fear of change. Not unduly influenced by the opinions of others. Not limited by prior concerns about health, wealth, or worldly prestige. His one concern is the service of God, and how the decision I take now will best serve that end. Even when I look back on how I went about deciding, many years from now.

Michael Cockburn and Ignatius Loyola might well agree that the deathbed perspective is an excellent one to help someone make major decisions with freedom. This “CEO secret” is also a key insight of the Ignatian Exercises.

Article by Fr Paul Nicholson SJ

Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

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