How Would You Spend $5 Million Dollars?

I recently had a conversation with Ben, a fellow Dartmouth alum, about his career.  Ben is in his mid-twenties, bright, and accomplished.  He was contemplating the long-term direction of his career.  Should he pursue the life of a clinician, consultant, venture capitalist, etc.  He was looking for direction.

This is a common crossroads or decision point once you have explored a few industries, held a few jobs, and enjoyed early career success.  How do you decide which path to take?  I gave Ben a homework assignment that can help.

Imagine Exercise

Imagine that you just started a new organization – You Inc.  You open up your email and you see the following message:

Dear You,

I’ve been following your career.  I love your energy, respect your talent, and know you will make an enormous contribution to the world.  I want to get in on the ground floor.  I’m investing $5 million dollars in your organization.  I’ve set up a meeting next week in my office.  At that time share with me what you will do with the money, and I’ll write you a check.

Looking forward to working together,

Warren Buffett, Chair of Berkshire Hathaway

Take a few minutes to dream your answer and then continue reading…

With a picture in your mind, use five questions to analyze your answer.


  1. Who are you serving, and what value does your organization provide?

People have multiple interests, talents, and abilities.  The question is where to focus them.  What type of customers are you serving?  Describe them in detail using demographic information (age, race, ethnicity, gender, income, education, marital status, etc.).  The goal is to create a profile of the types of customers you want to serve.  Next, using the language of Professor Clayton Christensen, what job are you helping your customers do?  Why are they hiring you?

  1. Are you a direct or indirect service organization?

Direct service means your work happens directly in the presence of the customers or stakeholders you want to impact.  Indirect means you may not be in the presences of the customers you are impacting.  You might provide infrastructure or administrative support for your target audience.  Alternatively, you could provide financial support in an indirect way.

  1. What is the scope of your organization?

Are you content serving your local community, state, or region?  Or must you have a global reach to be truly happy?  Understanding the scope of your ambition helps you to focus on your mission, determines the types of people you need to attract, guides your networking efforts, and dictates the amount of money you need to achieve your goals.

  1. What are you doing day-to-day; how do you spend your time?

Forget about your title, it is important to dig deeper.  How are you spending your time each day.  Are you more excited by the prospect of selling your vision to others, working directly with customers, running behind-the-scenes operations, or developing the people that work with you?  Understanding how you wish to add value and spend your time in an organization is the key to happiness.

  1. Was your picture vivid or cloudy?

If your picture was vivid, then you know what environment is best for you.  Spend time sharing your ideal environment with others and networking to find that opportunity.  If your picture was cloudy, then spend more time thinking about the four previous questions.  Get input from family, friends, and colleagues.  It’s time to adjust your image until it is clear and bright in your mind. 

Bottom Line

Use a simple thought experiment that removes limitations and barriers to paint a clear picture of what direction to guide your career.  So, what would you do with $5 million dollars?

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