These words were said by Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, who recently passed away. Although this perspective came after a life-changing cancer diagnosis, it is true for all of us how life really is too short to spend time on things or with people who don’t bring us joy or fulfillment.

As a leader, you likely spend more time with the people you work with, both peers and staff, than you do with almost anyone else. Hopefully, you are working on important things which will make a difference in the lives of others.

But what if you aren’t? What if the things you are working on don’t seem to matter beyond basic financial stability, or have any long-term, positive impact in your organization? Sadly, I know more than a few leaders who are spending their time and lives in this way.

Life is too short to spend it unhappily.

If you or someone you know encounters this situation, what can be done? Consider the following:

1. Admit it – admit the situation is not what feeds your passion and admit your role in letting it get to this point. This is a hard message for some people to hear, yet I am a firm believer in the how we tolerate the situations we create. The first step toward changing something (a condition, situation or cause) is to acknowledge our part in allowing it to happen and to acknowledge we want a change.

2. Think about what changes you can make – because every problem or issue has at least one viable solution. Leaders are often capable of seeing more than most others see, including creative ways to overcome challenges. You are the one who must initiate the change you want to see.

Maybe the change is in your attitude. Our attitude is the one thing we are in full control of all the time. Maybe the change involves ditching a couple of habits which no longer serve you well.

3. Create a plan – without a plan, we waste time on things which don’t have any positive outcome. We may be busy, but not productive. The plan has to be connected to a desired outcome. While we won’t always get the specifics of the plan right on the first draft, we must persist with some kind of intentional action we believe will make a difference.

The important point to remember is how committing to a different, better outcome will drive you to take persistent action in the right direction.

 4. Find someone to help and encourage you – we all need encouragement and affirmation at least once in a while. We need someone—a coach, a mentor, or advisor of some kind—who has forged the trail ahead of us, to help us navigate through unfamiliar storms and show us the way. 

 As you look to identify the person who can help you, avoid selecting a family member. Despite their best intentions, family members often can’t see situations objectively, and may try to maintain the more comfortable status quo.

Change is hard and those we engage to help and encourage us must share our desire to be in a better, happier place. This requires doing things differently than you have done before. As Einstein said, “We can’t fix a problem with the same thinking that got us into the problem in the first place.” We need to heed his advice.

After his diagnosis, Paul Allen made some difficult choices (including to leave Microsoft), but ultimately spent both his money and the remaining 35 years of his life in ways that fulfilled his passions. He donated millions to a variety of philanthropic causes and also spent money and time on personal endeavors that gave him pleasure.

After reading this, you may realize I am describing a situation you or someone you know are experiencing. If so, I would be delighted to work with you or recommend an advisor who can be of help.

Life is too short to spend it unhappily.

Best regards,


PS, Please feel free to pass this on to colleagues and friends.