Matt-birthday cakeBirthdays–at least the ones I have had since turning 40–have a way of prompting deeper reflection and re-examination.

Each year brings a reminder of those who did not get to celebrate another birthday or whose chances of reaching their next one are bleak. These are morbid notions, perhaps, but motivational also.

These ruminations last week led to a “Dear John” email, on my birthday. The recipient was a former client that had sought to re-engage my services. And this would not have been just any old client–it would have been my biggest one, as it had previously been for more than two years.

The allure of a big paycheck, month after month–and quite possibly year after year–was sorely tempting.

But there were too many red flags.

At the core of my concern: during discussions focused on identifying the scope of my work, key individuals in the organization were watering down my prescription for what was necessary to help them achieve their communications goals.

We had already traveled this path. The first time around, they had not heeded key aspects of my counsel and severely undermined my work’s impact. I halted the engagement while urging the client to complete long-overdue tasks. Get those things done and we can talk about re-engaging, I had advised.

They had finally wrapped up those steps. Nearly a year later, however, here we were again with the same dysfunctional denial of what it would take to get the job done. From the get-go, once again, the client was dooming its own prospects of success.

The reason for resistance? As best I can tell, it’s the organization’s refusal to move out of its comfort zone. It prefers the comfort of familiarity–even when it is accompanied by struggle and missed opportunities–over the discomfort of change that is the inescapable complement to positive growth.

Life is squandered when we invest in something we don’t believe in. Where belief is absent, so is passion. And work without passion is a form of slow, soul-crushing death.

That’s a perilous place to be–and it’s where I would have found myself if I had ignored my misgivings and agreed to re-up. It would have represented settling into a comfort zone of valuing money over meaningful work.

P.S. Since my birthday, I have turned my attention to those things I am passionate about and that I do believe in, particularly my “Go Figure: Making Numbers Count” numeracy training. To learn more, contact me at or 708-860-1380.

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