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Don't know what you want to do in your career? Saw the wood in front of you.

Personally, I am a huge proponent of finding your passion/purpose and pursuing it — which can begin as a hobby or even a part-time job for additional income and could grow to become your primary source of income. Having operated in leadership roles within companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Allstate, and LegalShield for more than 20 years now, I have found several reasons that further substantiate my point of view.

However, as an avid learner, during a recent podcast interview with one of my mentors, Matt Winter, former president of the Allstate Corporation, he shared a great point of view that I belovingly titled The Uncharted Course to Career Management, which is in fact for many of us, how it actually happens.

The key to managing through The Uncharted Course as Matt explains it? Saw the wood in front of you.

Saw the wood in front of you

Saw the Wood in Front of You

Such a simple phrase, but let’s look at Matt’s career a bit to get some context

  • College education — Wildlife Management and Forestry
  • Military — Serves in the Army
  • Enters a law school program within the Army and becomes a prosecutor
  • Becomes a criminal defense attorney
  • Becomes an attorney within an insurance company
  • Transitions into insurance management at Mass Mutual
  • Enters AIG, rises to Vice Chairman, serving during the country’s most difficult financial times in the late 2000s
  • Moves to the Allstate Insurance company, initially leading Allstate Financial Services, then leading Allstate Auto and Home, ending his career there as the president of the company.

Matt did not plan these career moves and quickly noted it was a circuitous route.  His philosophy evolved from a conversation with an Army general he greatly respected and approached for career advice.  The general not only declined to provide that advice but went further.  He told Matt, “Saw the wood in front of you. You are given a task, pay attention to that task and do it flawlessly.”  Matt accepted that advice and it has stuck with him ever since.

Matt’s rules for using the Saw The Wood In Front of You approach

During the course of his career, Matt developed rules that he follows. First and foremost, there is an underlying principle that must be true. For this to work effectively, you must be operating in an environment that practices meritocracy, where people are awarded based on their abilities.  I must say that I wholeheartedly concur as well given my observations thus far in my career.

I asked Matt, then what do you advise people do when they are not working in an environment where it is clear that meritocracy exists.  Matt’s summary, “if meritocracy is not there, don’t change what you do, change where you are.” In other words, leave the company if necessary. If the very idea that people are not rewarded monetarily and elevated based on their contributions, and you believe you are doing the right things with integrity, do not change who you are in order to meet that system’s demands. You will continuously be chasing your tail. Instead, find an environment that practices meritocracy.

Once in that right environment, you can then be an opportunist, using Matt’s three rules as he considers each role:

  1. Can I learn from the role?
  2. Do I like, respect and trust the people I work with?
  3. Is it something that I can do and will I be able to make a positive impact?


The takeaway

If you are challenged with finding that “perfect career path,” trying this approach might not be a bad idea.  In fact, I’m not sure there is an either/or here.  Why not do both?  Seek what you want, while Sawing The Wood in Front of You!


Looking for more insights

  • This was just one part of our one-hour interview. I invite you to listen to the rest at
  • In a recent interview with Hall of Fame NFL Quarterback and business owner, Fran Tarkenton, he mentions a few points worth listening to. Fran speaks to the fact that even while playing in the NFL, he was always working other jobs to additional income and build skills, which prepared him for the next thing — — definitely a lesson to add to this. You can listen to Fran’s interview at

Be Informed — Be Empowered — Be Accountable!


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