Hiroshi "Mickey" Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc.

It may sound macabre, but envisioning your own death is a good way to generate a successful plan.

We are used to thinking about our lives in forward motion—noting where we are right now and picturing our next steps. Of course, thinking forward is useful, but it is not the only kind of thinking that can help you. We are less used to thinking backward. When we take the time to reverse our conventional thinking, we can achieve new clarity about our path to success.

One way to “think backward” about your next career move is to imagine you are writing your own obituary.

Start with the job you hope you will have at the end and work backward, considering along the way what steps would need to precede each promotion. By reverse-engineering the process you will begin to see the steps necessary to achieve each promotion—including your next.

It is often by envisioning the end point that we are able to see clearly what must be done right now. I had that experience in 1995 when the devastating Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake struck in Japan. My parents’ home in Akashi was badly damaged. I lost an aunt and uncle who were both very dear to me. I recall how it felt to search for them in the rubble of my hometown and what it was like when I found them laid out side by side in a school gymnasium. I learned in that moment that we must never forget that our time is limited.

That realization led me to redefine my path forward. At the end of my life, I realized, I would want to have achieved my dream of creating something that could empower people across the world.

By facing the finality of death, I could see I needed more than just a vision. I needed a timeline. When I envisioned my end goal, I was able to work backward, seeing each step along the way, including the one I needed to take next to make my vision a reality. The next year, I quit my job at the Industrial Bank of Japan. And in the year after that, 1997, I founded my company.

It can be terrifying to think about one’s end. But it can open your eyes. When you think about your life, working backward from death, you can see the necessary next steps. I saw my own mandate: to waste no time in getting started.


Originally published by Quartz At Work.