What happens when an unstoppable bullet meets an unbreakable shield? Logicians have an elegant answer to that question. They simply say that this problem is nonsense, because the two cannot exist at the same time. The existence of an unstoppable bullet contradicts that of an unbreakable shield.
In our lives, we face similar paradoxes. We can be the perfect parent, the perfect partner, the perfect professional, the perfect banjo player, or the perfect golfer. But it is very likely that those perfect characters can never meet. What happens when the perfect partner plans a nice birthday dinner but the perfect professional is expected to stay at the office for a key presentation the next day? Clearly, making choices is a fact of life. But the question is, which side do we favor and why?
We are free to shape our lives. But freedom implies responsibility and we are the only ones who we can blame for the consequences. For Mark Albion, former HBS professor, this is the dilemma between making a life and making a living. By coming to HBS, we chose to learn how to make a better living. But we must realize that no course here will really teach us how to live a better life.
While business techniques can be taught in a classroom, true self-understanding must be discovered over time. There are no cookie-cutter answers. Occasionally, we even place value judgements on others to placate ourselves. “Look at that guy: there is only work in his life, he must be so miserable.” But he may be wonderfully happy, as long as he made the conscious decision that his job was the thing for which he was ready to dedicate his life.
Living at HBS is a wonderful experience: we know that for two years, our needs will be completely taken care of. We are building knowledge, energy, credibility, and relationships. Discovering where to unleash their tremendous potential can help us live more accomplished lives.
And by the way, there is actually another solution to the shield and bullet problem. It is when they meet but do not clash: it is when they meet and travel together on a meaningful journey.