Emerging from the Bubble

HBS runs an essay competition each spring for graduating ECs asking them “what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” It was a project created by a graduate in 2002 based on a line of the poem The Summer Day by Mary Oliver. The deadline to submit a response is March 8 (that’s today, if you grab each new issue of The Harbus the day it is released), and, in my opinion, it is a question all students should attempt to answer before they emerge from the bubble.

But what if you can’t answer that question just yet? What if you don’t have a plan for your wild and precious life? What if you don’t yet know what you really want?

Several ECs I know have the great fortune of being forced to decide between two (or more) very different job offers. Under normal circumstances this choice would probably be described as “exciting.” Many of them, however, have characterized it as “paralyzing.” In the face of double-digit unemployment and an uncertain economy, having multiple job offers months before graduation is “paralyzing?” Really? I probed my friends a bit deeper, and ultimately they all revealed a similar sentiment: they don’t know what they want. And it isn’t just a question of career; it is a question of life and happiness and the future. The possibilities are on the table – my friends just don’t know which they want most.

So what should they do?

I have an actor friend who writes everything down. When she stumbles across a surprising bottle of wine or discovers a great opening sentence for a book, she writes it down. When she eavesdrops on the subway and laughs at unexpected conversations, she writes them down. When she is happy or lonely or miserable or elated, she tries to observe her thoughts and writes down as much as she can about the situation.
The little book she carries at all times is a reflection of her chaotic mindset, but it is also a real-time recording of some of the most tangible moments of her life. Periodically she reads passages and tries to find the connections and conclusions about what makes her happy, about what she wants. When she has a breakthrough, she writes it down (of course).

It’s a time-consuming process, to be sure, but always worth it. By writing things down, she forces herself to voice the very things that are so difficult to name. In theater the action is called the “violence of articulation.”By giving thoughts a name you create an opportunity for accountability. (The exercise is a little fluffy, but valid nonetheless.)

I recommend locking yourself in a room with a pen, paper and mirror (and maybe a sandwich). There’s something about looking into a mirror that pulls you out of the day-to-day grind and forces – quite literally – reflection. For people who don’t naturally have a lot of down time, carving out that appointment for reflection becomes a necessity. Ideally we’d all have a day “off the grid” once a month to really consider these questions. In reality, it may be just a few moments scheduled into Outlook every week. Setting aside time for self-reflection is imperative for creating one’s theory of happiness.

Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Christina Wallace is an EC from Lansing, Michigan. Last week she checked off one of her New Year’s resolutions by singing in the Talent Show (“do one thing that scares the crap out of me”). For anyone who had to witness it, she is sorry.