I have to be honest: I was in a bit of a rut last week. The end-of-semester responsibilities and deadlines were starting to pile up, and I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. The more I thought about what I’d write for this column, the more I was drawing a blank, and it was starting to stress me out. Then the stars aligned, and my calendar was populated with three significant events all in the span of a few days.
First, on April 6 there was a conversation on the HBS campus centered on “What’s Enough?”. It featured Professor Dan McKanen from the Divinity School, Professor Howard Stevenson from HBS and HBS alum Candice Olson. Over the course of 90 minutes they discussed how spiritual, professional, personal and societal goals could be balanced in our lives. It was an engaging session and offered some very tangible and actionable advice. It got me thinking. Then the 20-session classes for ECs started to end and professors gave their final words of wisdom. Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries professor Anita Elberse had a great wrap-up and offered some colorful thoughts to take with us. (P.S. RCs: take this class. She’s amazing.) And finally the Class Day Speech competition for ECs was in full swing, which got me thinking about some of the great graduation speeches I’d heard or read over the years.
So this week I’m going to keep my thoughts to a minimum and instead share some insights from professors, writers and artists much smarter and worldlier than me. Here goes:
10. Keep a journal.
For a lot of people this is harder than tap dancing. Knowing you’re going to write something every day sharpens your attention to everything that happens. With a journal, you have this companion you’re going to point things out to, so you stockpile impressions and passing thoughts. It’s good to begin with modest expectations – a spiral notebook from the drugstore, not a leatherbound diary with little red ribbon. Limit the time you spend at it, but do it every day. When you fail, start again. And again. For the longest time, I didn’t keep a journal, and as a result much of my pretty long and interesting life is lost to me. That’s a waste, one that you needn’t let happen to you.ÿ
-Author and Art Historian John Walsh
9. Stop looking at your butt.
My philosophy is that life is like buying a pair of jeans. Pretty much everyone tries on a new pair of jeans and before they’ve hardly buttoned them, they turn around to see how their butt looks in them. Why do we do that? Why do we care what our butt looks like in jeans? After all, it’s not something we have to see every day. Really, all that should matter to us is that they fit properly and are comfortable. Let everyone who walks behind us deal with looking (or not!) at our butt. Why not zip them up, walk out the door and put them to use.
-HBS Professor Anita Elberse
8. You are going to die. Someday.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
-Apple co-founder Steve Jobs
7. Look after others. Care for your community.
Feed and nourish your spirit, and the spirit of others. Every single spiritual tradition says the same three things: 1) Live in the now, as often as you can, a breath here, a moment there. 2) You reap exactly what you sow. 3) You must take care of the poor, or you are so doomed that we can’t help you. You don’t have to go overseas. There are people right here who are poor in spirit; worried, depressed, dancing as fast as they can, whose kids are sick, or whose retirement savings are gone. There is great loneliness among us, life-threatening loneliness. And you can do something about it.
-Writer Anne Lamott
6. It’s not about you.
Nobody else is paying as much attention to your failures as you are. You’re the only ones who are obsessed with the importance of your own life. To everyone else, it’s just a blip on the radar screen, so just move on.
-Film director Jerry Zucker
5. Learn to juggle.
It’s not about finding work/life balance. It’s about work/life juggling. It is not static; it’s dynamic. Catch the falling ball – don’t pay attention to the one in your hand or the one at the apogee, pay attention to the one that is falling. Some of the balls are sturdier than others. Some are rubber, while others are glass. Some will bounce back while others will shatter if dropped. Be certain you know which are which.
-HBS Professor Howard Stevenson
4. Be a generative capitalist.
Generative Capitalism: It creates more but doesn’t create more of the same. It’s about creating new, creating real value versus just creating. It’s about getting things done as a group that we can’t do individually.
-HBS Alum Candice Olson
3. Listen to yourself.
Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.
-Playwright Eve Ensler
2. Remember, pretty much everything tangible, everything physical is going to fade.
From The Tempest:
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs,the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
-Playwright William Shakespeare
1. …but there are eternal truths to which we can cling.
From These Things Shall Never Die:
The pure, the bright, the beautiful
That stirred our hearts in youth,
The moments spent in wordless prayer,
The streams of love and truth,
The longing after something lost,
The spirit’s yearning cry,
The striving after better hopes-
These things can never die.
The timid hand stretched forth to aid
A brother in his need;
A kindly word in grief’s dark hour
That proves a friend indeed;
The plea for mercy softly breathed,
When justice threatens high,
The sorrow of a contrite heart-
These things shall never die.
Let nothing pass, for every hand
Must find some work to do,
Lose not a chance to waken love-
Be firm and just and true.
So shall a light that cannot fade
Beam on thee from on high,
And angel voices say to thee-
“These things shall never die.”
-Poet and Novelist Charles Dickens
Christina Wallace is an EC from Lansing, Michigan. She would like to encourage everyone to go see the HBS Show this week in Burden. While she is sad to report that the red boots will not be making a cameo, she can promise that the show is hilarious.