Over winter break, I finally found the time to process how HBS had impacted me during the first four months. I found myself grateful for new friends and for the intellectual development received in the classroom. I had grown as a person, which is to be expected when one is placed in such an intense environment and forced to swim.
I also started to realize some disturbing thoughts. In thinking about career choices, I felt my mind consistently fighting between things that I wanted to do and things that I felt I should do. I promised myself when I entered HBS in the fall that I would remain true to my goals and force myself to be unaffected by any herd mentality. But HBS is a difficult place to keep perspective.
HBS teaches us to have impact, to build, to lead. And the tools that we receive here are valuable for a wide variety of pursuits. The key, then, is to find the way that is best for each of us as an individual to utilize these tools.
The job that makes me shine may be the very job that my neighbor detests. Sally may truly love the spreadsheets and betas that come with a career in banking. If she loves the job, she will inspire those around her, and she will have chosen the path that is not only best for her, but also the most productive for society. She is uncovering a maximum of her talent by choosing to do exactly what she loves to do.
Now take Tom, whose father or best friend is a banker, and who has been told that banking is the “right” thing to do. Or perhaps he simply dreams of a Boxster as soon as possible. Does he like finance? Actually he prefers marketing, but then the salaries are not as high and he can’t say he works on Wall Street. And who says you should love what you do anyway? This is reality, after all, and sometimes in life you have to just put your head down and make big sacrifices in order to get to the holy grail of being rich and free at forty.
Tom may be rich at forty, but he will never be free of that sinking feeling that he somehow spent a lifetime doing something that he didn’t really enjoy.
This is not a dress rehearsal. We are not undergrads anymore, just picking something to do for a while before graduate school. This is the real thing, and the decisions we make now will impact the route we take for the rest of our lives.
I have always found it easier to rely on external advice to make choices. I have plenty of people in my life who love to tell me what is best for me. And the easy thing to do is to do exactly what they say. Then if it all goes wrong, I have someone to blame. Taking responsibility for our own decisions is one of the most difficult things in the world. It is the essence of growing up. It means very often doing things with which your parents and friends disagree. It means making decisions that may draw criticism.
But it also means freedom. We are all intelligent individuals with an incredible amount of talent. And we are all free to be exactly who we want to be. You have gifts that are different from mine, so if we both cling to the same rulebook of how to live life and be successful, something will go drastically wrong for at least one of us.
We have the right to pursue our dreams, and by pursuing our dreams, we will not only be deeply inspired, but will also inspire everyone around us. Passion is contagious.
So as we get ready to hunt for jobs, I hope I can remember that although others may know me well, only I can find my own truth. I am the one who will have to look at the face in the mirror at forty and judge. And no matter how big our bank accounts are, mirrors don’t take bribes.
Having the time to look inside yourself is a very special opportunity. Here at HBS, we are fortunate to have that time.
Happy New Year and may we all find our own unique path.