This is the second post in a series about building an Intentional Community. You may want to start here, but you make your own decisions.
Here is a pretty good way to live your life: work hard, make good decisions, and be a kind person. Do well at your job, be ambitious, get a promotion. Cook sometimes, eat out sometimes, choose the healthy option when you can. Call your mom. Get a good night’s sleep. Do tomorrow a little better than today.
No really! This is actually pretty good! You take what life gives you and do the right thing again and again. You are optimizing on the margin, and boy does it compound! After a few years, and then a few decades, you are the VP of something-or-other and you can still fit into the same pants you wore in college. Truly a life well-lived.
But here is a better way: do it all! More, faster, better. Get your MBA, get your dream job, be the CEO. No, this is not just about making money. It’s about living up to your full potential, and maybe also changing the world. So you go to business school.
Or at least, that’s what I did. Five hundred of us showed up to orientation brimming with expectations that, by golly, our lives were about to change. We were going to take classes and meet people and learn skills and get credentials to get the careers of our dreams.
Two years later, a third of us were management consultants. Whoops?
Okay that’s not fair. For some it is a dream to be a management consultant; perhaps it is your dream. While other children trick-or-treated as astronauts and Ghostbusters, perhaps you strolled the neighborhood with a carry-on suitcase and a Chase Sapphire Reserve card. And perhaps you chose a prestigious MBA program expressly to get that job you wanted with the Big Three. (Consulting friends, I am only picking on you because there were so many of you. And yes, I know I should switch to a Delta Amex card.)
Or perhaps you were like me, who looked around at orientation and saw the longest line in front of the Consulting Club table, and saw most of my classmates wearing suits when McKinsey was in town, and heard about the starting salaries. And worried that I was missing out.
Business school is a fast-flowing river. If you don’t paddle hard, you will go where the current takes you.
The job you get in business school is strongly influenced by who is hiring. Whether by accident or by choice, a third of my class was going to be consultants because that’s where the water was flowing. And with the forces of peer pressure and recruiting meetings and fear of missing out, it can be hard to remember whether it was really your choice in the first place.
I’ll confess that I recruited for consulting. I didn’t know what consultants do, but that didn’t matter. Then I stopped recruiting because I knew it wasn’t for me. Then started again because of peer pressure, then stopped and started again, then got serious about it, then got an offer. Then I turned it down.
I ended up at Amazon, which eight years later has indeed been the career of my dreams. But this was no accident either. The mighty Amazon river swept away more new hires than any other company my graduating year.
You already know where it goes from here: it doesn’t get one bit better after business school. Life is full of default choices and paths of least resistance. There is always a next assignment, a next promotion, a next life milestone. Someone is always going to give you a scorecard and tell you how you are measuring up. And it turns out that those good intentions are surprisingly hard to keep up day-to-day. Needless to say I do not fit into my college pants.
Perhaps whoops, indeed.
Here is the way I want to live my life:
Start by defining my first principles. What matters most to me and to the world? Use that to figure out where I want to be at the end of a year, and at the end of a decade, and at the end. Figure out where I am today. Take inventory of my skills, my resources, my luck, the body I live in, the people around me, the baggage I carry (real or imagined). Then, make a plan to get where I’m going, follow the plan as best I can, and enjoy the journey.
This is much, much harder than advertised! It’s been hard to find my first principles in the first place, and even harder to remember to remember them. It’s been hard to take measure of where I am when I am already standing there and can only see from this terrible vantage point behind my own eyes. And why is it so damn hard to keep doing what I said I would do just yesterday!? Certainly none of this thoughtful planning happens in order, or just once, and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.
But it’s all much easier with the help of friends.
So those are the reasons, or at least some of the reasons, I spent last weekend on a retreat with my friends in a beach house full of post-its in Oceanside, California.
Of course it doesn’t matter where we go or how many Post-Its we have. (We have lots, not that you asked.) Our goal is to help each other live an intentional life.
So corny, I know, but there it is.