Fear will only get you so far….

So…I’ll be the first to admit – I’ve spent the majority of my life living in fear.

Fear that I won’t succeed. Fear that I WILL succeed and then people will expect that of me all the time. Fear that I wouldn’t live up to expectations. Fear that at some point people would realize I’m winging it. Fear that I’ll disappoint the people who believe in me….

And that fear has driven me to do some pretty great things, get into pretty great schools and companies. A healthy dose of fear is what helps us survive, so I’m not advocating for it to be banished completely.

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There’s a word for this?!?

But at some point, in the last couple of years after finishing b-school. I started to realize that I was climbing the proverbial ladder to some distant nebulous goal of ‘success’ I hadn’t really defined myself. Despite my ‘accomplishments’ (the names on my resume, the schools I’d gone to, the companies I’d worked at – all the things that generally people would point to and say I’d ‘succeeded” in life), I wasn’t really striving towards MY version of happy.

And then I realized I had no idea what actually made me happy. So I started wondering what exactly was driving me to choose the jobs, relationships, and lifestyle that I was pushing myself towards.

 

The more I read, talked to people, (even went on a silent meditation retreat to find that inner voice)…the more I realized that the decisions I was making weren’t based on the biggest, best, possible future I could imagine…it was me subconsciously running from some terrible yet-to-occur possible future where I was socially shunned, broke and a complete failure. Or, it was me being paralyzed by the idea that I’d been given so much that if I didn’t do something GREAT and worthy of all of these blessings (i.e. you got into HBS – you HAVE to go run some Fortune 500 company or start a non-profit to help a million people or else you should have let someone else who wanted to be a game-changer have that spot!), I’d be wasting my life.

Which, lets be honest – isn’t cute. It’s not very ‘game-changer’-ish to admit to yourself that you’re not living on purpose…you’re just scared of messing up.

I took pretty drastic measures to try and figure out my happy – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that for everyone. But what I would say is it’s probably not a bad idea for ANYone considering Bschool…or who’s finished Bschool and are on that ‘real life career path’ now to stop for a minute and question your own motives.

Fear is healthy to a certain point. But Fear will only get you so far. And then…you kind of have to say F it and start listening to that little voice inside that was there all along that you’ve been ignoring that’s been trying to tell you to go left when the rest of the world is telling you everyone is going right and that you should follow the crowd because it’s safe over there.

 

I think us MBA-types sometimes lose respect for our intuition. We over-rationalize our way into the roles that “make sense”. But sense is usually based on the life we THINK we’re SUPPOSED to lead, not on the life that would allow us to be the biggest version of ourselves.

I’m not saying quit your job tomorrow because it doesn’t wake you up jumping out of bed for joy every morning. And I’m not saying don’t apply to the highest-ranked most prestigious b-school you can because you know they don’t have a major in what you want to do for your life purpose.

There are choices we make because we have responsibilities in life and the need to pay the bills is real. But. Some of the happiest people I know are happy because they took the plunge, got real about what THEIR happy looks like, despite what the “successful MBA life” looks like, and found a way to handle responsibilities their own way.

Be original

Close your eyes and rebel against your everyday version of success. Think about what decisions you’d make (what school you’d apply to, what job you’d take, what relationships you’d choose) if you weren’t afraid, if you were focused on YOUR version of happy. Think about what YOUR happy really is.

Who knows. You might surprise yourself.

The dirty little secret about your late 20s/early 30s

Overwhelmed....

It doesn’t get easier…just more complicated!

Recently, I’ve been having the same conversation with a lot of good friends, MBA or not about whaaaat….THIS is what being a grown up is really about? No one told me it was gonna be like this! I thought I’d hit a point in life and kind of ‘have it all together’ – or at least feel way more proactively ahead of the game based on all my (sooo extensive) life experience. Instead, I feel like sometimes I’m just trying to keep up with my own life. My boss has a client where at one point he was frustrated because the team was just ‘putting out fires instead of being strategically proactive about the next steps for the future.’ It kinda feels like that. (except we added more resources and got it under control. My life? Not so simple)

Responsibilities, aging parents, loans, mortgages (if you’re lucky), younger brothers and sisters needing a little extra $help$, the guilt/responsibility/pride of being THAT person for your family (given you’re the ‘responsible’ one)…

Now this isn’t to say every generation before us hasn’t gone through this same revelation right around this time – but it HAS been a bit different for the ‘millenials’ that I’m talking to.

Gen X folks (and before) – their parents had pensions and insurance, from somewhat secure life-time jobs to cover things like health problems, retirement income, and fixed expenses. Folks that didn’t go to b-school or post-grad school have been working and saving money and don’t have that extra loan payment to think about (unless you DID buy some property and then you understand our pain).

So on top of paying loans, I and many of my MBA/post-graduate degree friends are

– Trying to save (since there won’t be any social security by the time I’m 60)

– Trying to be good children for parents that took care of us (when there are health problems, or other unexpected things that come up – I WANT to be able to say here mom/dad, I’m where I thought I’d be at 30, take whatever money you need, I got you. The fact that I can’t, to the level that I’d like, is not a great feeling)

– Starting to think about investing in some serious roots (i.e. buying a house, a car, heck, REAL wood furniture)

– Starting to solidify what we believe in (and unlearn all the things we told ourselves we SHOULD be in our 20s so we can focus on being who was WANT to be going forward)

– Trying to maybe travel, see the world, or experience the nicer, more spontaneous things in life (before the babies come, if you’re planning on that and your life is no longer your own)

– And of course (after going to at least 10 weddings in the last 2 years post business school) everyone’s getting married and starting to think about weddings (expensive!) and babies (expensive AND time/energy/emotional/attention consuming)

Oh and on top of that – trying to build a career, grow my network, create content to have a ‘brand’, and figure out what I’m doing with my life to actually give back so that others can have the same opportunities I had….etc..

Now, don’t get me wrong – these are squarely and definitely first world problems to have. I have NO misconceptions about that. This isn’t a woe-is-me pity party. But with that said, I DO want to do the most that I can with the time that I have and the life I’ve been given – so I think about all of these things holistically and am trying to figure out how to get it all done in one lifetime.

I enjoy my life, I appreciate the confidence, the open expanse of possibility before me, and the skills that I’ve learned over time that come with finally heading into my ‘30s’. I love my friends, and I’m blessed to have parents that are still with me that I CAN worry about not being able to spend as much as I’d like on them.

But I will say that I’m definitely not the only one who’s feeling a little overwhelmed by all the different competing factors that are pressing on my mind these days. And of course, I want to do well at all of them. Relationships, family, work, finances, preparing for the future, and still living life to the fullest – it’s a TOUGH balancing act. So I see why meditation and mindfulness practice is becoming such a growing industry among my generation. Unless we schedule it in, it’s almost impossible to simply slow down!

The best advice I think I’ve gotten is that it’s okay to take care of myself, to keep my mind, my body and my spirit right. Because it’s impossible to do well at ANY of the above responsibilities if I’m not healthy and in a good state of mind.  But it’s hard to focus on investing time in mental and physical health when there’s always something pressing that needs attention.

So given this is a topic that is literally coming up every other day lately, would love to throw it out there and see what folks are doing to juggle it all.

If any of you have any ideas/advice/perspective/pearls of wisdom on how to manage all of it  – please let me know! Would love to hear your thoughts….

Roots, and the lack thereof…

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I read an article a while ago about a journalist who had escaped his tiny town and traveled around the world in search of adventure and professional fulfillment. When his sister got sick, he took his family back home to be with her and was amazed and transformed by the community and simple, happy life she’d built in a place she’d never left in 30+ years after high school. He has since moved his family back and says he’s content and happy.

It got me thinking about my own lack of roots and what it might feel like to have stayed put in one place long enough to have that many people surrounding me that know me and would care enough to make a concerted effort to help me be well.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky enough to have amazing friends who would all be there for me in my hour of need – they’re just all scattered around the country and the world. Since leaving college almost 10 years ago, I haven’t lived at one address for more than 2 years. And I love it – the moving, discovering new people, new places, having new experiences, making new bonds and memories…but sometimes I wonder – what would it be like to have a place I truly called home?

Quite a few folks I know post b-school are in somewhat of a similar position. They’ve traveled, moved for work, went back to school, moved again – and while they may not be as nomadic as I’ve been, the networks they’ve built are usually as far-flung and dispersed as mine. It’s simply a function of higher education environments that bring together people from everywhere and then send them back out to the world just as scattered as they came in. Unless you live in SF, NY, or London (the major cities most densely packed with recent b-school grads), it’s likely that you’ve found a new crew, started over again, began to build yet another life for yourself in whatever city work opportunities took you to. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you’ll be doing so again in the next 3-5 years if something new pops up.

On some level, your professional advancement becomes limited if and when you choose to stay in one place. Maybe that’s why our generation is so much slower to do things like buy a home, or invest in something that requires you to stay put for a long time. The inability to get up and go when the right opportunity calls is frightening. The permanence of something so tangible, while comforting, can also feel restrictive. And that’s not even accounting for people who have the complication of a relationship with someone else who also has geographically diverse job opportunities as well.

One of my good friends has lived in Chicago for over 10 years. She went to undergrad there and stayed put. She knows the city like the back of her hand, has seen the ebbs and flows, has friends from different environments and groups, but above all, the city is HERS. She’s not a visitor, it’s home.  And part of me is jealous. But I can’t imagine yet staying in one place for 10 years. It just seems like so long!

So I wonder…is there something lost in this constant traveling and moving and resettling? A sense of depth, roots – a self connected to a community of people? Is it possible to truly have the shared life experiences that build the deep-rooted relationships our parents’ generation had with folks when you’re only in the same city with for 1-3 years? What are the tradeoffs when your support network is scattered across different time zones and geographies?

A House Husband – the solution for ambitious MBA women?

What if we flipped the script?

What if we flipped the script?

I had dinner with a couple of girlfriends last week, both of whom were HBS alums, and in town attending the HBS Women’s Conference to commemorate 50 years of women at HBS. The conversation turned towards the realities of being a female MBA alum and what we expect (and the world expects) our lives to look like holistically after attaining this higher education.

Probably more than any other masters degree, female MBAs are expected to have successful families AND business careers with high earning potential. Those who decide to forego career advancement or !gasp! become a housewife post MBA are often looked at with condescension and confusion. “Why did you spend $150k to get an MBA when you’re just going to be a stay at home mom? Oh…you were just there looking for a husband…” (in that non-judgemental, but uber judgemental tone you learn so well in school)

As MBA women, we’re supposed to be able to do it ALL – not give up one thing for the other (which totally isn’t fair, as explained extremely well in this article in the Daily Beast).  And “do it all” traditionally means have a successful family and a successful career.

HBS released study findings just in time for the women’s conference this week (featuring Sheryl Sandberg and other prominent successful women), where they asked why women weren’t moving up faster in the workplace. No surprise that the #1 reason is ‘the acknowledgment that family is more important to them than their careers’. #2? “taking leave or reducing hours” – arguably to be with family and kids more.

But before getting to the children, you have to find a partner. And given most women want someone who ‘matches’ them (in earning potential, education, lifestyle expectations etc.), that’s not so easy. Today women earn 60 percent of all master’s degrees and more than half of all doctoral and professional degrees. Science and Engineering fields notwithstanding, there are more women with masters than men. Which brings me to the conversation I had last night.

My very smart and ambitious Harvard MBA female friend wants kids. She knows she has a window. And she wants her kids to be raised by a parent, not a full-time nanny. But she also wants to rise quickly in her career and climb the ladder to a C-level position. Given the statistics and reality of the above, she knows that it will be hard to find someone ‘on her level’, even without the laundry list of non-tangible things she wants.

So her non-conventional solution to family and career? A house husband. Similar to the house-wife that many successful men marry who are not unintelligent, but also not jockeying for priority in life choices based on their ambition, he would take care of the kids, and be willing to move where she needed to go to continue to rise in her career (be it a different city or a different continent). He would take care of her emotionally and physically and be a good father. He wouldn’t need to work, or bring in a major share of income – that’s not what she needs.

Now, she doesn’t want someone effeminate or emasculated. She wants a strong, secure, confident real man – just not necessarily a breadwinner. She wants someone to support her – much like many women have supported their men in other single income families in the past. Run the household, make the meals, raise the kids and be a kind ear when work gets crazy. Not insignificant or simple tasks – but not traditionally male ones either.

My initial reaction was complete disbelief – “you’d never respect him, you’d cheat or he’d cheat because you wouldn’t see him as a man. He’s got to be at least CLOSE to your level of earning potential, where are you ever going to find a guy who’s OKAY with being a house husband and putting your career completely first that would be ‘manly’ enough for you?”

**Judge me here if you must, but despite being relatively liberal, I have to admit I still have a base level of old school thinking about what makes a man feel like a man (namely being a provider)**

But…as I continue to read multiple articles and talk with some powerful women who ARE getting it done, who have the families, and are kicking ass in the corporate world, it seems like many of them attribute that ability to ‘an amazing husband who’s flexible and understanding and picks up a lot of slack”.

AND, for whatever it’s worth, I know multiple MBA men who (kind of jokingly) say they’d love to be a ‘kept man’.

So what do you think? Can the house-husband work? Is it naïve to think it’s sustainable and it’s just a oversimplified unrealistic solution?

Or if we’re truly honest, is that what many career-driven MBA women need and just don’t want to admit to for fear of social repercussions and patronizing comments/attitudes about ‘settling’?