In this fictional letter, every pearl of wisdom in quotations is taken from If I Knew Then… Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963. The Harvard alum’s initials follow the quote.
I hope everything is going well!
I love when your mom shows me all your pictures from Facebook. You look like you’re having so much fun! But I have to ask: are you taking these photos yourself? You kids today sure love those… selfies, is it? I saw Oxford named selfie the 2013 Word of the Year. You know me… always watching my news.
Such a strange phenomenon, the selfie. My generation always had the camera lens pointed at other people. My advice: “Don’t take your own worth too seriously” (AN) because you might miss the bigger picture. [TWEET THIS] That’s why I want to pass along everything I’ve learned about life, love and happiness the past 50 years.
As I think back on my life, I realize it was always less about me and more about those around me. “Choose work you enjoy and that serves as many people as possible. Serve well, and money will follow.” (NB) The three most important traits are to “work hard, be honest and help others.” (PS) And never forget to “take chances. At 24, I moved to Chicago, where I had never been, and joined a company I previously was unaware of. It turned out to be a terrific move.“ (PP)
It’s important to “find an industry that gets you excited… learn everything you can about your company, both the details and the big picture… and befriend and work with the best people, because they will make you better.” (RI) “I cannot do better than repeat Joseph Campbell’s admonition: Follow your bliss. [TWEET THIS] Seek work that you love and do it.” (EB)
At the same time, “Just because someone competes, tries, earns a trophy or gets a pat on the back merely for participating, as is so common in the younger generations today, that alone does not bring… success.” (BG) The reality is “The most successful lives are those people who have had a very positive impact on a great many other people.” (JF)
Look, I know life is confusing in your 20s. Sometimes, it’s easier to focus the camera inward than stare blankly into the vast unknown. “At age 25, I probably placed a little too much stress on perception as a measure of success. I’ve learned it’s not what others think, but what you think.” (JS) [TWEET THIS]
“There are very few really big, tough decisions in life. But when one comes along, you must think it through every which way possible and then go for it. Trust your instincts and never look back on what ifs.” (AN) “Many things that happened in my career were the result of random acts. The important thing is to keep your eyes open to recognize the right moves.” (GW)
Despite the ups and downs, “There is no substitute for integrity…The ability to look back on life and say ‘I did it the right way’ is a treasure. There is no do-over when you lose your integrity and reputation.” (DT) Simply put: “Telling the truth makes it easy to remember what I said.” (RM)
Since you’re a newlywed, “I can be very brief and to the point: Happy wife, happy life.” (HT) Also, “Exercise patience. It took me two marriages and 80% of a lifetime to appreciate the value of that word.” (AN) To all your friends still looking for a mate, tell them this: “Find your own identity before imposing yourself on someone else.” (JS)
Ever since you were a child, I knew you possessed leadership qualities. But like a joyful marriage, being an effective leader takes time, energy and focus. “Leading by example is by far the most important characteristic of a good leader.” (EL) As I have learned over the past five decades, “Not all decisions turn out well. Be prepared to deal with problems over which you have no control. Also, almost everything will require more money and more time than you think.” (DN)
As for all the social media, “My wish is that [younger] generations understand that communication screen-to-screen is not the same — by a factor of 1,000 — as communication face-to-face. That goes for the classroom, the living room, and the bedroom.” (AN)
Oh, and then there’s always issues of money. “Many years ago, my father told me: Never judge a man by the balance in his bank book, but by the quality of his life.” (PP) Remember that “Success is not about the accumulation of wealth and power. It is more about happiness, contentment, and satisfaction — for not only you but also your family.” (JC) It took me a long time to realize but “Too much money can make you just as unhappy as too little.” (SS)[TWEET THIS]
I want to end this letter to you, my grandchild, with a short story.
“When I was young, I loved listening to ‘Your Hit Parade’ on the radio. Number one on the Hit Parade for many weeks in mid-1948 was ‘Nature Boy’ by Nat King Cole, his first gold record as a solo artist. I loved it, but as a 13-year-old, didn’t really fully focus on its message until many years later.
But now that message is one I take literally: The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” (BM)
I know you can achieve greatness in your lifetime, but the only way is to live with conviction and decide to turn your camera onto the world.
You’d be amazed how much there is to see.
All my love,
PS: For a successful marriage, “Don’t eat crackers in bed.” (AN)
What’s your favorite quote from the Harvard alums? Share below!