By Priti Dadlani
It was Confucius who said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
I believe we can learn as much through the advice of others whom we admire and respect as we can through our own experience.
And who better to give advice on topics such as career, business and leadership than alumni of one of the world’s most venerable educational institutions – Harvard University.
If I Knew Then is the name of a website and a companion hardcover book based on the collective wisdom of 100 members of the Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963 acquired over 50 years of life experience.
Arthur W. Buerk, the lifetime class secretary of the HBS Class of 1963, who had a successful career in education and business after graduating with his M.B.A., launched the website and book.
He approached his classmates on their 50th reunion last year to collate and share their reflections on 10 topics:
- Marriage & Family
- Growing Older
- Charity & Spirituality
- Happiness & Success
- Turning Points
- Life’s Lessons
In this excerpt, the website answers the question you may be asking aloud. Namely, what do mostly white, wealthy men in their 70’s and 80’s who form the majority of the Class of ’63, have to say that’s worth heeding in 2014?
“They have been a part of both the “before” and the “after” pictures of a world transformed.
“They entered the business world when commerce was mostly confined to national borders, and they ushered in the notion of the global village. They went to work in the age of secretarial pools and longhand ledger sheets, and led the charge into a digital, wireless landscape. They landed their first executive jobs during a time when women and people of color were strangers to the boardroom, and delivered us to an era when the leader of our greatest organization is the son of a Kenyan.
“In short, the Class of 1963 is uniquely qualified to dispense advice, because its members have both the experience and perspective that only the long view can provide.
“The truly essential questions of life simply haven’t changed that much in the past 50 years. Or the past 500.
“The human experience is not defined by our relationship to technology or business or money. It’s about our relationships with each other. The enduring themes of love, family, faith, and self-acceptance are the ones we most seek to understand with the benefit of some inspired, experienced guidance.
“If you were going on a long and treacherous hike, who would be the best person to ask about the path ahead? Someone a few yards away from the trailhead? Someone who’s made it halfway to the destination? Or someone who’s walked almost the entire trail — and who can tell you about the washed-out bridges, the sections that seem impossibly steep, and the vistas of indescribable beauty that lie ahead?”
If I Knew Then, is full of gems like this one from Beurk himself on happiness and success:
“The ability to set goals is very valuable in achieving success. Goals should be balanced in all areas of life — family, social, spiritual, business, health, wealth, education, etc. The major rules of goal-setting are:
1. Goals should be in writing.
2. Goals should be measurable— if they can’t be measured, they’re not goals.
3. Goals should be dated so you have a time frame to measure accomplishment.
“People who have a clear picture of themselves and have set well-rounded goals tend to be much more successful than people who are vague in what they hope to accomplish in the future.”
This advice on career is from John Collins:
“If you see yourself as an entrepreneur, start your company as soon as you possibly can. If you know the field you want to work in but aren’t sure about your business plan, go to work for a company that you admire in the same type of business you want to create. If you go this route, do not be concerned about compensation. Get all the knowledge you need to launch your own firm.”
I have bookmarked If I Knew Then and refer to it often for guidance. You may want to do the same.
What’s the best advice you ever got?