Year 1 of my MBA program is in full swing and I feel like a bit of a phony. I’m surrounded by classmates who worked really hard to get here. Conversations often dance around the battle scars of merger-induced all-nighters or volatile client crises that eventually devolved into a night of drinking enough to obliterate the miserable associated memories (not recommended). Meanwhile on my proverbial farm, I used the years between college and graduate school to refine my values, develop consistent practices of compassion and hospitality, and dream of the impact I wanted to make. I did some work too.
But what I’ve noticed about the work-to-death culture here on campus is that in some professional settings it’s the norm, not the exception. The nonstop 15-hour days here are new to me but not to everyone else. In fact, some would probably be shocked that I kept my weekends sacred with rhythms that involved the things I’ve come to love: community, harvest, creativity, reflection. True rest is something I’ve written about since the inception of this blog, and now I’m only more convinced that it matters.
When the world around us doesn’t seem to slow down, rest is a courageous act. But it’s not rest alone that brings meaning to these long days or the pages and pages and pages of schoolwork. In order to sustain ourselves holistically through the challenging nature of work, we need to find ways to live deeply. My definition of living deeply is a combination of self-awareness, spiritual conviction, faithful dedication, and communal connection. It brings meaning where meaning is absent. It breathes life into words on a page that only describe “effective leadership” or “change management”. It gives our currencies– talent, money, and resources– a cause worthy of growth.
So how do we live deeply? I’ve been working on the following:
Stay close to art, stories, and the non-quantitative capacities of humanity
As a society, we’re becoming increasingly obsessed with data. But Einstein is still a genius: not everything that counts can be counted. And expressions that dare to explore the uncountable tend to be creative, tender, vulnerable, and beautiful. I love reading poetry, attending performances, perusing galleries and sinking my teeth into a late-summer tomato. I choose to create as well: expressing my ideas through writing, trying a new recipe, taking photographs, or even composing mini reflections on Instagram. These things help me re-center my own convictions that we are all part of a story that matters.
Explore your community and seek to understand it.
I’ll be honest: we weren’t super excited to move from Los Angeles to New Haven, Connecticut. Despite LA’s flaws, we’d grown comfortable with our proximity to diverse communities, close friends, and delicious produce (those darn tomatoes!). But now that we’re here, I want to actually be here. I want to understand the community– from the Italian-American generations that call pizza “abeets” (still figuring that one out) to the various immigrant populations that came to Connecticut instead of New York.
When we know more about the land on which we live, we walk with an awareness and appreciation for the stories that have transpired here. We become a part of it. We’re no longer here just for ourselves. We’re here as a part of the story that is still unfolding.
Choose vulnerability even before anyone else does.
Vulnerability is no piece of cake. Being vulnerable first is even tougher. This past week, I encountered someone who seemed a little too absorbed in self-promotion. I was tempted to avoid him, but saw value in the perspectives he brought and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn from him. Rigid and put off at first by his attitude, I decided to let down my guard and be vulnerable. So I affirmed him and said that I needed his expertise in something I was working on. He melted immediately, and now I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing him again.
I wonder what would have happened had I not gone first, if I had let my own shame and insecurity keep me from pressing into a chance at friendship. Vulnerability is a risk and doesn’t always open doors, but it pushes us to live openheartedly and invites others to do the same.
Return to your convictions and pursue the truth.
If you are so fortunate as to be able to make decisions based on your values, it’s important to remind yourself of those values often, even while allowing people and experiences to help you refine them. This is a crucial case of both-and. We can be both openminded and anchored by conviction, seek other perspectives and pursue the truth.
At the end of the day, we all need beliefs and convictions that can stand the test of difficult seasons. In my particular case, the fact is that many of my classmates will go into careers where job satisfaction levels are below 50%. Given these stats, it’s not uncommon for high achievers to find themselves at mid-career deeply dissatisfied with their choices and lost in a sea of demands, expectations and “great” opportunities. That’s when their answer to “why?” needs to come to their rescue.
It’s true that most of us have to put our heads down and complete tasks we dislike at some point or another; but consistently making choices that are ultimately bad for our wellbeing is a symptom of fear or a lack of conviction. Conviction isn’t necessarily static; it can move and breathe with us, but it must exist and we must cling to it.
Let’s live deeply.
While the lifestyle I’ve chosen isn’t exactly popular, I’ve come to realize that it still somehow inspires. Even if living deeply means stepping away from the crowd, forward in vulnerability, and out in creativity, we become another point of reference for what life can look like.
Here’s my posture, at least: you can always come over here, take a breath, and remember that this moment actually means something.