As a kid, I loved having options.
Most mornings I would wake up, stand in front of my closet, and throw on whatever outfit spoke to me.
I’d head downstairs and my mom would ask “what would you like for breakfast this morning Heath Beath?”
Squirming my way up onto a stool, I’d pleasantly muse over a few of my favorites: Bagel with cream cheese…mini waffles with butter…cereal and milk.
Carb with dairy, carb with dairy, or…carb with dairy.
(Obviously my two preferred food groups, which I’ll be forever in the gym fighting against).
Not much rhyme or reason past “I feel like choosing this” went into my decision, but my day just seemed to start off best with a sense of freedom in my routine.
As it goes with most kids, a perceived abundance of choice made me quite happy, and a lack of it…well let’s just say hell hath no fury that compares. (Big Fisch would probably tell you I haven’t changed one bit in that regard.)
Back then, options felt like luxuries, probably because as a child there were far less of them. But if only we had known that all too soon we’d be flooded with more decisions then at times we felt like we could handle, perhaps we would have been a bit less eager to grow up and take on a whole lot more responsibility.
Since coming to HBS, my mind has been more keenly aware of not only the amount of decisions in life, but also the weight of them.
The environment here is peculiar… for many reasons…but largely because you’re given two years to press “pause” on reality and cram in as much learning, growing, developing, and networking as possible, in order to change the trajectory of your life forever.
Talk about pressure.
And it’s not just about the job. Or the money.
For many, it’s about facing the bigger questions:
What do I want my life to be about?
What matters to me?
What is worth living for? Fighting for? Leading for?
What kind of person will I be, and how do I prepare myself to live up to the standards I’ve set?
Many here have already had the job… and the money. What they’ve come for is the chance to chase purpose while wading through the many possibilities around them. It’s in this process that one realizes (yet again) that the question you loved to dream about as a child – “what do I want to be when I grow up?”- is not so easy to answer after all.
It’s fascinating to observe and witness this process for many of the students and their partners here. For some, stress begins to weigh heavily upon their shoulders as they see their timeline for decision making slipping away like sand in an hourglass.
Others ride the pendulum far to the opposite side, trusting that the right opportunity will come along at the right time; feeling very little need to sweat the details…or the classroom norms.
The rest fall somewhere in the middle, calculating every move and investment of time in an attempt to find a balanced, yet strategic approach.
But no matter what the individual style, everyone finds themselves in the same position…
What is my next move? What is my significance?
This quest puts all on the same playing field.
It doesn’t matter what one’s family name, accomplishments, or work history may be. Once here, all are learning, developing, seeking, and deciding.
The search for individual purpose escapes no one. It’s the ultimate leveler.
And this is true for us all, is it not?
When we think about it, much of the strife we feel in life, comes from a lack of contentment. Whether it’s for a more fulfilling job, the right relationship(s), or something we feel is missing, it’s this discontentment that causes us to look to the left and to the right, comparing and assessing ourselves against others.
Other’s success; other’s possessions; other’s perceived happiness. It’s the metrics we use to rank and assign value. And it’s this value system that if we’re not careful, can send us into an exhausting rat race that guarantees no lasting happiness at the finish line.
But to be content – to be in a state of peace and satisfaction – is to know that you are where you should be. That you’re doing what you were purposed to do. That while not all is perfect, you rest easy knowing that what is at your “core,” the foundation upon which you build your life, can never be taken away from you.
When you are living for that which you feel you were made for, you are well situated to be the best version of you that you can be. And when you’re living out the best version of you, there then is no higher level of success, happiness, or worth for you to attain. The feeling that you may be missing out on something greater goes away, and the world’s value system no longer has any power over you.
So where does contentment hide? Where can it possibly be found in the face of seemingly endless possibilities?
A mentor once told me “the secret to growing up is not having all of life figured out, rather just some of it; knowing who you are and what you will live for.”
I’m not claiming this philosophy to be scripture, but this “secret” is a common thread I have witnessed in those who exude contentment and peacefulness wherever they go.
They know who they are – not in a self-seeking, “define your own happiness” kind of way – but rather in a way where they’ve taken the time to assess what they stand for, what they believe in, and what’s worth living and dying for. They know their Maker and they fix their minds firmly on Him as they walk in the freedom it brings.
And when one has taken the time to grasp their identity, being true to one’s values and beliefs becomes the lens through which they view all things. And decisions suddenly become a bit simpler to make.
Whether we like it or not, time has passed quickly, and we’re not so little anymore. “What would I like for breakfast?” has become one of the easiest (and least exciting) questions in my day. My options are now:
Bacon and eggs, bacon and eggs, or…bacon and eggs.
(I’ve since switched to proteins…did you catch that?)
The final decisions to our big choices need more thought than “because I feel like it” behind them if we want to live life with purpose and direction. And the only real requirement is making the time to press “pause” on our busy lives, avoiding the temptation to just go through the motions, and allow ourselves to sit in stillness as we seek clarity to those big questions.
What will I live for? Who will I be? How does that match up with how I’m living now?
Few investments of time could be more important.
We may not know yet what exactly we want to be when we grow up, but we can know who we want to be. And that my friend, is half the battle.
– Tiny Fisch