Life of Meaning

As children and grandchildren head back to school, it is a good time to reflect on generational responsibility and legacy.

With the pace of technological and societal change accelerating, the navigation of the fundamental questions of life only seem to grow more complex.  Socrates famously said that "the unexamined life is not worth living."  Today, we live in an age where reflection is rare and information overload the norm. It is harder and harder to find the space and margin for serious reflection.

Two years ago, I began teaching a course at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. I felt it was timely for business schools to take seriously the need of the millennial generation: a longing for meaning and the integration of life and work. Similar to our mission at PathNorth, the class at Georgetown centers around the larger story of business and the 'why' not just the 'how' of commercial life.

In each of the three classes I have taught thus far, I urge my students to probe the 'meaning' piece of life and work in hopes of avoiding the dangerous compartmentalization, which can separate business success from the core of who we are as humans. Many thought leaders and pundits lament the problem, but in our class, we attempt to identify the illusive 'pillars of thriving' and to explore the practical means for implementing these essentials to construct a truly successful life.

While I am clear that I  do not have all, or even a few of the answers, I do believe that I have a lot of the right questions.  More than that, I have been blessed to know some incredible people who have the wisdom and insights to bring those questions to life. Over the two week course, I have 10 of these amazing friends share. The perspectives and humanity that they bring to the topics of our class are truly amazing.

At the most recent class over the summer, Dale Jones and Bill Milliken kicked off the course by demonstrating to the students how powerful honesty and vulnerability can be in impacting others and building a career. Bob Woody gave an incredibly thoughtful reflection of leaving a corporate law job to pursue the work of helping kids after taking a wilderness trip that reignited the spirit of his boyhood. Carol Melton and Barbara Van Dahlen gave voice to fiercely strong, smart and compassionate women who haven’t let their gender hold them back from contributing incredible feats in their work. Frederic De Narp, under his handsome and charming exterior, showed the class the value of sticking to your principles, even if it means forfeiting a job as CEO of Cartier, and having faith that doing the right thing always creates new opportunities. Wilhelmina Holladay shared the amazing art collection at her National Museum of Women in the Arts, explaining that critics can’t stand in the way when you set your mind to creating something you truly believe in. Lastly, Peter Georgescu inspired everyone with his story of overcoming a childhood spent in Soviet prison camps to become one of the most prominent advertising executives in the country--proving your past doesn’t have to define or limit your future, but can actually be the fuel that propels you forward.

These inspiring speakers brought to life the core themes of the course which included: defining your audience, the role of failure in shaping your narrative, the way we define success and the legacy we ultimately want to leave. It was incredible to see the impact these speakers had on the class. As I read the final papers of the 40 students, I found their challenges and stories of pain inspiring, and their self-reflection, honesty and depth incredibly encouraging for how they will lead in the future.

As time has passed since this last class, my attention has increasingly been pulled back to the notion of legacy. How can we continue these efforts to bridge the gap between the accomplished members of PathNorth and the next generation of leaders that will undoubtedly come across many of the same challenges we have faced? Are we responsible for imparting our own life lessons on more than just our children and if so, how do we do this?

With this question in mind, we’ve decided to make LEGACY the theme of the 2015 Annual Gathering. I look forward to tackling these questions with you and learning from inspiring individuals like Tim Shriver and Ann Fudge, who are leading the way in building and cultivating legacies of which they and their children can be proud. I hope that we can all come together in not just reacting to the changes brought by the future generation, but in helping shape and inspire them.