By Israel Rojas-Moreno, Class of 2016
How do you determine life’s purpose? A version of this question was on the mind of hundreds of students who attended one or more sessions of the recent Navigating the Grey (NTG) series. The talks were in high demand; several sessions required some last minute scrambling to accommodate all the participants. Do we simply lack enough self-confidence to trust our own judgment? Or are those who think they’ve figured it all out just kidding themselves?
Nobody wants to live a meaningless life, but it’s difficult to know whether we’re on the right track. As business students, we struggle to measure meaning or success outside of career progression and/or financial wealth. We are taught that dollars are a close substitute for utility; naturally, when we think of maximizing our utility, we think of accumulating dollars to do so. We believe those dollars can be traded for other preferred utility-maximizing goods later. So, we make career choices based on two assumptions: 1) one day, we will stumble upon alternate utility-maximizing careers and 2) that the dollars we would have accumulated by then will be valid currency for other goods we prefer. Fortunately, the NTG series set out to challenge those assumptions.
We spend an inordinate amount of time and energy pursuing post-MBA jobs because we are afraid a misstep here will delay, or even preclude, our ability to achieve our dream job of the future. But as one talk highlighted – what if our intended industry simply vanished? Surely we make tradeoffs in pursuit of our original career choice, believing the sacrifices we make aren’t too severe. If we had to be more considerate of our alternate careers, would we discover options that are less demanding but more satisfying?
As Boothies especially, our inclination is to believe there is one right answer and that we simply need more data points to identify it. Among the guest speakers, some had identified their precise purpose, while others admitted they were still searching. The latter, evidence of the possibility that we might never learn whether we made the right choice, can be downright terrifying. Many audience questions were a version of: “How did you know?” Perhaps somewhat frustrating to those seeking external validation, the speakers consistently directed students to look inward. More so, they urged students to carve aside time to pause, and to think and reflect. Our lives can be so hectic and our minds constantly thinking about the next deadline, that we begin to operate on auto-pilot without questioning why. By pausing, we give ourselves space to make better decisions.
The second assumption was addressed in a talk debating the competing priorities of security and adventure. Noting our inclination to look forward to our financial security, the talk challenged us to consider the satisfaction provided by adventure. Indirectly, we were challenged to consider the sacrifices in pursuit of financial wealth. In our belief of money as a vehicle for attaining utility, we neglect to consider the goods we may not be able to buy. Specifically, we fail to consider the moments or years that might pass us by. Twenty years from now, what would you pay for the career flexibility that would have allowed you to scale Mt. Everest with the vitality of your youth? What would you pay to have been able to join your best friends on impulse weekend excursions throughout the years? What would you pay to have been able to spend another birthday or two with your parents (or grandparents) before they succumbed to their own mortality? Time is just one of our most precious assets. Fortunately, we still have a chance to decide how we use it.
This author looks forward to more opportunities to navigate all sorts of colors.