Right now I am flying home from my Harvard Business School 25th reunion. It was incredible.
I admit…I didn’t go to the 15th and 20th reunion. Why? It doesn’t take a Baker Scholar to crack that case. Frankly, I don’t remember the details…but either I was between jobs, or I hated my job or something was going wrong in my personal life or something like that. Most likely my career was going sideways at that time. As a Harvard Business School Graduate, when your career is not going up and to the right, your self-esteem falls into the toilet.
When we graduate from Harvard Business School, we don’t believe, we KNOW we can conquer the universe. And, you know what? Many alumni do. So, we set lofty goals for our careers, which is probably good. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there? Right? But…we don’t just set goals…we turn those goals into expectations.
As a former engineer, I love equations. My favorite equation has no numbers:
SATISFACTION = PERCEPTION – EXPECTATIONS
This equation applies to almost anything in life. It quickly clarifies my decisions to not attend previous reunions. If my PERCEPTION of how my career is down in the dumps and my EXPECTATIONS for my career are in the clouds…well…anyone can do the math…my SATISFACTION must be negative. But…my SATISFACTION must not only be negative, it must be REALLY, REALLY negative!
As a Harvard Business School graduate, with my career SATISFACTION down in the depths of despair, there was NO WAY I could have gone to those reunions. Right? After all, if I went, I would have to face all my classmates. And…of course…they were all masters of the universe; because, I hadn’t just set expectations high for myself, I had set expectations high for everyone in my class. And without information to the contrary, I assumed they had achieved or exceed their goals. They must have…they all graduated from Harvard Business School. Of course, they achieved or exceeded those goals. They were all CEO’s. Captains of industry. I was alone. I was the only FAILURE. I didn’t want to go to those reunions; I wanted to crawl into a hole.
The most interesting thing about my favorite equation is that REALITY is nowhere in the equation. PERCEPTIONS are subjective. EXPECTATIONS are often unrealistic. REALITY is nowhere in the equation. In reality, was I a FAILURE? Of course not. But it is easy to FEEL like a failure. And were my expectations unfair? Probably. Reasonable as goals, but unreasonable as expectations.
But, I need to circle back to this reunion. My section party was amazing. For a few hours I was surrounded by 40-50 people who I knew intimately from first year. I knew them. And they knew me. And they care about me.
Anyway…after having a GREAT time at the section party I shared a cab ride back to our hotels with a couple of sections mates. One of those section mates is a brilliant, McKinsey type. He used to come into section hungover and disheveled. Then he would proceed to crack pretty much any case for which he was asked to open. Anyway…the three of us needed to tell the cabbie which hotel to go to first. This section mate was staying at the Marriot Copley. Reunion headquarters. So…I looked over at him and said, “You must have RSVP’d early to be staying at the Marriot Copley.” He responded, “of course I RSVP’d right away.” I looked at him blankly. And then, as always, he cracked the case. He quietly said, “Why wouldn’t I? I go to all of these things.”
And the light turned on in my head. Why wouldn’t I go to ANY and ALL Harvard Business School reunions? Life takes a village, right? For the previous few hours, at the section party, I had returned to the nurturing village of my section. Everybody knew me. They care about me. And you know what…they didn’t judge me. Everyone just enjoyed each other and caught up. If I had gone to my 15th and 20th reunions, my guess is that the same would have happened. I would have been welcomed right back into that fold; I would not have been judged. I would have been welcomed and nurtured.
So…will I go to my Harvard Business School 30th reunion? Why wouldn’t I?