How should you organize your life?
by Len Schlesinger (Babson)
The world was a very certain place when I was growing up in New York City. From an early age, I had my life planned out. Everything was marvelously scripted: I was going to go to a specialized high school; I was going to go to a great university; and I was going to be a lawyer. Despite the fact that my family had no money, through my academic performance I was able to excel in elementary school and junior high school and believed that I could do just about anything I wanted. And much of what I wanted came true. I went to an Ivy League college—and then I got to day one of law school and discovered that I had absolutely no interest in law as a career.
What do you do when you have over planned your life and everything is going along, and you suddenly find yourself with a major disconnect? Most of my fellow law students expected to practice in large law firms and, like me, they also had a complete lack of emotional connection with law school. Still, they all had their plans and were committed to them. None could ever have imagined the degree of disruption ahead in the legal industry that would eliminate firms and destroy careers. I stopped law school after two days and went over to the business school.
My experience taught me not to get obsessed about long-term plans because you can’t predict what the world will be like down the road. Recognize that you’re either going to have to do something you love inside of work or outside of work to keep yourself happy. I’ve learned that it’s much better when what you love to do is part of your job.
Here’s what I suggest: Stay connected to the emotional content of your activities—what brings you joy and what gives you energy. Find stuff you love and care about and ways to turn something you love into something you do. Figure out how to turn an avocation into a vocation knowing full well that you’re likely to have to undergo a systematic reassessment of your work probably 10 times during your life.
At Babson College, we believe that a college education should be an opportunity not only to learn in the classroom, but to get an education by how you live. Each week has 168 hours, but at a residential college like ours you spend only about 14 hours in classes. We are very focused on the opportunities we provide students for the other 154 hours to explore and test out their interests by taking action, learning from these actions, and building on what they’ve learned. Life is really all about acting, learning, and building–and the college experience is a great time to use what we call the tools of smart action. There is no better preparation for today’s uncertain world.
Len Schlesinger became President of Babson College in 2008 after serving as Vice Chairman and COO of Limited Brands. He also spent over 20 years teaching at Harvard Business School, where he led MBA and executive education programs and was architect and chair of Harvard Business School’s MBA Essential Skills and Foundations programs. He is author or co-author of eleven books, including Just Start: Take action, Embrace uncertainty, Create the future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). At Babson he has led a strategy of broadening the method for teaching entrepreneurship–Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®–extending the context through Entrepreneurship of All Kinds®, and taking Babson’s pedagogy to the world. In 2011, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities named him the Most Entrepreneurial University President in the U.S.