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A Letter for Future Generations

If I Knew Then is a wonderful website and initiative by the Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963. As their 50 year reunion approached, they were asked if they had any career, finance, and life advice to pass on to other generations. The result is a website packed with insights, all based on real life experience (the best kind!).

Here is just a quick sample of leadership insights:

  • “I would have been a better leader if I had been less cocky in my early career and more confident in my middle career.” ~ Scott Spangler
  • “Hire people better than you and give them support and the freedom to thrive.” Richard L. Peterson
  • “Listen. Be a good role model. Do your homework. Delegate. Praise others’ efforts.” Carol Nicholson Fryeberger

Letter for GenerationsTake a few minutes and explore the site. Some practical insights for all generations are highlighted, ready for all to read.

And then Danny Rubin worked his creative magic. From the site, Danny wrote this fictional letter. The letter is mostly based on quotes from the Class of 1963. Read the letter and add in your favorite insight or leave your own. Enjoy!

Guest Post by Danny Rubin

In this fictional letter, every pearl of wisdom in quotations is taken from If I Knew Then…Advice on careers, finance, and life from Harvard Business School’s Class of 1963. The Harvard alum’s initials follow the quote.

Dear grandchild,

I hope everything is going well!

I love when your mom shows me all your pictures from Facebook. You look like you’re having so much fun! But I have to ask: are you taking these photos yourself? You kids today sure love those…selfies, is it? I saw Oxford named selfie the 2013 Word of the Year. You know me… always watching my news.

Such a strange phenomenon, the selfie. My generation always had the camera lens pointed at other people. My advice: “Don’t take your own worth too seriously” (AN) because you might miss the bigger picture. That’s why I want to pass along everything I’ve learned about life, love and happiness the past 50 years.

As I think back on my life, I realize it was always less about me and more about those around me. “Choose work you enjoy and that serves as many people as possible. Serve well, and money will follow.” (NB) The three most important traits are to “work hard, be honest and help others.” (PS) And never forget to take chances. At 24, I moved to Chicago, where I had never been, and joined a company I previously was unaware of. It turned out to be a terrific move.” (PP)

It’s important to “find an industry that gets you excited…learn everything you can about your company, both the details and the big picture…and befriend and work with the best people, because they will make you better.” (RI) “I cannot do better than repeat Joseph Campbell’s admonition: Follow your bliss. Seek work that you love and do it.” (EB)

At the same time, “Just because someone competes, tries, earns a trophy, or gets a pat on the back merely for participating, as is so common in the younger generations today, that alone does not bring…success.” (BG) The reality is “The most successful lives are those people who have had a very positive impact on a great many other people.” (JF)

Look, I know life is confusing in your 20s. Sometimes, it’s easier to focus the camera inward than stare blankly into the vast unknown. “At age 25, I probably placed a little too much stress on perception as a measure of success. I’ve learned it’s not what others think, but what you think.” (JS)

“There are very few really big, tough decisions in life. But when one comes along, you must think it through every which way possible and then go for it. Trust your instincts and never look back on what ifs.” (AN) “Many things that happened in my career were the result of random acts. The important thing is to keep your eyes open to recognize the right moves.” (GW)

Despite the ups and downs, “There is no substitute for integrity…The ability to look back on life and say ‘I did it the right way’ is a treasure. There is no do-over when you lose your integrity and reputation.” (DT) Simply put: “Telling the truth makes it easy to remember what I said.” (RM)

Since you’re a newlywed, “I can be very brief and to the point: Happy wife, happy life.” (HT) Also, “Exercise patience. It took me two marriages and 80% of a lifetime to appreciate the value of that word.” (AN) To all your friends still looking for a mate, tell them this: “Find your own identity before imposing yourself on someone else.” (JS)

Ever since you were a child, I knew you possessed leadership qualities. But like a joyful marriage, being an effective leader takes time, energy and focus. “Leading by example is by far the most important characteristic of a good leader.” (EL) As I have learned over the past five decades, “Not all decisions turn out well. Be prepared to deal with problems over which you have no control. Also, almost everything will require more money and more time than you think.” (DN)

As for all the social media, “My wish is that [younger] generations understand that communication screen-to-screen is not the same — by a factor of 1,000 — as communication face-to-face. That goes for the classroom, the living room, and the bedroom.” (AN)

Oh, and then there’s always issues of money. “Many years ago, my father told me: Never judge a man by the balance in his bank book, but by the quality of his life.” (PP) Remember that “Success is not about the accumulation of wealth and power. It is more about happiness, contentment, and satisfaction — for not only you but also your family.” (JC) It took me a long time to realize but “Too much money can make you just as unhappy as too little.” (SS)

I want to end this letter to you, my grandchild, with a short story.

“When I was young, I loved listening to ‘Your Hit Parade’ on the radio. Number one on the Hit Parade for many weeks in mid-1948 was ‘Nature Boy’ by Nat King Cole, his first gold record as a solo artist. I loved it, but as a 13-year-old, didn’t really fully focus on its message until many years later.

But now that message is one I take literally: The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” (BM)

I know you can achieve greatness in your lifetime, but the only way is to live with conviction and decide to turn your camera onto the world.

You’d be amazed how much there is to see.

All my love,

Grandparents everywhere

PS: For a successful marriage, “Don’t eat crackers in bed.” (AN)

What’s your favorite quote from the Harvard alums?

Guest Author

Danny RubinDanny Rubin is the managing editor of News To Live By, a blog for Millennials that highlights the career advice and leadership lessons “hidden” in the day’s top stories. Don’t just read the news — use it to gain an edge on the job. You can follow the blog at @NewsToLiveBy. – See more at: Damn Right I’m Part of the “Me Me Me” Generation.

Guest Author

Guest Author

From time to time, guest writers contribute to Thin Difference. Topics include leadership, career development, creativity, and mindfulness. Our mission is to "Cross the gap and lead with a new story line," inspiring Millennial leaders.

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  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    This is a great list. Love the metaphor of turning your camera into the world… good thing smartphones come with recording devices… listen to the world as well.

    • Danny Rubin

      Thanks! I really dislike the “selfie” trend. It says EVERYTHING about our current state of self-absorption.

  • lollydaskal

    What a brilliant post. This should be shared with the world. Everyone should read these truths and hold them close their heart.

    • Danny Rubin

      Thank you, Lolly. I stumbled across these Harvard quotes and was so impressed. Felt like I had to use them in a way that would get the attention of those hard-to-pin-down twenty somethings :)

  • http://www.dralicechan.com/ Alice Chan, Ph.D.

    Great job, Danny, in weaving together all these wonderful quotes into a cohesive letter. My favorite is the Joseph Campbell quote. So many has said the same thing with the exact same or similar words: Follow your bliss. If we force ourselves to do anything in order to appear successful, socially acceptable, etc., it will ultimately leave us empty. Only if we follow what we’re truly passionate about and marry it to a life of service do we stand a chance of looking back and feeling we’ve lived a meaningful life.

    • Danny Rubin

      Thanks, Alice. I’d like to think Millennials will wake up one day and realize the meaninglessness of our selfie culture, but I’m not so sure. Always good to have reminders — especially from brilliant men and women in their golden years.

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