Thursday, May 28, 2009

What makes us happy?

One thing I've noticed common to most HBS students is an intense drive toward achievement. If we follow Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we pursue self-actualization and self-transcendence as the ultimate goal. As defined by Maslow, this means to "...have unitive consciousness and plateau experience ... and to have or to have had peak experience (mystic, sacral, ecstatic) with illuminations or insights." It also means to have achieved spiritual self-sufficiency, authenticity, meaningfulness, humility, and cognitive self-understanding. In order words, achieving one's full potential as a human being.

With such lofty goals, it's no wonder that so many HBS students are left with unresolved desires and anxiety about making their mark on this world.

Although I haven't had my "transformational" section experience yet (it will be interesting to revisit this subject in a year), on the surface it seems many HBS students are one pyrmaid level below the top: Esteem. They are tactically driven by tangible achievement, votes of confidence and success, and are consciously or unconsciously seeking the respect of others in this world. I suppose this is a natural position in life for a 20-something on his/her quest towards greater intangible success; one just has to see it as a phase rather than an end state to truly appreciate the personal dimensions and context of the HBS experience.

So what does make us happy?

Wouldn't it be nice if we could track several hundred Harvard graduates across the depth of their lives, monitoring, observing, recording, and evaluating what brings one true happiness? Can we confirm or deny the age old sage that money can't buy happiness? Amazingly, Harvard has been conducting exactly such a study on the same group of graduates for the past 72 years! The study tracked 268 Harvard men throughout their lives; the ones still with us are well into their 80s.

With a group so privileged and ambitious, and with such a strong drive to be successful and make a mark in the world, is it a surprise to anyone that a third of the participants exhibited some sort of mental illness - if only temporarily - by their 50s? At the same time, it should be of little surprise that some of the participants also filled the job of the oval office, the US cabinet, and countless powerful boards.

The article is well put together and reveals a lot of surprises. Although it tends to dwell on esoteric academic references, it also addresses more puzzling questions such as "What college aged personality traits predict political affiliation?" "What variables best predict health later in life?" And of course... "What brings us happiness?"

On a personal note, it was reassuring to read that every life, no matter how it is presented or projected to others, is filled with personal tragedy, personal growth, setbacks, eloquence, complexity, empathy, and connection. We all live through the full spectrum of emotion. We also know there is no playbook for happiness - we all just do the best we can on this one way journey.

I invite you to learn from what must be one of the deepest studies in positive psychology ever compiled.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Opportunity cost

This week I officially authorized my resignation from the military after 10 years of service. It's something extremely difficult to do because the military is more than a job; it's an identity and a way of life. It can be an agonizing transition to walk away from the service, its mission, its people, its sense of purpose, and its history.

I turned in my original resignation in January. In an effort to retain me, several weeks ago the military offered to both pay for HBS as well as full salary during my two years of study. The catch? 4.5 years of commitment on the back side.

I have done a lot of soul searching about this option, and queried many opinions. Some said I would be a fool to not take the offer. Others said the opportunity cost of 4.5 years would just be too high. Opportunity cost is a term I am quickly learning to appreciate.

Earlier in my life I could pursue one path without necessarily closing the door to another. For example, I could serve in the military and still be a doctor, a lawyer, or a businessman later. I could move to one country, and still expect to eventually establish roots in another. As one becomes older and more experienced, options may be more abundant, but choosing one option inherently negates many others. The post-HBS 4.5 year commitment would take me into my late 30s, and essentially negate many opportunities coming out of HBS. On the other hand, it's very plausible to return to the military should I change my mind in two years.

When weighing my options, I considered two key points:
  • The opportunity cost of 4.5 years of my life versus that of several hundred thousand dollar investment in me today. Of the two options, I believe the 4.5 years is a riskier proposition.
  • The assumption that I can serve as a greater agent of change in this world coming out of HBS than I can following my current path in the military.
That analysis represents a judicious approach; it does not take into account the emotional and mental aspect of saying goodbye to such an integral part of one's life. Only time will tell if my leap of faith is wise, but that's the risk I have decided to take.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Finding your way versus making your way

I just finished reading "Ahead of the Curve" by Philip Delves Broughton. Philip did not find what he was looking for at HBS. He learned a lot about business, but got neither a summer internship nor a job offer coming out of school. His internal struggle to find a successful career yet not follow the corporate path drew him in two directions that he could not bridge. I looked him up online and it seems he has gone back (for now) to what he was doing before: conventional journalism.

Phlip and I have several things in common, so learning from his experience is very valuable. For one, we are a similar age entering HBS. For another, we are both leaving a highly successful career that we enjoyed greatly. I can't speak for Philip, but for those wondering why one would leave such a career; careers change and evolve, and although you enjoyed getting to a certain point, it doesn't mean you will enjoy getting to the next.

When I started applying to HBS I thought that business school would be a great way to "find my way." It would be a great forum for a career transition. While the latter is true, taking it for granted is a mistake. Although, HBS can be used to "find your way," its benefits are exponentially leveraged if one instead uses it to "make your way." This may sound like a serious statement from somebody who hasn't even began school yet, but that is my point. The earlier one starts to plan his career, months before school starts, the better off he will be. It's not necessary, but it adds an advantage.

I've long stripped the idea that my two years at school will be used to find my way to a new career. I'm now very proactive in searching and learning about different career opportunities, and I haven't even signed a lease in Cambridge yet.

In the military one starts out as an expert and becomes a generalist as he moves up the ranks. In business, the trend appears to be mostly the opposite. The sooner one can get himself in the right business lane, the further that road will take him.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Crime in Cambridge

As I continue to search for off-campus housing, I queried the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) for some crime statistics; I was quite surprised. This may be the case of simply seeing what has always been around you, but I found the crime rates to be rather high for my standards. I'm not primarily concerned about somebody trying to hurt me personally, but I am concerned about car break-ins, car thefts, and home break-ins while I'm not home. So those are the statistics I focused on. The CPD has pretty good statistical analysis of city crimes and I suggest you look on their web site to learn more about your particular interests.

First, let's start by defining the different neighborhoods in Cambridge:

Most off-campus students live in Riverside, Mid-Cambridge, and Cambridgeport, roughly in that order. The police web site has multi-page reports detailing each particular neighborhood, so refer to it for more details. For now, let's just look at general trends.

Although detailed, the CPD crime analysis is 2 years behind. So for now the best we can do is look at the 2007 annual reports.


Auto thefts:

One of the most common crimes in Cambridge is GPS thefts. In 2007 there were 779 reported cases. That's over 2 GPS thefts a day, 365 days a year. Personally, the main hassle of a GPS theft is not just the loss of the GPS, but getting your window smashed and the time associated with dealing with the crime, the insurance company, and repairig the vehicle and the mess they leave behind. Most of us are pretty GPS savvy and remove the GPS from the windshield when we park our car in questionable places. However, the thieves are also pretty savvy. From what everybody told me, if they just see a power cable in the car, a suction cup, or even suction cup marks on the windshield, then the thieves will assume you have the device somewhere in your car and will break in (if your car is targeted). There are solutions around these problems, but the point is, if you love your car, off-street parking is a major consideration.

So all the above was 2007 data. I searched for 2008 data and the CPD have data from the first 3 quarters posted (see below). You can study the numbers for yourself, but a snapshot summary of crimes per day in 2008 show:
  • Over 1 residential burglary per day
  • Over 2 thefts per day from a car
  • About 2 car thefts every 3 days
Violent crime appears to be relatively low for the population size, and it's also something I feel I have some control over in my behavior and actions. However, when somebody breaks into my house or car and I'm not around, is when I have much less control, which is why I focused on those statistics. I didn't get the impression that Cambridge is a particularly dangerous place by any means, but having situational awareness of the the crime rate and types of crime is important. The rest of the statistics are below.