Last weekend I attended my 20-year reunion for the Stanford Graduate School of Business. It was a tremendous experience, in part because I was honored to give a 15-minute TED-style talk to my classmates, entitled “Live AS IF You Had Cancer.”
At the reunion, I noticed a few major themes:
1). As the Class of 1996 gets older and enters Middle Age, the conversations at the reunions tend to focus a lot less on money, career and status, and a lot more on family, friends and health.
One classmate was infected with a flesh-eating virus, due to oral surgery, which almost killed him. Another was in completely great health — and nonetheless had a severe stroke which paralyzed half of his body for a year. And a third has had seven surgeries and 39 rounds of chemotherapy to fight colon cancer.
Several (including me) have gone through tough divorces — or they’re in the middle of separating right now. Some had the courage to say they faced severe depression. Some realized that they were queer, and decided to leave their straight marriages.
2).People have gotten nicer. Or maybe I’m just less judgmental.
At the reunion I had lots of wonderful, kind conversations with people whom I hardly knew before. It felt very comforting to be able to make completely new friends with people whom I’ve known for 22 years, yet never really took the time to truly connect with.
Then there were the people whom I used to think fairly negatively about. In contrast to prior reunions, I did not try to avoid them. And in many cases, I had delightful, sincere conversations with them about personal issues. I can try to tell myself that these other people have changed for the better. But much more likely, I’m more self-loving and self-forgiving than before, which makes it a lot easier for me to accept and honor others. “The world” — it seems — is really just a mirror of who you are right now.
3). Careers are unpredictable.
I met up with people who have always been very low-key, but they’ve quietly been able to start multiple companies which have been very successfully acquired. I recall the people who were flying high in their careers 10 years ago, but were wiped out in the Great Recession. Some who used to be quite arrogant have been humbled. (I like them a lot more this way!)
Several classmates have completely shifted their careers.
One went on to get a degree in psychiatry and now helps people in prisons in Massachusetts. One helped repeal the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.” policy, had a successful career in finance, and now works as a psychologist in San Francisco. And one later studied theology at Harvard and now teaches mindfulness and improvisation.
Others have been successful entrepreneurs who are now using their wealth, time and energy to work for non-profits. Some are full time homemakers.
Despite all that they may have accomplished — or not accomplished — many members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Class of 1996 are still trying to figure out what they’ll write in the next chapters of their lives.
So, it occurred to me that I should ask you —
If you attended a reunion 20 years from now, what would you want it to be like?
Where do you want to be in your life?
Who do you want to be?
How do you want to be?
What legacy do you want to create, between now and 2036?
(Believe me, that day will come sooner than you can imagine! ; – )