Asking and Answering the Big Questions

I recently attended the last day of Professor Clayton Christensen's fall semester class at Harvard Business School.

In his final minutes with eighty of the world's best and brightest 25-35 year-olds, there was so much that Professor Christensen could have used his bully pulpit to say. Interestingly he chose to focus not on building and sustaining a successful enterprise, as he had done all semester, but rather on building and sustaining a happy life.

Paraphrasing Dr. Christensen's remarks, “In just a few months you will graduate from Harvard Business School, and embark on what to many, including yourselves, will be prestigious, lucrative, high profile careers. But if you want to also have happy lives, you need to know the purpose of your life.”

Photo courtesy of Jorge Antonio, istockphoto

He concluded class by encouraging the students to take the time, even if it's between 11 and 12 each night, as he did some thirty years ago, while he himself was in graduate school, to figure out their ‘who they are', and ‘what they are meant to do.'

There was a tear or two.

In Howard Gardner's groundbreaking theory on multiple intelligences, he outlines eight different type of intelligences. The first two, logical-mathematical and linguistic, aptitudes most valued by our society, are no doubt strengths of HBS students.

But what of kinesthetic, interpersonal, musical, naturalist, spatial, perhaps most importantly, existential intelligence — to make meaning of our life — the intelligence to which I believe Dr. Christensen was referring?

Many of us do not have graduate degrees, including myself. Even fewer have degrees from an Ivy League school.

Which is why I found Dr. Christensen's words so encouraging.

Because to be existentially intelligent, even credentialed, we don't need a degree, we just need to know how to ask and answer the really big questions, like — what's our story meant to be? How do we become the hero of our story? The hero of support in others' stories?

Which intelligences do you possess?

Have you ever considered yourself existentially intelligent?

What is your story meant to be?

Will you resolve to be the hero of your story?

And the hero of support in others' stories?

Related posts:

Seeing With New Eyes
Play to Your Strengths
What We Can Learn From TLC’s “I’ve Got Nothing to Wear”
What I Learned About Seeing from My Glasses
Rock Climbing and Rethinking our Competence

What We Can Learn From TLC’s “I’ve Got Nothing to Wear”

We carry with us the wonders we seek without us. Sir Thomas Browne

Dream, dream, I want to dare, I want to dream, but how?

Good question, and TLC's I've Got Nothing to Wear offers some suggestions…

Figuratively, not literally, so stay with me.

In this six-part summer series, a professional stylist assigns the guest's clothing to one of two categories: salvageable and non-salvageable. The non-salvageables are sent to the “chop shop” where three designers have been assigned to cull, rip, redesign, and resew these items into fresh, fashionable pieces (e.g. an outdated pair of slacks might become an evening gown). In the meantime, the stylist shops with the guest for 4-5 classic items to complement the salvaged clothing. When the stylist creates a “look book” which shows the student how to mix and match the salvaged clothes, the newly-purchased classics, and the revamped pieces, the wardrobe refashion is complete.


I'm not suggesting that each of us begin to personally redesign our clothing, but rather to propose that the premise of “I've Got Nothing to Wear” can help us think through what tools may be available to us as we dream.

Salvaged clothing, or clothing that is wearable today — This is a metaphor for our strengths. Just as the stylist helps identify clothing which works, we may need a see-er of our strengths until we see them. Howard Gardner and Laura Morgan Roberts' work are great resources.

What are your strengths? What about you is magnificent that you don't see, but others do?

Newly-bought classic items — Think new skills and competencies. Just as the student's wardrobe needs a few new classic pieces, we may need to acquire a new skill to achieve our dream.

What skill can you learn in a matter of days, maybe even hours, that would move you closer to your dream?

Revamped or refashioned clothing — Consider the importance of repurposing strengths that once “fit and were in style” and no longer are. Just as each of us have clothes that we love, possibly inherited from our grandmother or mother that no longer fit us or who we are, we also have strengths, ones that may have even gotten us through tough times, that no longer serve us.

What skills or competencies no longer fit? If you sent them to the chop-shop for a repurpose, what fabulous new something about your self might you discover?

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