Recently David Brooks of New York Times called out to readers over 70 to send him a Life Report. He wants to share these with readers, especially the young, who wonder about life’s lessons. Think about this in the context of the leadership at your own company. Do your young employees know the life stories or lessons of your leaders? Would it help them to know of a challenge a leader faced when s/he was moving up the ranks? What about a mistake s/he made that she learned from? How did s/he navigate a setback that was personal or professional? The more personal and human the story to show how they navigated good or bad decisions, the better!
First, we have few formal moments of self-appraisal in our culture. Occasionally, on a big birthday people will take a step back and try to form a complete picture of their lives, but we have no regular rite of passage prompting them to do so.
More important, these essays will be useful to the young. Young people are educated in many ways, but they are given relatively little help in understanding how a life develops, how careers and families evolve, what are the common mistakes and the common blessings of modern adulthood. These essays will help them benefit from your experience.
Brooks then describes some of the life reflections he read about from elderly former Yale graduates who ruminated about their careers, marriages, behavior and life passions. For example, there was the guy who worked for the same company his whole life and never took risks. Or, the guy who wished he had moved to Australia 25 years ago.
The most exciting essays were written by the energetic, restless people, who took their lives off in new directions midcourse. One man, who was white, trained an all-black unit during World War II, was a director of the pharmaceutical company that developed The Pill, and then served as a judge at an international court at The Hague. ‘Career-wise, it was a rocky road,’ another wrote, ‘but if diversity is the spice of life, then mine resembled hot Indian curry.’ Nobody regretted the life changes they made, even when they failed.
And, Brooks adds, “…for almost all, family and friends mattered most.”
When we hear of “succession planning” or values-based leadership, it really helps when we have real life examples of how people before us navigated these waters. It doesn’t determine how the young will make their own decisions but it sure does help to know of the choices people faced and whether those choices wound up making them happy. We’ll be looking forward to what is shared in the New York Times around Thanksgiving but for leaders, if you want to share your stories: personal or professional, what worked or what didn’t and the lessons learned, we’d love for you to share them here.