Finding Purpose ... & Classes
Falling Through the Looking Glass
A bit of an Alice in Wonderland week. I feel like I’ve fallen through the Looking Glass. After two years of Covid-imposed quiet in the English countryside, quietly reading and writing, two weeks of Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative makes me feel like I’ve snorted something illicit and am floating around an exciting, fast-paced foreign land. Full of real, live humans happy to get together and do things I barely remember – like dinner parties. This kind of back-to-school feels like learning to drive on Paris’s Rond Point de l’Etoile (hair-raisingly exciting).
Just a teeny bit overwhelming. Thank God I’m not the only one to admit it. It’s pretty funny watching all these powerful senior leaders suddenly having to navigate Harvard’s slightly insane course selection process. The theory is that you are allowed to audit any course being offered anywhere on campus. The reality is that you are only allowed in if the newly truly-powerful-person in this land (the faculty) decide they will allow you in. And that is only after you’ve figured out how to find a course among the thousands suddenly available to you on Harvard’s ‘Shopping’ website, which is somewhere among the several websites, email, covid-testing and other systems you need to learn how to navigate. In a week. Most of us are used to assistants, colleagues, IT support. Here, we’re rather embarrassingly on our own. An exercise in humility. Classes start next Monday, and they are mostly in person – an added strangeness to our newly retiring realities.
Luckily, our second week of virtual on-boarding was all about focusing in – on our values, purpose and mission. The sugar hit of a vast smorgasbord of intellectual sweetcakes was tempered by the reminder that life (especially at our age) is finite, our year here is only 12 months long and we’re supposed to be focusing on a project with a year-end delivery date. We were led in this week’s exploration by the extraordinary Dana Born, a retired Brigadier General with a 30-year career in the US Air Force. She very openly and generously shared her own 3rd Quarter transition to become a Faculty Chair and Lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Her inspiring personal story, and role modelling of vulnerability and openness, allowed all of us to exchange and share stories of confusing choices, ethical dilemmas, and purpose formulations.
My purpose statement eventually emerged from some unconscious depth: ‘Transforming Crones Into Queens – And Living It.’ What do you think? It reflects my interest in exploring gender differences in ageing and all things longevity and modelling a way of ageing with grace and power. What’s your purpose statement for Q3 and have you taken the time to write it down? It may sound basic and a bit trite. But it really is helpful to set it down, and then edit it until it sings. At least to you.
It also helps keep you centred in your choices of how and where to spend your time. So after being sorely tempted by offerings like Reimagining Capitalism, Leadership & Happiness (sold out) and History from 1000 to 2000, I’ve decided to stick closer to my knitting and will be heading off to explore The Future of Work at the Business School, Gender & Science in Public Health, and (if I ever get accepted) Ageing and the Built Environment over at MIT’s Age Lab.
This in addition to interviewing experts across the university (and around the world) with some interest in ageing, longevity and how it overlaps with gender. I’ll be starting with Dr. Paula Rochon’s newly launched Women’s Age Lab in Toronto (thanks to my friend Juliet for flagging) and a review of Atlantic magazine columnist (and Harvard professor) Arthur Brooks’ about-to-be-published book Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. Coming soon.
Given the incredibly cross-disciplinary nature of the ageing topic, people involved in some aspect of its exploding reach are spread far and wide across campus. There is, rather surprisingly, no centre or hub for Ageing or Longevity at Harvard. At least not yet. I was told some attempt was seemingly made a few years ago to pull something together, but nothing came of it. Yet there are people doing fascinating work … everywhere. From the Medical school and the Design school, to the School of Education, Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government. I’ll be exploring all this over coming months. If you have someone to recommend, please let me know.
Not to give you the impression that it’s all work and no play. My values hold pretty steady. ‘Do Good. Share Love. Have Fun.’ Balancing between these pillars has been a lifelong goal, although it took my son to write them down. I’ve found a warm and welcoming yoga studio just down the street (the teachers here too are stellar), an incredible food market a block away, I managed to get my sourdough starter to ‘take’ and have had a couple of dinner parties to begin nurturing what everyone says is one of the best parts of the program: new friends.
Luckily, the folks through the Looking Glass are open - and ready to rumble.
Next up: classes!