No shortcuts to success

In the 21st century we’re conditioned to expect speed. We use apps because they are faster than searching. We like followers to respond to our social media thoughts within seconds. The web site loads instantaneously; and if it doesn’t we conclude the site must be down.

Yet there is still one thing that will never come to us quickly—success. There are no shortcuts to success either —just ask anyone who ever purchased a weight loss program that advertised fast results without a long-term commitment to diet and exercise.

I was recently reminded of the discrepancy between the speed in which we usually receive things and the time it takes to succeed when I attended a reception honoring the Dyson College Fed Challenge Team. You may remember that our Pace team won the annual national College Fed Challenge in December for the second year in a row. The Pace team beat out teams from Princeton University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bentley University, and Northwestern University.

Last year at a similar reception I asked one of the team members how he accounted for the team’s success. He said, “We work harder than anyone else. We are better prepared.”

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Our team won because they understood the dedication and time it takes to obtain real mastery of the issues in a new and complex field—which is the same dedication and time it takes to become a leading professional. To put in that kind of effort and realize a positive result is hugely satisfying.

The faculty members who worked with the team, principally Professors Mark Weinstock and Gregory Colman, also understand what it takes to succeed in this competition and in life. They did so much more than teach these students about monetary policy. They created a culture that led a group of students to believe that they could compete at the highest levels and win—and that the accomplishment would offset the sacrifices required to make it happen.

This is truly higher education at its best—creating a desire for learning at as deep a level as possible so that learning becomes a motivation in itself—the classic academic search for truth.

Congratulations to the team and its coaches on an outstanding feat.

Finding your passion is not a one size fits all exercise

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

That’s great advice. It may surprise you to learn, however, that the person who made the suggestion isn’t a professor, career counselor, or anyone with knowledge of what it takes to succeed in our constantly changing, 21st century, technology-driven world. Confucius, the Chinese philosopher who lived approximately 2,500 years ago, uttered those words at a time when jobs looked much different than the careers people have today.

The concept of being passionate about your work, however, is as fresh today as it was in Confucius’ time.

How do people find their passion? Some people find their passion very early in life. Our School of Performing Arts students probably have been practicing their Oscar acceptance speeches in front of the bathroom mirror since they were children. Others must search for their passion.

Most of us find our passions as our horizons expand. We try new things, read up on new subjects, and talk with people from diverse backgrounds. Some people, like me, have different passions at different times in their lives.

Finding your passion sometimes means you’ll explore new roads for exploration’s sake—without knowing where the road goes.

Albert Einstein’s passion for inquiry made him the most influential scientist of the 20th century. In 1917, Einstein wrote a paper called “The Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Einstein’s paper became the foundation of a new technology called “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emissions of Radiation.” Perhaps you are more familiar with the technology’s acronym, LASER. Today lasers are used in eye surgery, tattoo removal, to scan barcodes in supermarkets and departments stores, for data storage, and in electronic devices like DVD players. Multiple multi-billion dollar industries were born—all because of Einstein’s passion for inquiry.

If you see something that interests you, explore it, no matter what your age or position in life. You never know where a new-found passion will lead.

The pain behind the laughter

The recent news that Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams committed suicide once again brings the topic of mental health to the forefront of our collective conversations.

As President Obama said in his public statement, “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between.”  Williams was also a victim of depression—a disease that can be as deadly as cancer and one he expertly hid from the world behind his comic genius and memorable characters.

With the start of a new semester just around the corner, Williams’ death can serve as a cautionary tale for anyone working in higher education. Let’s remember new and returning students may view the pressures they face in the University environment as fierce. Some students may already suffer from depression, and others may succumb to anxiety, stress, and substance abuse over the course of a challenging semester. In order to help students realize their dreams, we must first ensure they stay physically and emotionally healthy.

Earlier this year I attended a mental health and wellness event called A Town Hall Without Walls on Pace’s New York City Campus. The event highlighted our nationally accredited Counseling Center’s great work helping students address depression and other issues that can lead to suicide.

The event’s speakers emphasized that depression is treatable, but only if the person seeks treatment. We can all contribute to suicide prevention by keeping an eye out for students who are chronically depressed, never happy, and consumed by helplessness. Helping these young men and women get the counseling they need from trained professionals, like those in the Pace Counseling Center, is part of our sacred trust to look out for the welfare of our students.

The Power Within

I recently saw a television commercial for the Thai Life Insurance Company. The commercial is called “Unsung Hero” and it reminded me how powerfully our words and actions can reverberate with others and across time.

In the commercial, a young Thai man regularly waters the same dying plant, helps the same sour-looking woman push a heavy product-laden cart over a curb, feeds the same stray dog, leaves fruit for the same elderly neighbor, and gives money to the same barefoot, poorly dressed, sad-looking little girl on a street corner. Each time, onlookers shake their heads in disbelief. The expressions on their faces speak volumes—what a waste of time and effort!

Over time, however, the plant slowly sprouts buds and turns green. The woman with the heavy cart begins to smile and treat her customers better. The dog becomes the man’s best friend, and the elderly neighbor returns his kindness. In the most moving scene, the young man approaches the spot where the young girl sits on the sidewalk. His head is down as he looks in his wallet. He finally looks up and realizes the girl isn’t there. A worried expression crosses his face. Then the girl calls out from down the street. Instead of dirty clothes, she is wearing a brand new school uniform. The girl is smiling.

The commercial reminded me that we never realize just how much our empathy and efforts can help others. Once, early in my career, an acquaintance was lamenting his failure to land his dream job. In these situations, I try and remain upbeat and supportive. I probably told him to keep refining his skills, networking, interviewing, and, eventually, he would get the job. Years later we reconnected. He said he was working in his dream job; just as I had said he would. He remembered our conversation years later. I am sure that it was not my words that gave him the hope he needed to chase the role he loved. It was the human connection, my willingness to help and express my confidence in him.

Our small acts of kindness can not only change one life, but many. If the Thai man’s acts of kindness encouraged the little girl in the commercial to excel in school, she might become a doctor or a teacher and change the lives of people she would never have touched if not for the kindness of the commercial’s hero and others like him.

We all have the power to create a ripple effect of positive behaviors and outcomes. While these acts ordinarily won’t make us rich financially, they make us rich of heart and spirit. And sometimes they make us better off financially as well. See the interesting book Give and Take by Adam Grant. Grant’s analysis shows that being a “giver” rather than a “taker” often leads to career success.

Friendship

Life’s lessons often come to us when we least expect them. Perhaps it is better that way, since they are more striking when we are caught off guard. I recently had two very different experiences, but the lesson was the same.

The first experience was the celebration of the life of a friend who passed away after a long illness. I had known him for about 30 years. We were not close friends, but our lives were intertwined because we were deeply involved with American Ballet Theatre at a challenging time in its evolution. In addition, one of his sons is a current student at Pace, which gave me a deeper connection to him.

The service was truly a celebration of his life. His good friends spoke of his extraordinary lust for life. He was an investment manager and was passionate about learning as much as possible about every company in which he invested his clients’ funds—not just because his clients trusted him to make wise investment decisions, but because each company genuinely fascinated him. He loved good food with an equal passion, and his never-ending search for new and wonderful restaurants was a constant source of amusement for his friends. His commitment to his other interests all benefited from his time, his intense interest, his leadership, and his generosity. But most of all, he loved people—meeting new ones, deepening and broadening his friendships with old ones, gathering them together, and going to dinners, parties, and events. He didn’t go to be seen, but to broaden his circle.

As I listened to friend after friend talk with obvious conviction and affection about the same qualities, I thought about how much I had missed by not knowing him much better than I had. I felt a similar loss after a recent discussion with a college classmate whom I had barely known in college. I had not seen him since our graduation in 1959, but we were dinner partners at a mutual friend’s house. Then we had breakfast together a few weeks later. He was such a complex, multi-faceted, and interesting man. After a stint in the Marines, he spent a year at Union Theological Seminary and then graduated from law school. He went on to a series of leadership roles not in law, but in investment banking, investment management, and in a number of nonprofit organizations. As we talked, I thought about how much I had missed by not knowing him in all those years after college.

My thoughts are not so much about these two men, although I truly wish I had spent much more time with them. Rather, my thoughts are about the need for balance in life, and the fact that this need extends to time with friends as well as family. With both friends and family, time once passed is irretrievable. We don’t get do-overs when it comes to time. We spend so much time wrestling with the demands of modern life. The search for balance is a constant struggle. One of life’s lessons is the essential truth of so many clichés—in this case “nobody ever decided at career’s end that he or she did not spend enough time at the office.”

Life Lessons from Moss Hart

Recently a friend invited us to see Act One at the Lincoln Center Theater. Act One is a dramatization of Moss Hart’s wonderful autobiography of the same name. The book was originally published in 1959, but it is still amazingly fresh and relevant today.

Hart was one of the great playwrights of the 20th century. He collaborated with George S. Kaufman on You Can’t Take It with You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and other shows in the 1930s. He was also a sensitive and successful director, his credits including My Fair Lady; and an accomplished screenwriter. Hart wrote Gentleman’s Agreement, Hans Christian Andersen, and A Star Is Born.

Hart came from a desperately poor family. He had no formal schooling beyond the 8th grade and he wrote a play that was produced for Broadway at the age of 20. It was a monumental flop during its out-of-town run, but, still, no mean feat.

Act One depicts Hart’s early years, and his first successful production, Once in a Lifetime, began his long collaboration with the already very successful George S. Kaufman. Prior to the play, we were treated to an introduction to Hart and Act One by Professor Larry Maslon of the Tisch School of the Arts. I was struck by Professor Maslon’s rumination from Hart that closed his introduction: “I have had many successes and many failures in my life. My successes have always been for different reasons, but my failures have always been for the same reason: I said, ‘Yes’ when I meant ‘No.’”

Saying yes when we mean (or ought to say) no helps us avoid difficult conversations, bad news, and other unpleasant encounters. It is also a recipe for failure, in the theater and in most other endeavors.

Saying yes is almost always easier than saying no. It not only avoids the conflict and disappointment inflicted by a “No,” it responds to our need to be liked and thought of as a team player. Saying no takes greater confidence—confidence in yourself and in your beliefs. Most important, saying no puts the prime consideration—whether it is the play, the organization, or the student—first.