My father graduated from Harvard College in 1960. My brother graduated from Harvard in 1986. My husband graduated from Harvard Business School in 1988. While I’d like to believe otherwise (e.g. I chose to attend Smith College), the truth is that I did not get into Harvard. I still have the 1979 rejection letter to prove it.
Back then, being surrounded by family “Ivy Leaguers” (Cornell, Dartmouth, and Wharton in addition to Harvard) created an underlying sense of inferiority and insecurity within me. I internalized beliefs that vacillated between feeling “not good enough” to rationalizing my own untapped potential for years. I measured my self-worth against others’ accomplishments and developed a competitive edge in defense.
I came into my own – slowly but surely – as I developed business and professional skills over the decades. I realized my particular skills and abilities could not have been learned in school; rather they came as a result of working with all kinds of people day-to-day. In addition, time itself became a great equalizer. As the years went by, my confidence grew and I no longer cared (nor was overly impressed by) which undergraduate or graduate university a friend, colleague, or family member attended. Although I am proud that my son has bragging rights to Cornell and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, I also understand that degrees, in and of themselves, are not the only indicators of wealth or success. It’s equally important, if not more so, to focus on the relationships we build, the ways in which we treat others, and the examples we set in the lives we lead.
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So, it’s very odd to be writing this week’s post from Harvard University.
I am not here for someone else’s graduation or reunion. I’m here because I got in this time. I am attending an executive education program offered through the Harvard Business and Kennedy Schools on effective nonprofit management. I am here with eight-four other people who want to do a better job on our paths to trying to save the world. Nice, huh?
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Here’s what I have learned from being at Harvard:
- Three days of reading and analyzing case studies was plenty. (Thank you very much for the experience.)
- I am not afraid to raise my hand and speak up in class. (I actually have things to share and contribute.)
- There are many bright, interesting, and creative people who are doing amazing things to help others. (I will benefit from insights they shared during morning study group.)
- There are many ignorant and clueless people who just make you shake your head and wonder… (As I shared information with my work group about my organization’s mission in the Jewish community, I was asked, “So why is having lots of money such an important value to Jews?” Seriously?!?!?)
- The apartments at Soldiers Field are the same as they were twenty-eight years ago. (Blah!)
- I miss and love Boston, but don’t want to live here again.
- Most importantly, I learned two specific things: (a) My team and I can do our jobs better. Being exposed to new models and ideas have given me a shot of adrenalin. Our work can make more of a difference than I ever imagined; and (b) “Leadership is the process of bringing a new and generally unwelcome reality to an individual group, organization or society and helping them successfully adapt to it” (Ron Heifetz, HKS faculty).
I now can cross “Harvard” off my bucket list. It’s time to go home and get back to work.