How to Live an Extraordinary Life

One of the most popular talks at my recent b-school reunion was one entitled, “How to Live an Extraordinary Life?” Stever Robbins, an alumnus and a CEO advisor, spoke.

It was a great talk (a version of it is up top, or click here). For me, the best part was when he talked about some “dastardly myths.” Two in particular were very interesting to me.

First, he talked about the limits of planning. He thinks being organized, intentional, and on-point is all good, but, unfortunately, the world around you changes. He has found that the best pivots in a person’s life are often based on a serendipity: a new person in your life, a new career interest, a phone call out-of-the-blue. His advice? Look for those moments.

Second, he talked about delayed gratification and why it doesn’t work for most people. We’re taught that “pain today and happiness later” is the way to go.

Stever doesn’t think so. For example, he serves as a career coach for some HBS students. He says he often hears this: “I need to pay off my student loans. So, I will work in Industry X, which I don’t like, until I save enough money. Then, I will go do what I really want to do.”

Stever thinks that a job over time boxes you in. You accumulate beliefs, relationships, and habits that prevent you from switching jobs later. You become part of that industry, your skills become specialized, and it’s really hard to switch tracks.

Stever believes that the biggest obstacle to change for people is not fear, but is, instead, habits. If your whole time is spent being with people in an industry you don’t really like, you over time will become one of them.

His advice? Seek fulfillment first. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but find something that feeds you. Avoid the trap of delayed gratification.

For me, in my career, the less I’ve emphasized money, the more fulfilled I’ve felt. And, the less I’ve focused on money, the more it came. Total irony.

A very interesting talk.

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