Final advice from our professor, Matthew Christensen

Brendan Quinlan/ June 14, 2013/ 2013

The program is over. A hint of sadness lingers as this indescribable chapter of our life has passed. LDOC was yesterday and for all of us, I can assure the last class felt bittersweet. At exactly 9 AM, Matt Christensen, our professor, briskly walked into a class of sleep-deprived students who had worked throughout the night to finish our papers due that morning. On the words, “O.K., let’s begin”, some of us inwardly moaned as we secretly wondered how we would be able to recall the reading from our sluggish minds. At the beginning of the program, Matt said that this course will challenge us like no other, and here came the ultimate test. . . We aced it. The discussion was scintillating as always, filled with thoughtful comments, points of epiphany, and of course, contagious laughs. To say that we will remember what was taught in this program for the remainders of our lives and our future careers is an understatement. This course taught us principles although centered on business were applicable across many disciplines and industries. We discussed education in our debates whether online learning could disrupt higher education. We delved into healthcare in our complex discussions inside and outside of class on ultrasound imaging systems. Intel. HP. The steel industry. The toy industry. The list goes on and on.

Beyond academics, DSV sought to teach us important life lessons. We eagerly listened to the advice from every speaker who was generous enough to share his or her story. We took a piece of guidance from each conversation, making sure that we were shaping the tenets that guided us in the right direction. The advice given was wide-ranging, some might even be considered contradictory, as people with diverse backgrounds and stories grew to have different outlooks on life. We took in all their regrets, their successes, their failures, and their epiphanies in stride, searching for that key perspective that can serve as the panacea for all our many questions. We yearned for this counsel from the best and the brightest that could help us make the right life-changing decisions when they come: ones that our careers, families, and overall happiness would depend on. Some of us might have probably been wishing these tough decisions be made for us. Should I follow the expected path and go into so and so career or should I follow my innermost dreams that may not guarantee any financial stability, but surely contentment? Should I work for a big company right after college and gain loads of credibility, or should I work at an unknown start-up where I can see my impact and be a part of a close team? The questions were endless. The advice varied.

What we were looking for came on the last day of class within the very classroom which was not meant to discuss these topics nor did we expect to. Yet, the advice that came from Matt after our case discussion, which by the way greatly exemplified everything we learned in class so far, was the one that hit all the right notes and did so with an incredible simplicity that didn’t invite dispute. Here is what he told us as he spun a tale of personal stories and treasured moments that influenced his life.

  1. Live your life so you’re ready to die. I think most of us can agree that we sometimes leave things off for the tomorrows of our lives instead of tackling them now. Matt warned us to break this habit. Stop procrastinating things into the future. When we do so, we are borrowing from what we don’t have nor is guaranteed – time. Who knows when we might go, but when we do, we do not want to leave with countless regrets and a drawer full of plans that were never carried out and wishes that were not fulfilled. Make the most of the present by doing things you value that make you better each and every day. Determine the impact you want your existence to have on the world right now, before it’s too late.
  2. Seek truth, not validation. Decide what is true for yourself, rather than constantly seeking for those around you to agree with your ideas. There are many historical figures who led a party of few and held on to unpopular ideals such as equality, freedom, or their dreams that were vastly unpopular at the time. Despite that, their conviction of what they thought was true helped initiate change.
  3. Build the habits you want to build. Think about the habits you have and are currently developing. Are you developing them on purpose or are they a result of things that just happen to you? Actively create habits that get you to where you want to go. If the ones you have don’t, kick them to the curb.
  4. Priorities are defined by what you do, not say. This is fairly intuitive, but perhaps the hardest to follow through on as a misalignment between one’s priorities and actions is difficult for most people to even spot, talk less of changing. In describing this advice, Matt gave a very interesting example about Twinkies – an inside joke for the class. What he said was if you say you want to lose weight, but every time you have the opportunity to eat a Twinkie, you do, then losing weight is not your priority is it? This simple example drives a significant point home. No matter what you say and how hard you say it, it is your actions that reveal your actual priorities.  Strategic intent vs. actions was definitely a theme for the course. Deliberate plans fail with priorities that do not put them in high value and priorities are very hard to change.
  5. You can’t necessarily get what you want, when you need it. Advice I believe is particularly meaningful for the family/career/life topic. You have to invest in the things you want. You can’t just make them appear with a snap of a finger. Matt purposefully cautioned against focusing on first your career then your life. Eventually, you’ll end up 5, 10 , or 15 years down the line with your career intact, but you don’t have what else you want — a family. In business speak, families have longer investment cycles and leading times. Thus, you can’t take what works for one aspect of your life – establishing a healthy career – and expect it to work elsewhere. Although, controversial advice to some, I especially relate to what he ended the class with: “No one on their deathbed says they wish they spent more time in their career.” No other success compensates for success in the home. Career success is fleeting. Your family is what matters.

With that, the pinnacle of the DSV program came at the very end. We thank all the speakers who came to our class or showed us the amazing companies where they worked. LinkedIn, Facebook, Apple, 18 Rabbits, 41st Parameter, Sequoia Capital, StartX, IDEO, and Google – thanks for having us! We are grateful to everyone who helped make the DSV program what it was: especially, the program directors, Kimberly Jenkins and Amy Unell, who stayed in California with us and worked diligently to provide the opportunities at said companies and arrange visits to thought-provoking conferences such as Athena. Last, but certainly not least, we are extremely grateful for our wonderful professor Matthew Christensen who taught the class with a unique and refreshing style. At the end, you said how “people grow to love the things that they sacrifice for.” Having to give up things for someone else, you are strengthening your commitment to them. You invest, you sacrifice, and at the end, feel a deepening love. Undoubtedly, leaving your wife and five young children for more than a month to teach a class of college students was no small matter. Plus, staying at our apartment complex for over 4 hours as you met with students about their papers was also a humongous sacrifice. Let’s just say, we understand what was unsaid and return exactly those same sentiments back. Thank you!

Ife Anyansi

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