But there I was, 51 years old, standing in the middle the Stanford University quad, the bright sun beaming down on me, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and holding a pile of books covering topics from neuroscience to abstract expressionism.
A SECOND CAREER
After 26 years as a banker at Morgan Stanley and then Goldman Sachs, I made a decision to enter Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute; a decision that turned out to be life altering.
I was eager to find more meaning in my life and to leverage my business experience to make the world a better place.
As I was contemplating the next leg of my career, I learned about this new program at Stanford University. This institute is designed for people who are interested in a second career focused on social change issues globally, nationally or locally.
I envisioned this year to be like a sabbatical, a time to rest and reflect after a long and challenging career. It has been that and much more.
Most executive education programs are packed into intensive, multi-week sprints to help develop specific skills generally to enhance their existing careers. Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute is very different. It is a year-long program that aspires to transform lives, not just enhance careers.
Having spent half my life in an all-consuming job, I was uncertain how a year in the bucolic academic environment of Stanford would really work. Would I be bored or challenged enough? As it turns out, the space afforded to me an opportunity for tremendous personal and professional growth.
FINDING MORE MEANING
When I was 19, I learned about Buddhism and aspired to live a peaceful, grounded life. In fact, after college, I joined Morgan Stanley specifically to work in Asia and learn how to integrate Buddhism into a Western banker’s life.
I spent a fascinating four years working in Asia and while I saw some of my clients live a Buddhist life in a capitalist society, I quickly got caught up in the chase for more deals, promotions, bigger bonuses.
All went well, but somewhere along my career, I lost touch with the meaning of my life. I would find myself going on elaborate vacations or acquiring certain thing—but somehow the joy that I expected my success to bring was short lived.
A SCHOLARLY PATHWAY
When my 15-year marriage ended and I tired of the investment banking grind, I started to hear the Talking Heads refrain, “How did I get here?” Somewhat uncertain as to what I wanted to do next, the Stanford program created space for me to reflect, to spend time with myself and to reconceive a meaningful life.
The Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute is organized around a core curriculum, which steeps its fellows in the latest research at Stanford in fields ranging from neuroscience, religion, history, music among many other areas.
This is designed to immerse us in the topical issues facing our society and some of the advances, which could possibly solve some of the major challenges facing humanity. We are also able to audit courses throughout the university and attend the many lectures, colloquia and other events occurring every day at Stanford.
Finally, each fellow has a “scholarly pathway” that is our focal point for the program and can take many different forms. My pathway was to explore ways to disrupt the U.S. healthcare system driving better outcomes, lower costs and greater accessibility of care.
All of this has proved to be enormously stimulating and productive. While sitting in classes at the business, medical and design schools, I have been fortunate to learn about cutting-edge research and disruptive businesses that have given me a plethora of ideas, new contacts and lessons learned.
I have also been plugged-in to the exceptional and tightly integrated communities of Stanford and Silicon Valley. Out of this experience, I am now launching a healthcare company to transform primary care physician practices both clinically and financially.
But what’s most interesting about this experience has been the opportunity to reframe my life and career.
Wayne Dyer’s compelling film, “The Shift: From Ambition to Meaning,” shows how to put your ego in check, to get to know and love yourself and to shift how one thinks about their life.
The “shift” refers moving from a career and life phase focused wealth accumulation and building one’s reputation to one that is built around fulfilling your life’s purpose and living with more meaning and happiness.
That is just the shift that seems to have happened for me at Stanford.
While I was initially thinking about starting a company to create wealth, I have shifted to be more passionate about changing the healthcare system and making life better for both doctors and patients.
As I have begun thinking about this new business as a movement designed to transform our healthcare industry and the health of all citizens, I feel more energized and passionate to go make it happen. And business partners have been drawn to this passion and are eager to join our mission.
This experience has shown me several important life lessons, all of which I wish I had learned earlier in my life:
- Reconnecting with my interest in Buddhism gave me tools to think about life.
- Taking time away from the busy-ness of life creates a spaciousness which is invaluable to the creative and ideation process.
- By reframing my life and career around meaning, I have found a joy that was previously missing for me.
I encourage everyone to take some time for reflection, personal growth and new learning. It will allow more meaning in your life and revitalize yourself for your current life demands personally and professionally.