Having been in your shoes as a recipient of a Scholarship from the Hellenic Professional Society of Texas almost twenty-nine years ago, I feel it is useful to share with you some thoughts from mine and my generation’s experiences over the last few decades. To that end, I have three messages for you.
Firstly, focus on what you do best so as to enjoy and master it, but also challenge yourselves with confronting your weaknesses because they are necessary for your maturity as persons, and as a source of goal-setting and fulfillment.
- In my case I started out as a kid who loved languages and the humanities. So, I made it my goal to discover my math side, and I ended up loving science and physics even more.
- As a physicist I was seen to be a theorist, so I challenged myself to discover my practical side, and did an experimental physics doctorate, greatly enriched by theory.
- As an academic person, I realized that I was neglecting the down-to-earth business side of life, so after my postdoc with IBM, I joined a management consultancy, McKinsey, and have been in this world for over twenty years now.
- However, the hard-nosed business type neglects their artistic side. So, I found some vehicles for it, including doing the poetry evenings that have become a regular signature event of our Society since 1999.
So, in this fruitful effort to address the opposite, you see, one almost comes full circle, with goals, achievements, and earned inner richness.
The second message is some advice from one of my McKinsey mentors that has stayed with me. Always focus on the “business” at hand at a certain stage in your life – be it to advance your career, be a successful parent, whatever – but never forget that, to stand, a table always needs four legs. For us, humans, these four legs are our personal life, family life, professional life, and community life. If, at one stage in your life, you focus on building one of the legs, be aware that the other three will be needed too. So, do not burn bridges with any of the four legs of your life and, as you build one or the other leg, keep in mind that for a fulfilled and successful life all four legs – personal, family, professional, and community – will eventually matter about the same.
This brings us to the third message, transcendence of the self. You see, as we progress in life and achieve great things, the sense of accomplishment nurtures our ego. Our ego, however, never stays satisfied for long: it looks for the next summit to climb, the next paper to write, the next promotion, whatever. This is, of course, natural, and it keeps us going. However, what gives depth of satisfaction and lasting value to these accomplishments is to do everything in a way that fills the moral bucket.
Morality at its fundamental, beyond any religion, is the transcendence of self, the recognition that our true “realization” as beings only comes through the others around us, through our role in the universe at large. That is a trait that can be learned and developed through humility, confronting our weaknesses (as I talked about above), nurturing our empathetic side, creating deep connections with others for mutual sustenance, being energized through love for another, and following your craft not only for money, status or security, but by living up to the standard of excellence inherent in it.
These three messages are not new. In one form or another they have existed since the time of our Ancient Greek ancestors, and they have been elaborated over the ages by Eastern and Western thinkers and mystics. However, it is important to bring such ideas up on occasions like the one today, since the frenetic information saturation we experience in our days tends to push these ideas to the side, much as it does for Classics in the education curriculum. That’s why I won’t resist the temptation to close with the famous quotation from Isocrates’ “Panygeric”, yet another thought provoking challenge for all of us:
«Τοσούτον δ’απολέλοιπεν η πόλις ημών περί το φρονείν και λέγειν τους άλλους ανθρώπους, ώσθ’ οι ταύτης μαθηταί των άλλων διδάσκαλοι γεγόνασι, και το των Ελλήνων όνομα πεποίηκε μηκέτι του γένους αλλά της διανοίας δοκείν είναι, και μάλλον Έλληνας καλείσθαι τους της παιδεύσεως της ημετέρας παρά τους της κοινής φύσεως μετέχοντας.»
“So far has Athens left the rest of mankind behind in thought and expression that her students have become the teachers of the world, and she has made the name of Hellas distinctive no longer of race but of intellect, and the title of Hellene a badge of education rather than of common descent.”