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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

That Question Again

A few weeks ago in this space, Angier Brock quoted the now famous last line of Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day:  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Not surprisingly, that line is often quoted in blogs, sermons and career counseling offices.  One of the more unlikely places that single line has found a home is the Harvard Business School. In “The Portrait Project”, HBS graduating M.B.A. students are simply asked to respond to Mary Oliver’s provocative question.  Those responses are paired with a black and white portrait of the student.  The result is a beautiful demonstration of what happens when business school students are asked a good question. 

Betsy Brink is a friend of Lumunos and on the staff at Harvard Business School.  Not surprisingly, The Portrait Project is one of her favorite assignments.  She says:

“The journey that leads to MBA school is fairly predictable, with some exceptions.  What students may not have spent a lot of time doing while on the business track, however, is reflecting on their lives.  The Portrait Project invites them to answer a question that gets them thinking about experiences they’ve had – working as a kid with a grandmother at her roadside corn stand in Maine, losing a brother, turning down an opportunity to play Harvard football (and regretting it), growing up with a sister with autism, getting a cancer diagnosis as a twenty-something – and how those experiences have shaped them as people, whether they’re completely aware of it or not.  This kind of reflection is something good leaders do, but maybe we don’t invite students to do enough of it while they’re in school.  The Portrait Project is an invitation to slow down and reflect on their whole lives, maybe gain some self-understanding.  I’m not sure students would think they were about the business of discerning call, but that’s certainly part of it.”

I urge you to take a look at the portraits and introductions here. 

These people will inspire you.  Maybe enough to answer the question yourself:  What are going to do with your one wild and precious life? 

~ Doug Wysockey-Johnson

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