I’m on a constant quest for answers to big questions about the direction of my life and my work. When I was asked to blog about Eric C. Sinoway’s new book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work, I hesitated. I didn’t know anything about Howard Stevenson, the focus of the book. But I said “yes” anyway. I wish it had been written decades ago, when its insights would have spared me so many doubt-plagued hours as I struggled to figure things out for my career path. Fortunately, it’s now here for you.
The secret to success hinges on making the right choices at the right time. Our challenge is to understand the effect our choices will have on us should we pursue them.
If only we had someone to ask, someone with the experience and wisdom to help us see the big picture, someone who can clear away the fog so we can chart the right course.
Enter Howard Stevenson, whose wisdom is the focus of Eric C. Sinoway’s book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work.
Howard spent 40 years as a highly respected professor at Harvard Business School, where his MBA students included world leaders, corporate CEO’s, and entrepreneurs. He is also an innovator and entrepreneur in his own right, contributing to his distinction, according to Sinoway, as “the father of entrepreneurship at HBS….”
Howard’s books and teachings have created a following of “students” like Sinoway who committed to write this book after Howard’s heart attack, ensuring that Howard’s priceless wisdom would never be lost.
Our career and life choices involve our “inflection points.” We need to be keenly aware of them when they occur and committed to taking the right course of action.
So what is an inflection point? Sinoway writes:
It is a moment when–by choice or not–we pivot from the path down which we were traveling and head in an entirely different direction.
It’s easy to miss or ignore an inflection point, especially when it may not line up with the way we’d planned our course.
Sinoway shares Howard’s explanation:
Inflection points come in all forms: positive, negative, easy, hard, obvious, and subtle. The way you respond–whether you grab hold of a inflection point and leverage it for all it’s worth or just let it carry you along–is as important as the event itself.
In hot pursuit of success, we are frequently faced with inflection points that cause us inner conflict. Howard impresses on his students that “…success doesn’t always equal happiness….” I’ve certainly witnessed examples of that and suspect you have too.
Howard suggests approaching your career by thinking about it from a legacy perspective:
Starting at the end means investing time up front to develop an aspirational picture of your future–a guide for the decisions you make throughout your life.
Knowing what we value in a satisfying career and acting on it are often very different things. What we need to get a firm grip on is the way our notions of success and failure help us or get in our way.
Befriending success and failure
We tend to look at success as reward and failure as punishment for, well, just not being good enough. Our self-confidence, courage, optimism, and sense of self-worth are often held hostage by them both.
Howard removes the weight of success and failure when he says in the book:
You know, people throw around words like success and failure assuming they mean exactly the same thing to everyone–and they don’t….
Have you fallen into that trap?
There is no standard metric for evaluating success or failure, in large part because our assessments are heavily affected by the expectations we bring into a situation…our definitions of success and failure change based on personal circumstance; they’re colored by what’s happening around us….
The next time someone tries to detract from your achievements based upon their own measure of success, think of Howard’s words:
For me, the bottom line is: don’t put yourself in a definitional straitjacket, and don’t allow others to do it to you, either.
It’s inevitable that, from the time we’re very young, we are “shown the way” to success as defined by people around us and the media. No wonder finding our own way can feel confusing, particularly when things don’t go as expected.
Howard offers this perspective:
I prefer to expend my energy only on things that I can affect. What’s past is only useful to me insofar as it offers information to using going forward. ..What other people might call failures I simply see as situations laden with meaning–full of new data and new opportunities for assessing and recalibrating a strategy.
Breaking the code
If you need wise counsel on building your skills, finding mentors, facing your personal truths, attracting the right professional relationships, or achieving life-work balance, you’ll find invaluable perspectives from Howard.
This book reads like a conversation, where we get to listen in. We read about the trials and missteps of others, including Sinoway’s, and how Howard untangles complex career situations, just like the ones you’re facing, bringing important next steps into focus.
The secret to success lies within us. Words from the wise help us break the code.