It’s not hard to know what decisions to make, once you know your values- Roy E. Disney
Last night I attended the annual Coca Cola Scholars Banquet, where we celebrated the incoming class of Coke Scholars. These are brilliant high school seniors who have taken on the mantle of leadership in their communities and have, as our keynote speaker last night said, “won the first quarter of their lives”. His speech last night took me back to the days of being a high school senior, when I was in their same shoes. I had just been awarded the Coke scholarship and I too was whisked away for a weekend in Atlanta to meet all kinds of other fabulously inspiring teenagers. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed and insignificant at first when I compared my accomplishments to theirs; that is, until I started sharing my own story. Afterwards I began to remember why I was chosen to be there, and started to remind myself that I too had a unique purpose and just like the rest of my accomplished peers, I was just on my path towards fulfilling my God given potential.
Fast forward to last night and I’m listening to David Rubenstein (founder of the Carlyle Group) provide this important piece of advice to the group: you’ve won the first quarter of life, don’t rest on your laurels and coast through the next couple of quarters like most people who have a successful head start tend to do. Then he mentioned perhaps the most crucial decision he made, was during the second quarter of his life (which he won by the way), when he decided to make a career switch into private equity and start his own firm in his mid-late thirties (37- right at the age where apparently successful entrepreneurship precipitously begins to decline). That piece of advice right there, of seizing the moment, and being prepared to make values aligned decisions (he’d spent the previous parts of the speech talking about why this was imp to him) was invaluable. Next he offered another nugget of wisdom: he mentioned that in his 3rd quarter of life he finally made the decision to give and serve, something he is proud to have done (committing most of his wealth to philanthropy similar to other billionaires like Buffet and Gates), but something he regrets waiting so long to do. So he encouraged each of us still in the first 2 quarters of our lives to start orienting ourselves towards service, community leadership, and philanthropy now.
All of this came at the perfect time for me (as the banquet always does every year, it’s like the moment of inspirational refreshment that I need mid-spring). Right now I am in the 2nd quarter of life, and very much on the precipice of important life decisions in marriage, parenthood, my career, etc. Being able to zoom out and remind myself, wait, what are my values? What do I really care about? And using this as my starting point has made the decision-making process easier (the decisions themselves aren’t still all that easy, but at least I have guide posts for the process). It’s something to be thankful for, and it’s something that once again I’m reminded I must intentionally cultivate in my own children so that one day they too can be sitting at a banquet table proud to have “won” at the first quarter of life, and prepared to keep winning as they make values aligned decisions.