Stars and steppingstones

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Stars and Steppingstones


This note is to help you consider your long-term goals in life (your "star") and how to keep steadily advancing toward that vision. It is about thinking for the long-term, picking a direction and charging ahead; charging confidently ahead, but remembering to look up occasionally to keep from charging off a cliff.

Steven Covey advises, “to begin withthe end in mind.” This is sound advice. Each of us has a spark of divine inspiration that can lead to lifelong goals. Once you have discovered these goals and your end purpose is clear, you can begin to set a life plan, backing up decade by decade from the end, examining each stage of your life. By viewing your life as a continuous journey, you can identify the achievements at each stage that willact as steppingstones toward your final goal. As you near the present, today's questions and alternatives will become clearer.

The objective is not to craft a perfect plan – life and circumstances change too much for that. You can, however, chart a course toward a meaningful star, set philosophical guardrails to mark the path, and lay steppingstones to mark each step in the right direction.After all, it would be a shame to wander aimlessly through a journey we will all take only once.

What is a Star?

I'm often approached by students with questions similar to the following: "I have to choose between a job with First Boston at $80,000 a year or a job with McKinsey at $85,000. Which should I take?" I almost always respond by asking: " What is important to you? Why do you get out ofbed in the morning? What do you want to have accomplished by the time you are seventy?"

All too often, the response is: "I don't know. I just want to take the best job." I just sigh and flip a coin. It's the best I can do.

J. Zink, a noted psychologist who has dedicated his life to helping parents raise happier children, tells a similar story:

There was a man who spent many yearsstudying the foremost issues of his time. One day, one of his teachers turned to him and said, “What are you going to do with your life?” The man was stunned for he loved this teacher and admired him. He had never felt such pressure from his teacher before. Stammering, this man replied, “I don’t know.
Finish my studies and get a good job, I suppose.”

“Get a good job,” his teacher repeated. “This is aphrase I have often heard. It is the single worst choice of your generation. Happiness is unlikely to come to the mind whose goal is to ‘get a good job.’”

“Son,” this wise teacher asked, “Would you be interested in some specific advice from an old man who wished he had your youth and energy?”

“Of course, Doctor.”
“Look around you. Take a fresh, hard, and uncompromising look at life as yousee it.
Ask this question, ‘What needs to be done?’ When you have an answer, and it may take some time to get it, then go and do what needs to be done. Do it better than anyone else does it and the world will beat down your door for your help. Then you will not need ‘a good job’; and you will have more than a career. You will have a mission.”

The teacher was noted scientist and inventor R.Buckminster Fuller. The student was J. Zink.

Finding Your Own Star

I believe that life is a journey, not a destination. But this does not mean that life should be an aimless journey. The most successful and fulfilled entrepreneurs are always advancing toward a vision that gives meaning to their life. It is this relentless pursuit where persistence transforms ideals into a lifelong mission.Picking your own star involves understanding what is important to you in life, and what is likely to remain important. Your star should reflect your vision of the future. Given your deeply held beliefs, how should the world change? What part can you play in changing it? Do you feel a calling to do something important?

Life is more than just changing the world. How will your mission involve...
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