I received a note this week from a young man completing his undergraduate studies:

 Thank you to everyone who has supported me and helped me to get where I am today.  I wouldn’t be who I am without the people I have in my life.

It is self-evident that a strong support network helps young people achieve milestones and transition into the adult world.  Having a strong support network also is important throughout life.  Sociologists refer to such ties as social capital, and emphasize its vital role in the creation of human capital—basically, the skill set that enables individuals to participate in economic life. 

Our lives would be forever different without those who helped us along the way. Some of the people most influential to me I have not met face to face.  They are outstanding luminaries, providing key insights that are universal in their application.  To the young man from whom I received the note, I add these insights for the next phase of life.

Learn how to manage disappointment.  No one is immune to encounters with disappointment.  People who seek positions of responsibility are especially vulnerable to episodes in which reality does not conform to their wishes or intentions.  But, far from disappointment being a prelude to continued failure in careers, these episodes may be occasions for accelerated personal growth and even the beginning of truly outstanding performance.  Abraham Zaleznik, who taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Business, exhorts business leaders to “work on themselves” as a condition for effectively working on and working with other people.  “Examine the personal goals in back of the decision to assume responsibility in a position.  If the goals are themselves unrealistic, then major disappointment is inevitable.”  When disappointment comes “face the disappointment squarely…by avoiding the pain of self-examination the individual will pay dearly for it later…in the course of examining reactions to disappointment, a subtle change may take place in the individual’s perspective and attitudes….at the same time uncharted possibilities for productive work and pleasure may be discovered.”

The original article “Management of Disappointment” appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec., 1967 and may be accessed through a library.

An interview with Dr. Zaleznik is found here:

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Cultivate the power of sustained attention. The quality of sustained attention is the hallmark of a truly educated person, according to Douglas Steere (1901 – 1995), professor of philosophy at Haverford College. One truly engaged gives to each task his or her entire, complete, and undivided attention—as one fully present to the moment.  Such attention approaches subject matter with a clear, teachable openness, whether in another person, in nature, or in a technical problem.  We most naturally attend to that material which we are drawn, but the power of sustained attention can be cultivated.  An initial exercise of willpower eventually can lead to a second level of effortless or object-guided attention which takes over; it is here that the deepest things are received and it is here that the best work is done.

An essay on the subject is available in a book of essays by Douglas Steere, available through Amazon:

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Seek challenges that stretch your comfort zone and expand your skills to enhance your quality of life.  The best moments of our lives usually occur when our body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.  Optimal experience is thus something we make happen—described as a flow experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  A flow experience is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it. This is the secret of those who find joy in their work and experience—a “flow” where what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.

The transcript of a TED talk on the subject of “flow” is available here:

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A book on the subject is available through Amazon:

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And in case you missed itclick here to read June 25th’s blog post   where we discuss several current issues where It Depends.

We hope you enjoy reading these articles along with us and hope you find them informative.  Please forward this to your family and friends.

J. Mark Nickell &  Co.

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