I was engaged in the same pose I had struck for a good portion of my vacation — sprawled on the bed, reading my coursepack and preparing for case interviews — on Christmas Eve day when the two phone calls came. I usually abstain from answering the phone when I’m back home, simply so the caller isn’t suddenly spooked by the voice of a young male when they expect my parents to answer with their joyful “Merry Christmas, hello?”. I didn’t make an effort to do so in either case, instead choosing to bask in the only ten days of the year in which I’m allowed to slack off…well, sort of.
As a result, my parents were unfairly treated to two bits of unfortunate news: first, an elderly woman that had been a faithful member of my parents’ church passed away after a sudden heart attack — on Christmas Eve. The next message, although slightly less morbid, was from a high school classmate of my dad’s, notifying him that another fellow classmate was about to lose his job as a serviceman at the local electronics store.
I’ve always seen Christmastime as a celebration of sorts — it seems to bring out a side of people that is often nuanced, a sort of camaraderie that transcends race and religion, hoping that peace and goodwill truly does have its roots somewhere. So it was especially tough to sit next to my mom during the candlelight services that evening, knowing that I had no real reason to shed tears but wondering why she would do so in the midst of this season of good cheer. I guess sorrow and pain doesn’t find a reason to take a break during the holidays.
All she could do was weep and pray for our fellow church member — but we, as a family, could tangibly do something for this recently unemployed man. A few phone calls and 24 hours later, this gentleman was a guest for dinner at our house this evening. The limp in his gait gave away his health concerns, and he bore the look of a person that had either endured plenty of hardships…or just got off a 34-hour flight.
Eggnog and finger food was distributed while I helped mom make the salads and prepare the table. We talked about hunting trips, the man’s past experiences working as a music teacher, and the joys of eating lean meat (if you’ve never had wild venison, give it a run!). We even discussed his recent layoff and the challenges that would soon come rumbling down the mountain, questions surrounding health insurance and places to live. He didn’t deserve this; nobody really does, I thought, as he and my dad talked about the “bean counters” and “management” that seem to place profit above people. I could have…should have?…said something here about the fact that “layoffs are part of business”, a cost-cutting measure that always seems to be so easy to recommend in a case interview but is really damn hard to swallow at the dinner table. But, I didn’t. Instead, I did the only thing that required no words: I empathized.
A closed list for one of my top firms was released earlier this week; I wasn’t on it, and since then I’ve been in attack mode, vowing that I will do whatever it takes to land with that firm over the summer. “I need this!” was the seemingly repetitive mantra that seemed to cross my mind. Then, the phone calls came. And then, our minister reminded us of the simplicity of love and goodness — rarely measured by wealth or fame, but by the way we serve others. And soon after, an unemployed man dined with us and was an honored guest at a table we had shared with many friends and family over the years. It was a lesson aimed directly at my heart: learn to love what you have, and don’t pine for the things that aren’t meant to be. That, too, is hard to grasp: we just really fear the idea of giving up control over a situation.
I think it’s hard to experience joy throughout business school: no matter what we do, there’s always something we can do better, or there’s something that looks sexier that we should chase after. Sometimes it means we’re chasing shadows that were never destined to follow us, but we convince ourselves that, well…we need this. It turns us into a cohort of hyper-competitive young people, when what the world really needs us to be, at this very moment, is humble, generous, and forgiving. And if it means we spend a summer interning at a massive consulting firm or a non-profit, the question must always be asked: does this bring you joy? If not……
Reality punched me in the face this holiday season. Humbly, I wear the black eye it caused.