Dave Goldberg: What We Learned After School

“It was twenty (five) years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. They’ve been going in and out of style, but they’re guaranteed to make you smile.”

– Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

Dave GoldbergEvery day, one survey or another informs us about the attitudes and intentions of a particular group of people. Once in a while, a survey also offers up life lessons.

That was the case with an interesting survey that I and 434 other members of the Harvard Class of 1989 completed this summer. Some of the results are merely statistical. For instance, most class members majored in history, economics, and English. Most ended up in education, healthcare, business, finance, and law. Us pre-Internet grads? We’re now big users of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Other findings are more telling. Just over 10% say they need either more love or sex. However, a whopping 34% say they need more sleep—perhaps a lesson in how our priorities change after college! Surprisingly more than 40% of our class declared they took too little risk. Only 4% say they took too much. It was unexpected to see so few of us feel we’d taken enough risks along the way.

The most compelling insights came from an open-ended question. Here it is and a sample of the responses:

“If you could travel back to 1989 and explain your last 25 years to your younger self, what would that graduating senior have found most surprising?”

  • You need to listen more.
  • How hard it is to juggle work and family.
  • Being gay does not hinder your life.
  • The role luck plays in both good and bad life outcomes.
  • That choosing a single career might not be enough—having two or three options ready would have been smarter.
  • I have done none of the things that I considered likely that I would do.
  • The fear of failure is far, far worse than the actual experience of it.
  • How hard it is to settle on a satisfying career. Take time to explore.
  • Home, family, and relationships trump career.
  • The dramatic change technology played.
  • How profound an experience it is to have and raise children.
  • That the Red Sox have won the World Series three times.

Great responses. Some were funny. Some were serious. All were revealing. The answers show that at our 25th reunion, we are students of life. What we’d tell our younger self shows that as much time as we spend hitting the books or burning the midnight oil — or worrying about our future — the real lessons about who we are and what’s important happen after school and work. So get out. Live a little. Take it all in. Survey says you’ll learn more than you expect.

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