Life is an upward spiral

AE Harvard 09“Harvard 2009 – Let’s get started!” I thought, as the taxi slowly entered the campus, surrounded by golden-red foliage and the classic Bostonian architecture and contemporary sculptures of Harvard University. On the way from the airport I had reminisced about my last Harvard Business School session, while enjoying newly familiar sights like the wide, graceful Charles River dotted with shells carrying rowing crews practicing for the historic Head of the Charles regatta. Upon arrival, my little dorm room brought back memories, as did the classrooms, professors and classmates. But, familiar as it all was, I knew that this session would be different from the last. Encountering the recognizable, but meeting it with new experience and growth, made me think about the shape of life. It certainly isn’t a straight line, with a clearly marked and determined passage from one point to the next and no consideration for the past. It’s not a circle, where we return again and again to the same point without changing. It may bring us back to the same places and events, but when we build on the wisdom of the past, life becomes an upward spiral of growth and enrichment.

The HBS program included subjects similar to last year’s – Innovation, Marketing and Branding (my hand was up all the time!), Global Finance, Accounting (heartfelt thanks to the inventor of the calculator…). But, although the subjects were the same, our understanding, connection and “take-aways” (concepts to apply to real life) were different, building on what we had learned last year and how we had grown since then.

Regular reality checks came in the form of quotes like “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare,” pushing us to clearly identify our vision, goals and implementation plans; “I believe in God; for the rest, bring proof,” propelling us into Baker Library for in-depth, solid research; and my favorite: “If you think you are so great, why aren’t you better?” which put everyone’s ego back into a humble place.

As I go back to the drawing board – refining our pointe collections, wholesale service and retail operation – our vision and goals are clear: to always offer the most beautiful, highest-quality, best-fitting shoes; to share expertise with the dance community; to support the arts; and to continue to set and maintain the highest standards in customer service. To avoid daydreaming, we are busy turning our vision into actions with measurable outcomes.

One important project that we’ve undertaken is comprehensive research, in order to ensure that we continue to fulfill dancers’ needs. After a round of interviews, we have created a survey for our Authorized Retailers, who have such valuable and specialized knowledge and perceptions to share. We have already begun to plan products and services to meet the desires expressed to us so far. (Sneak peeks: increased educational efforts, much-requested posters with breathtaking ballet images, and an increased schedule of travel to meet with our clientele!)

For the last six months I’ve watched my 3-year-old niece wearing ballet tutus 24 hours a day (including sleeping, eating and matching her tutu with her rain boots!). She has no limitations on being who she wants to be – even when her mother asks her to wear pajamas instead of her tutu, or the weather report warns of thunderstorms, you can’t stop her from being a ballerina like those she saw recently at the Joffrey Ballet’s opening night of Othello.

As children, we do not fear failure. In the adult world, my niece’s behavior may be just playacting and daydreaming, but her self-confidence and insistence upon living her dream are inspiring. The truth is that, with good planning and realistic evaluation of your skills and resources, action can turn dreams to reality. As our lives cycle through seasons, years, places and events, we can aim to turn life’s circles into an upward spiral, ever reaching for greater heights as we learn from the past and turn dreams into action.

If we adults could take a lesson from my young niece and set aside our fears of failure, imagine the possibilities. If you could be sure that you would not fail, what would you do? I say, it’s time to shoot for the stars.