What impact did HBS have on your life and the life of others?
For years, I've joked (sort of) that "I live to serve!"
It's a riff on a black woman's most frequent role since our ancestors were brought to this continent against their will. But it's also been true.
I served as a local weekend television anchor in Boston, while I attended HBS. Tackling both jobs at the same time hadn't been my plan. I decided to earn an MBA as insurance against the vagaries of the news industry. When the weekend anchor at local Channel 7 in Boston took another job a few weeks after I had quit and HBS classes had begun, the news director turned to me. A bit frazzled by the challenge of competing against section mates who were CPAs or engineers or Wall Street analysts, I opted to return to broadcasting on weekend nights. The insurance worked both ways—HBS was protection against the news industry and the news industry was protection against HBS professors who graded on a curve.
At that time, I knew that nothing in life would ever be more difficult than juggling both roles simultaneously and in fact, nothing has been more difficult. I urge all young people to do something really, really challenging in their 20s, if only to prove to themselves the full capacity of their physical stamina and brainpower. Fearlessness—and insurance—have their rewards!
As a CBS News correspondent for more than two decades, I served my viewers by presenting them with a first draft of history. Whether I reported on nuclear arms talks between President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union's last premier Mikhail Gorbachev...or the murder trial of cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer...or art produced by photographer Gordon Parks or Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir, my goals were the same-to inform and illuminate, to make my own and CBS viewers' brain cells tingle.
Now, decades later, I'm finally using my MBA to serve consulting clients (my work for pay) as well as the several nonprofit organizations whom I "pay" in order to work. I am extraordinarily grateful to so many HBS alums who helped me launch and sustain this second career.
I serve the people who attend events that I have organized for the Harvard Club of New York City or the New York Historical Society's Frederick Douglass Council or the HBS Club of NYC. I serve business leaders and foreign policy experts with whom I engage at the Council on Foreign Relations and the US Institute of Peace and the World Affairs Councils of America.
For more than a decade, I served the KIPP Charter Schools in NYC on whose board I sat, as well as the 200 KIPP Academy 7th graders whom Edward Olebe and I, along with scores of other HBS African-American alumni, mentored. (You can read about our work here: https://www.alumni.hbs.edu/stories/Pages/story-bulletin.aspx?num=2431)
And increasingly, I now serve a wonderful group of young people. I call them my "chicks," clustering under my wings. Some are KIPPsters, now in college or starting their professional lives. Others are young entrepreneurs and budding journalists.
Two things, however, worry me about the "chicks." I'm surprised and saddened that so many are so cautious, so afraid to take risks, and so aware that their safety nets are imperfect. I also worry that they don't know yet that there is truly no such thing as "work-life balance." A section mate uses an apt metaphor. Most people can juggle only three balls successfully at one time. Yet women are often expected to juggle at least nine: career, marriage, children, parents, friends, home care, one's self, the community, helping a spouse's career, and more.
There is no balance, but there can be joy and for me, it has come in the doing—the serving—with excellence and passion.
All you have to do is select which balls to juggle and which audiences to serve— fearlessly and with joy.