I found a random note I wrote to myself back in May 2010. During that time I was taking business classes to prepare for an MBA. The intention was to diversify my skills, to have a back-up plan for and an augmentation of my writing career. However, this was the moment that changed my focus.
I was reading The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders by Max Anderson and Peter Escher, two Harvard graduates who, in the wake of the Great Recession, created a document to hold businesspeople more accountable. The second promise of the oath goes like this:
I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, coworkers, customers, and the society in which we operate. I will endeavor to protect the interests of those who may not have power but whose well-being is contingent on my decisions.
Good stuff, right?
The book kept my interest until they used an excerpt from the John Donne poem “Meditation XVII” to illustrate their point:
No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The power and beauty of Donne’s language, from a poem I had known and loved, had a sobering effect on me. Then, I took out my pen and wrote this note:
It’s amazing, the revelations about oneself that come from reading. While consuming a book on business that I’ve found quite interesting, no other paragraph has given me such pleasure, such pause, as an excerpt from poet John Donne used merely to illustrate a point.
So, why am I not single-mindedly hurtling myself toward my own creative endeavors? How do we balance diverse interests, while giving due consideration to our primary purpose, while simultaneously shoring up other aspects of our lives?
I finished the book, but I was of a different mind than when I started, a change Anderson and Escher had not intended. The three sentences by Donne halted my MBA pursuits, because when you read good writing, it inspires you to create.
Update: While my conclusion was correct, I ended up completing an MBA four years later. But that’s a story for another time.