Dancing in Harvard Yard-Part 1

As I walk across Harvard Yard, I glance over to the iconic statue of John Harvard. I first visited the yard in October when I scouted Cambridge as I considered accepting an offer, should one come, to join the Advanced Leadership Initiative. I snapped a picture of the statue, as I am sure many have before me. I imagined parents bursting with pride as they recorded for history their child’s first visit the the storied campus. I had not yet received my acceptance letter, so my own emotions were of slight anxiety and hopeful excitement.

It was sunny and cool then, an almost perfect Fall day. The yard was only modestly crowded with students reading alone or talking in small groups. In the middle of the yard was a couple holding hands, facing each other and dancing in a small patch of shade. The smiles on their faces, the bright green grass and blue sky were ideal mood lifters. I was reminded of epidemiological research that showed green and blue spaces are beneficial to health. Whatever stress I felt from an early wakeup call, two crowded flights and a too fast Uber driver dissipated. My optimism increased. My formal offer letter came later that day.

On my second trip through Harvard Yard, the weather was much different. A Nor’easter had dropped over 20 inches of snow and a blustery wind ripped through the yard. I was on my way to the Science Center and my class on Human Evolution and Human Health. In recent years, I have had a fascination with how natural selection has shaped our brain and human behavior. Professor Lieberman’s class was my first choice to audit. He welcomed me with open arms and I have loved every minute of his engaging lectures. I often feel a satisfying shot of dopamine when he asks the class a question and I know the right answer. All my reading was paying off. I am reinforcing what I already know and learning much more.

I have also been humbled by this Harvard experience. The processing power of these brilliant young minds is impressive. In one of my classes, I am often still contemplating the question when hands shoot up around me. I find some comfort in remembering Psychologist Raymond Cattell’s theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence. Professor Cattell noted that young minds are at their peak of fluid intelligence, the ability to reason and think abstractly and solve problems quickly. Crystallized intelligence continues to grow through adulthood, as it is the result of a process of building on learning and experience. Yes, my mind is not as quick as it once was but I am filled with wisdom. Now, if I could only remember where I put my keys.

I am often one of the first to arrive to the classroom. My twenty years in the C-Suite have disciplined me on timeliness. My own motto, better ten minutes early than one minute late! I proudly pull out my professional black bound notebook and my ultra sharp pilot pen. I am eagerly waiting to write and ready to learn. At a few minutes before the hour, the students pour in. In almost unison, they pull out their laptops, pop open their lids and the room almost lights up from the fluorescent screens. In my first class I realized I am the them in this mini-world version of us/them. I have an analog trained brain in a digital world! All through class as I write quietly, I can hear the steady sound of clicking keyboards. I now think that sound would make excellent white noise.

And my adventures continue…

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