London Business School is perhaps the world's most competitive MBA program in the world, with recent acceptance rates lower than even Harvard, Wharton or Stanford. We're trained in logic, math, competition and strategy.
Like my classmates at LBS, after graduation, I went on to a high-stress job in finance. But my life changed drastically after an unexpected open-heart surgery at the age of 31. A few months ago, a book that I wrote, Heart of Miracles: My Journey Back to Life After a Near-Death Experience, was published. It is a memoir of my odyssey through the Himalayas, astrology, meditation courses, dream study, cloistered nuns on a freezing mountain, tombs, coincidences, ancient texts and holy sites. It is an unapologetically spiritual book that takes the average reader out on a limb.
Needless to say, I didn't expect that the epicenter of my readership would be my male classmates from London Business School. They don't teach mysticism there.
But classmates have been coming out of the woodwork to tell me that they related to the book, and I've heard from some of the most unexpected people. How could they relate, I wondered? Where was the resonance?
It's because the motivation behind my quest was to answer the question: How do we lead satisfying lives? It's a question that hits home, especially to the dissatisfied.
Like most people in their 30's, my friends and I held the belief system that academic and then conventional career achievement leads to happiness, or at least, happy enough. But what many of us are discovering is that it's not adding up.
The way our civil structures are right now, with high costs for health insurance, education, property, and even food, most of us choose a path that we think will keep us safe, happy and well. At the time, an office job in banking, consulting or finance with a guaranteed high salary feels like a great decision. But what happens when the straight and safe path isn't what you thought it would be?
Soon after my book came out, I got a message from a man in Canada who said that he cried his way through the first chapter of my book. It described my former life working in a corporate bank, drowning in e-mails and commuting, wondering What is the purpose of my life?
Another classmate of mine, also approaching 40, told me that he wept audibly on an airplane reading my book.
I realized life after death was not the most relevant spiritual issue of the financially privileged, well-educated person. It's: I've gone to college, maybe grad school too, I have a job and I am not satisfied with my life. It sound like an easy problem to have, as many people are much worse off, but the pain these people are going through is very real.
After my classmate wrote me about crying on the plane, we had a heart-to-heart conversation over breakfast. He admitted very frankly that a few years ago he had almost lost the will to live, and then he added "like most of our classmates."
10 years after graduation, I have quite a few friends who have dropped out of the corporate world.
One friend used to work at a major bank and when his bosses would ask him to do more work, he would very politely say, "I'm sorry, I have too much on my plate right now." He moved back to his hometown to renovate houses and he couldn't be happier.
Another friend worked in France for a major American software company. Year after year he would get stellar reviews, but his salary and his bonuses would never match what he was promised. He asked to be fired (as is customary in France) so that he could receive unemployment benefits. His bosses, valuing his stellar performance so much, refused. So he remained at work and had a standoff with his boss. He would show up and take an hour to read a page of a report. This went on for months, until he was finally fired and started the French version of The Onion.
Another friend is a stay-at-home dad. Another resigned after his boss died at a young age of a heart attack. Just recently, a classmate quite his job at a major bank, spent a year cooking and opened Alma, a cutting=edge restaurant in Madrid.
I believe I heard from so many men because they still have more expectations on them to have these kinds of jobs. But this phenomenon is definitely not limited by gender. My neighbor quit her corporate job and went to Hawaii to do yoga teacher training. Recently, an article on Cosmopolitan.com by a Yale grad who quit her city job to scoop ice cream in the Caribbean got 500,000 Likes! People just can't do it anymore.
I began to wonder if people are inherently unhappy in corporations, or if they have individual passions that need to be addressed. We are all on different paths, but I do believe satisfaction can be found only when we're living balanced lives, for a purpose greater than just financial gain, and when we are honored and treated respectfully.
And what of my friend who admitted to losing the will to live? He changed his life. He had a moment when he knew that things at work were imploding. With a very strong power of intention, he declared that he wanted X, Y, and Z to happen. At the time, it would have been a quantum leap from where he was. And yet, one year later, he was living what he declared he wanted for himself. He had moved from an apartment in a smog filled city to a large house with a yard. He was now in a different country with a different job.
He sat in his new, large house thinking about the time when it was just an idea in his mind. He told me, "We're constantly putting out intention, energy, whatever you want to call it, we're drawing circumstances to us. We all know that when we really focus on something it always happens. Yet we're always so surprised when it does. Every time."