August 10, 2009 | 12:00 AM
I have wanted to write something about my 40th high school reunion last weekend in Mountain Brook, Alabama. But what does a reunion have to do with the executive search world? Why would people who read our blog for observations and advice on leadership, recruiting, and search want to read a blog about a bunch of 58-year-olds cavorting together after 40 years? One of my colleagues said, "After all, it is our blog-we can write about anything we want." But beyond that, our firm was built on long term relationships, and the reunion was about relationships, acceptance, and perspective.
In 1966, I walked through the doors of Mountain Brook High School, just southeast of Birmingham, Alabama, for the first time. My parents moved us to the Mountain Brook school system, believing it would give my sister and me better long term opportunities. Like most teenagers, my goal horizon was about 24 hours at best, and I did not want to leave my friends or neighborhood in the interest of any long term betterment. I was shy, insecure, and saw myself as an outsider amongst the super smart group of kids at Mountain Brook, many of whom attended kindergarten together. But my parents were right. Going to Mountain Brook allowed me to attend a top notch college and launch my career first as an attorney and then in executive search.
I returned to Birmingham only a few times after college-my parents retired to Florida and my siblings relocated elsewhere. I lost contact with my high school friends. I made the trip for my 20th reunion which was okay but not particularly memorable. So how did the 40th reunion exceed all expectations, not just for me but for everyone there? Why has this high stayed with me all week?
It started with group emails that were exchanged between class members as the festivities took shape. After the first round of "We were the greatest class ever!" and "Wasn't high school a blast?" came the first email that said "No, high school was not a blast and here is why." That brave person opened the door to a real exchange of emails that said "Here is what was going on with me in high school." By the time the reunion arrived, we felt like we knew each other on a different and deeper level.
When you haven't seen people in 40 years, they don't look the same and some are not recognizable. As our class toured our high school, I had this funny feeling of being both young and old at the same time. Cliques disappeared. Classmates who had no shared experiences from their high school years connected on other levels. And what is it about dancing that brings people together? The songs were old-the moves weren't quite as deft and more than a few of us were feeling the effect come Sunday morning.
At the 20th reunion, we were climbing the career ladder, raising children, and asking "Do I have enough?" By the 40th reunion, those children are grown, we have rounded the third base of our careers, and understand that what is enough is not measured by dollars or external things. Some now are experiencing the joys of children having their own families and the challenges of caring for aging parents. We've experienced births, deaths - shared experiences based on the human condition. Many of our shared experiences date back to high school. But at the time, we didn't know we were having the same experiences. Do I fit in? What is my identity? Am I (hip) (smart) (athletic) (take your pick) enough? For one weekend in July, classmates reunited from different cities and walks of life with an appreciation for each other's paths that created a resonance of joy and happiness that was palpable. The weekend flew. None of us wanted to leave this time capsule that propelled us back to 1969 but with the gift of wisdom gained over the past 40 years. Was it simply a chance to enter a time machine that took us back to being teenagers for a lost weekend or a chance to enrich and build relationships formed on the foundations of our youth? Stay tuned for my next report after the 50th reunion.
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