My True Confession & The Great Irony of Harvard Business School

I have a confession to make.

For the past several years, I've been on a frantic quest for peace and inner calm (which I realize is an oxymoron but stay with me). It's not that my life is broken — it is in fact, the opposite of broken. It's just that in recent years as I zoomed toward (and past!) age 40, the continual addition of babies and friends and colleagues and clients and boards and meetings has left my jar exhaustingly full.

And so I have hunted — in church, in yoga, in personal training and yes, even in therapy, for a little quiet space inside my own soul. Here comes The Great Irony: It appears I finally found it at the most competitive business school in the world.

I spent a week last month with 60 rock star, executive women at Harvard Business School's Women's Leadership Forum. We assembled from all the world's corners — 23 countries, in fact — in pursuit of wisdom on how to be more effective leaders. We were collectively shocked by what we learned.

The Softer Side of Harvard

Classroom chairs at Harvard.The professors at Harvard value and emphasize the importance of stillness and authentic human connection.

Although not stated, a thread that seemed implied is that this research-based institution is course-correcting a bit for producing generations of MBAs who are highly productive yet unhealthily intense. And so, we spent a lot of time talking about soft things, like how to stay true to our own values and focused on the bulls-eye of life quality.

We devoured delicious content from Harvard professor Leslie Perlow, whose recent book Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work left many of us (myself included) admitting to a full-on technology addiction.

Perlow masterfully walked us through a powerful exercise, writing a letter to ourselves 10 years from today, reflecting backward on everything that matters in our lives. Not surprisingly, many of us wept as we painted pictures of our children as young adults starting their lives. The exercise accentuated small opportunities potentially missed because we were answering one more e-mail, or worse yet, looking at Facebook.

The Harvard professor continued by asking us to allocate percentages of how we are currently spending our time each day, alongside a second column for how we wish we were. And then came the punch line: no one will ever create that ideal end state for us — that knight in shining armor absolutely is not coming.

The challenge is to manage life and not let your life manage you.

But where to begin? We are all so busy doing busy, good things. As capable, smart people (as everyone who reads this blog is), how could we possibly not go do every good thing before us?

A second professor, Frances Frei, said it this way: "Superheroism is the root of mediocrity."

That's right. Trying to do everything means we do nothing. Every single time.

Above are a few of Michele Rhudy's classmates at Harvard Business School.And so we developed action plans, very personal ones, with written promises to ourselves for how we will change. We focused on the idea that simple tweaks can yield big rewards over time, and that sometimes the smallest and most doable tasks are in fact the ones that change our lives.

And so I made this simple promise to myself: At the end of each work day, when I reconnect with my family, I will leave the phone in the office, not the kitchen. I will charge it in the office, not the kitchen.

And I will leave it there until the morning comes. That doesn't mean I won't look at work after the kids go to bed. But for this special season, while I'm helping to grow baby girls into young ladies, I will pay attention every evening. I will give them my whole brain, not a fragmented brain that is also answering e-mail that can wait while I spend time with my amazing little family.

Some of you may be shocked that I even had to set this small goal, disgusted that I look at my phone as I cook dinner, and I'm okay with that. Because others of you will take solace that some other crazy lady is just like you. I'm that crazy lady. That's one thing Harvard gave me. That's what I want to share.

A smart Harvard classmate named Julie Thornton who shares my Christian faith said it this way: "If Satan can't make you bad, he'll make you busy."

I'm trying to stomp out the busy. I welcome company along the way.

Michele Rhudy loves being a working mother, but considers her three daughters the jewels of her life.