What I Learned From Harvard

This past weekend I had a great time visiting Cambridge, MA, home of Harvard University. 

I was there to visit with one of my old students who is currently a postdoc at Harvard.

He's the type of teenager who decided to win a state championship because it would be a fun thing to do. He's the type of 20-something that's so down-to-earth, you forget he thrived at hard-core academic institutions such as University of Chicago, Dartmouth, and now Harvard. And he's the type of scientist that thinks nothing of spending months in the field taking baths in piranha-infested jungle rivers or walking a mile each way to study primates in the Ethiopian mountains.

I was visiting him because he's fun to hang out with but also because I knew I was going to come home smarter. And Cambridge in the fall isn't a bad idea either.

So did I have fun? Absolutely. Did I learn anything? Well, let me tell you...

  1. Environment can inspire. I'm probably making this up. I'm probably a lunatic. But sitting at a cafe near M.I.T., I could feel the "smartness." Sipping my coffee and waiting for him to arrive, I felt like I was sitting somewhere important. I felt like I wanted to write a groundbreaking theorem. I felt like I wanted to learn another language that afternoon. I felt inspired. It could have been the gorgeous architecture or the thoughtful-looking students riding by me on their bikes, or my active imagination. Whatever it was, it was palpable. And stirring. And it got me excited. We could all do better in an environment like that.
  2. I really think we are the average of the five people around us. I've heard this said many times, and I've never quite believed it. But after being immersed in Cambridge, I'm a convert. When you're in a cafe at Harvard, you're sitting next to professors or grad students or future geniuses. You're listening to multiple languages all throughout the room. You're listening to people having important conversations and watching people having important thoughts. My student and I were just there to have fun and eat some good food. That was the point of my trip. And yet, we happily spent hours discussing politics, religion, race, diet, economics, millennials, football, tennis, and trading. This was our light conversation--and it was so fun. Being around him made me automatically use big words that I normally never use at all. They just came out. Why? Because I was around a genius. My average had been increased. Want to get better? Be around people who are better.
  3. Live in a city where you can walk. It's pretty much not arguable that walking makes you smarter. That's why where we live matters. Plopping down in front of the TV or a smartphone will never improve our lives like a walk can. So if we live in bad weather or a place inhospitable to exercise, over time we will suffer for it. At Harvard, we met at a cafe at 11:00 am and had some coffee. Eleven hours and 28,000 steps later we had a small plate for dinner. We'd walked the whole city! And it was so easy. Cambridge/Boston is made for walkers and bikers. We saw everything, had great conversations, and didn't even notice we'd walked over 12 miles. We ate great food and stayed healthy because we stayed on our feet. In a different city, we might have had lunch and called it a day to go take a nap. Being active matters. It helps us in every way. Try to get yourself to a place where you aren't forced to stay put.

Inspiring environment, smart people, and activity. Not a bad recipe for a fun life. 

My latest book is The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.