In 1995 I was 25 years old, broke as hell and sweating my ass off in the sticky heat of Memphis, TN. I was working a low-paying job, eating Ramen noodles for dinner and driving a crappy car with no air conditioning. Suffice to say that I was having very little success in the romance department.
Then one day I got a letter that changed my life. It set me on the course for solid corporate employment in the middle run, affluence in the long run—and amorous success in the short run. In fact, the evening I received said missive, I told a very attractive woman about it. She was so impressed that she consented to make smooshy-face with me in the bar parking lot. (We were in a bar. Did I mention that?) Twenty years later, I’m financially secure, and have beautiful children and a gorgeous wife. (Winky emoticon.)
You’re probably thinking, “Tell me, Paul—what was this letter that so impacted your life? Was it your Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes notification?”
“Was it your Herbalife distribution franchise permit?”
“Was it the fashion modeling contract you so richly deserved?”
No. Unfortunately the modeling contract didn’t work out. It turns out that Ford Modeling Agency doesn’t actually have a “Husky and Balding” division, as I was led to believe by my “model development liaison” at Barbizon.
But even though the letter didn’t take me to the world of fashion, it did lead me to the land of The Beautiful People (well, The Semi-Beautiful People anyway). Before I tell you about the letter, let me ask: would you like to get a letter that changes your life? A letter that sets you on the path to a great career and financial solvency? A letter that leads to parking lot smooshy-face with an attractive smooshy-face partner?
By the way—why am I asking all of these rhetorical questions? Am I trying to be mysterious? Am I trying to heighten tension? Am I trying to get you to sign up for a cult or something?
Well, kind of, yeah.
Because what I’m talking about here is business school, which you should already know from the title of the book (if you didn’t know what I was leading up to, then you’re not very bright and should stop considering graduate school of any kind).
The letter was my invitation to join the Class of 1997 at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. It was a by-product of me getting off my lazy post-college ass and actually doing something to get my career going in the right direction.
The letter represented a yearlong quest to get myself admitted to one of the top MBA programs in the country. It meant that I had hurdled the GMAT, survived the on-campus interview and passed the mental probe of the application essay. It was my golden ticket to the financial chocolate factory, and—as I’m sure you’ll agree—chocolate money kicks Ramen’s ass.
Of course it wasn’t the letter itself that changed my life. It was what the letter represented—the doors that were now open to me. Doors that represented amazing career and life opportunities, should I choose to walk through them with some purpose, punctuality and acceptable personal hygiene.
Now, with almost 20 years and a great career (including stops at Yahoo!, Facebook and the Improv) between business school and today, I find myself reflecting on the business school experience with immense gratitude, and also with a great deal more perspective.
I can see now that I should have had better career direction right out of college and, perhaps, wouldn’t have needed business school to focus my energies. But knowing that now is somewhat moot and does little good for the 25-year-old me who could barely afford to get the Ramen stains dry-cleaned out of his TJ Maxx neckties.
I can see now that I probably would have succeeded without business school because drive and ambition have played just as big a role in my success as any academic credential. But I know that I’m far better off—both personally and professionally—with the skills, standards and personal network Tuck provided. (btw,“personal network” is how MBAs so warmly refer to “their friends”).
I can see now that—at 46—I can’t actually see as well as I did when I was 25. But what is very clear is that I was enormously, wildly fortunate to attend Tuck and to have had the great career that followed.
My work mission today is to use humor to help others find success and joy in their work lives. I’m beginning this mission where I began my career: with business school. It is my hope that the book I’ve written provides you, kind reader, with a better framework with which to approach business school, some catalyzed reflection, and—most importantly—hearty laughter to help you during the stressful process of considering, applying to and working your way through a top MBA program and your post-graduation career.
Author Paul Ollinger is a writer and stand-up comedian who has opened for some of the biggest names in the business. He also has an MBA from Dartmouth’s Tuck School and was one the first 250 employees of Facebook where he served as VP of Sales for the Western United States. When he’s not on the road speaking, doing stand-up and sharing his unique POV on business and life, he lives in Atlanta, GA, with his beautiful wife, two wonderful children and French bulldog, Colonel Tom Parker. This article is excerpted with his permission from his newly published book, You Should Totally Get An MBA: A Comedian’s Guide To Top U.S. Business Schools, now available on Amazon.
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