10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before My MBA

Azella Perrymanos graduated from Harvard Business School in

Azella Perrymanos graduated from Harvard Business School in 2011

It’s been three years since I graduated from Harvard Business School, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I wish someone would have told me BEFORE B-school and definitely while I was going through my job search.

So here are my top 10….

1. They were right – at least half of the classmates I know (if not more) are at a different job 18 months out than they had when they left school. Which makes me really question what the career services team gets graded on in terms of performance…

2. Nobody mentions how much more confusing and scary (and cash constrained) life gets AFTER the MBA. Yes taking out loans to go on trips during school is an integral part of making deeper relationships…but damn…I still haven’t paid off enough to get back to the original loan amount I took out to begin with!

3. Generally (and please don’t take offense if this doesn’t apply to you), if you dig past the surface “things are going great!” conversation BS, people who didn’t go into finance, consulting, PE seem truly happier – but no less stressed out. But people STILL chase those jobs coming out of school like their life, status, and future happiness depend on it (for the transferable skills of course. Right…)

4. It’s scary and frustrating as a career switcher to feel like I’m starting from scratch again while I watch my non-MBA friends who now have 7 years of experience kick ass at their jobs

5. Getting an MBA didn’t prepare me to DO actual skill work in my industry at all really. It taught me how to see a big problem and make snap decisions on what should be done. But actually DOING work?  I’m learning as I go and it’s a steep steep learning curve.

6. It’s going to take more time than I thought to do really BIG things (you know the stuff they allude to on your first day about how you’re going to change the world while forgetting to mention that it won’t happen quickly because you’ll likely be funneled back into an industry/job role that thrives on the status quo)

7. The expectations are SO much higher – at work, from friends, from myself, my family, would-be employers. Everyone expects you to be able to just DO amazing things, and KNOW things simply because you went to B-school.

8. Once you’re in the job…nobody really cares you have an MBA. If anything, some people who don’t have one hate you for it on the low.

9. Most people don’t want to admit to themselves that even if they knew what they really wanted to do…they probably still wouldn’t leave their well-paid, high status job to go do it.

But most importantly….

10. While my MBA prepared me to be able to speak eloquently even when I don’t have the answers – it most certainly did NOT help me figure out what I want to do in life, how to find my passion and purpose or give me any clarity on HOW I’m going to change the world. I tell a lot of MBA hopefuls that your time at school opens a thousand doors and exposes you to things you’ve never heard of before, but that can be paralyzing because what they DON’T do is help you figure out which one to go through. So you end up rationalizing why you followed the crowd (transferable skills, paying off loans faster and THEN you’ll figure out what you want to do, need another brand name on the resume to prove myself, etc.)

So, I figured I’d start a blog. And use it as an excuse to talk to MBAs and ask them about how they’re handling their lives and careers after 2 years of wedded bliss to the idea that they were handpicked out of the masses to do bigger and better things with the education and network from their MBA program.

Hopefully, I can have candid conversations with folks and share what they’ve learned, what they wish they knew going in (and coming out) and how they’re navigating the world with a few more letters after their name and all the expectations and pressures that came with it.

Maybe if I can get past the façade we learn to put up and hear some real stories, I can start learning how others handling work/life balance (ha!) while climbing the ladder, or choosing a path less traveled and the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with that.

We learn in B-school (or at least at HBS) that social capital is scarce and no one wants to be associated with the person who doesn’t have it all together. But maybe if more folks knew it isn’t all rosy after you graduate and that many people are struggling with the same questions, insecurities, frustrations, and life decisions, we could learn from each other’s experiences and create more realistic expectations for the droves of people turning to B-school as the next step in life.

Or not. We’ll see.

But if you’ve got a story – want to chat – have something to say about what you wish you would have known, hit me up! Would love to hear from you!

Azella is a recent Harvard MBA grad and reformed ex-Wall Street capitalist on a journey to discover how life after an MBA can be as fulfilling, purposeful, and successful as possible. She blogs at Navigating Life After The MBA

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