In popular culture, business school is often lampooned as a hiatus from the whiplash pace and relentless disruption of the rat race. Well, don’t tell that to the University of Iowa’s Kyle Wehr, who found the constant change as the hardest part of business school. “The reality of the MBA is that there is minimal stability,” says Wehr, the recipient of the school’s Excellence in Leadership Award as a first year. “During the whole 21-month program, you are changing classes, learning new skills, trying to figure out where you’ll spend the summer, and trying to figure out where you will be living and working following graduation. The MBA is a tremendous experience, but it is very difficult to establish an authentic, deep foundation during this time.”
Recruiting can also take its toll on first years, adds the University of Chicago’s Florian Amann, who successfully transitioned from consulting (Deloitte) to investment banking (Goldman Sachs) during business school. “Since everyone at business school is used to success in her or his prior life, a second-best outcome is often considered a failure and can be hard on people (although everyone is doing EXTREMELY well in the grand scheme of things).”
B-SCHOOL IS THE PLACE TO TAKE RISKS
Ultimately, a six figure investment in business school requires students to set a long-term trajectory. However, that path isn’t necessarily clear from the start. That was the story of IESE’s Sean Porta, who’d entered business school after quickly climbing the ladder at Scotiabank. Like his peers, Porta thought he knew what he wanted to do after graduation.
And then he quickly came to a rude awakening.
“After you’re exposed to so many different classes, experiences, backgrounds, geographies – you start to fall in love with a lot of different ideas and become a little confused,” he admits. “I never caught the “consulting bug,” but I found myself contemplating industries and positions, for example marketing at a high tech company, that I would have never have considered in my wildest dreams before coming to the MBA. Figuring out what I really wanted to do (and where) was difficult.”
Porta eventually settled on working on working for the Adidas Group in corporate ventures, thanks to bouncing ideas off his classmates and professors. That wasn’t the case with Tiffany Chang, who managed accounts for a creative agency before starting at the University of Maryland. However, she stayed in her field, moving into marketing at the Ford Motor Company after earning her MBA. But don’t assume Chang took the path of least resistance. Instead, her secret to success was based on doing business school was designed for: Taking risks.
“The hardest part of business school was constantly reminding myself to embrace the things that made me uncomfortable,” Chang emphasizes. “The issue was not adapting to the challenge; it was how to conscientiously create a challenge every day for myself. I naturally like to lead and take charge, so in certain situations I would force myself to take a back seat and learn as a follower. It was hard to always push myself to do the opposite of what I wanted to do, since it felt unnatural…but it was necessary for me to experience different styles of leadership in order to add more tools to my toolkit.”
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