My first year in the MBA program at Stanford Graduate School of Business was a whirlwind. I moved to a different country, changed roles, co-founded a company and met some unbelievably amazing people. But I also struggled with adjusting to being a student again, and building a new home, career, and circle of friends.
Looking back, I’m extremely grateful for both the opportunities and the challenges I faced. In the hopes of making the journey easier for those of you who will be enrolling in business school shortly, these are my key takeaways from the past nine months:
1. Keep an open mind. The most interesting people and opportunities are not always the most obvious or visible ones. Take the time to step away from the whirlwind of recruiting and social events, and truly reflect on what you want to get out of the many opportunities you will have. But also find time to go to some events that you would never have otherwise chosen to. You never know which conversation will lead to you finding your next role. But even more importantly, be willing to change your first impressions of people. Your peers are every bit as overwhelmed and uncertain as you at the start. Don’t be fooled by the act: No one has their s–t together.
2. Learning to learn. You only get out what you put in. Being at a great school, and having access to a ridiculously great network, will not help you unless you’re first willing to be confused, challenged, and/or unstimulated. Make the time to do the homework assignments and group projects well. Even if they seem meaningless or unnecessary at the time, they’re being assigned for a reason. The dots will connect over time.
3. The best things take time. The things worth learning, doing, and having take time. You cannot rush the process. You will not learn to read financial statements, run a regression, or make your best friend in the first week of school. Breathe and lean in to the process. It’s so easy to believe that everyone is smarter than you, is hanging out without you, that you’re the only one who is lonely or disengaged or confused. Stay away from social media. Get away from your phone and just show up to events. Alone. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to connect with people. And in any case, you can’t really plan to make friends. Your community will form in the most unexpected places.
4. Don’t let your calendar control you. Pick the top three things you want to get out of the year. You’re not going to be able to build that company, switch careers, transition to a new geography, be the most popular person on campus, and meet your future partner at the same time. Decide how you want to spend your time, or the decision will be made for you — and you might not like where you end up. But don’t forget to always put your mental and physical health first.
5. Entrepreneurship is a buzzword. Building a company is not sexy. Don’t get taken in by the buzz and glamorization. The work can be overwhelming, boring, and repetitive. Building a team and engaging with customers is much harder than building a product. On the other hand, if there really is a problem you want to solve, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
6. Soft skills are harder than hard skills. Developing self-awareness, building relationships, and communicating clearly is a lot harder than learning basic programming or design thinking skills. Don’t underestimate the amount of hard work and pain this takes, and make the time to stretch yourself. You will never have this dedicated time and freedom to focus on personal development — or this much room to fail freely, without consequences.
7. Your community will shape you. In the end, you might end up building a $1 billion company, finding your dream job, or meeting your future partner. You might not. But you will be blown away by the people around you. You will discover that everyone has a story. The more you get to know the people around you, the more you see the distance they have traveled, the more in awe you will be of their courage, strength, and perspective. And you will have conversations and experiences that change the way you see the world, and perhaps the way you see yourself. Stay vulnerable and open. The more you express your weaknesses, the more you will connect with the people around you. Make the time to see yourself and the people around you in a new light.
Ride the wave: It’s only fun when it’s a little choppy.
Natasha Malpani is currently an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She was previously an investment director at Big Society Capital, a $1 billion impact investing firm in London. As one of the firm’s first employees, she built the company’s investment strategy and team. Natasha has also co-founded two social ventures. She is currently exploring the future of the media industry, and is spending the summer at Matter, an early-stage media investment firm in San Francisco, and Out There Media, an adtech firm in Athens.