My MBA at Harvard Business School is over but I will cherish those memories for a long time. I’ve had incredible experiences, met inspiring friends and professionals, been to fascinating places and — last but not least — reflected a lot.
It has been a transformational experience not only professionally and academically but — especially — personally. As I go back to what MBA students usually call “real life” (versus the bubble of MBA life), these are the 10 key takeaways I will take with me.
Some of these reflections were already in my mind before enrolling in business school. However, during the MBA I was really pushed to reflect more about them, and several experiences really strengthened my point of view on them.
1. Prioritize ruthlessly.
As most MBA students learn, especially during the first weeks at business school, the academic, social, and professional activities are so plentiful that it is not feasible to participate in every one. It would be cool to do them all, but that is not possible. The solution is not easy: learn to say “no” — or as a famous poster in my Facebook office used to say, practice “ruthless prioritization.”
During business school, I learned to focus on questions like how to prioritize my time, what matters most to me, what is important but not a priority, and how to spend my time purposefully. Also post-MBA, I plan to spend time every week reflecting on whether I am devoting the right amount of time to the activities and people that matter most to me.
2. Listen and don’t jump too quickly to conclusions.
How many times do you end up quickly coming to a conclusion about a person, only to discover later that it is not the correct one? How often has someone told you something and you immediately reply that some idea is not feasible or not a good one, only to reconsider later?
Several times over the course of my MBA, I found out that I was right in my first impressions. But other times I was totally wrong. Some of the most interesting people I met were those who did not impress me at first. Appearance is very important, but it is not everything and it is often misleading.
Post-MBA, I have resolved not to jump too quickly to conclusions. I have decided to listen carefully and decide about a person or situation only after having spent a necessary amount of time.
3. Just ask.
How many times are you tempted to ask for something but you don’t because of a fear of rejection? How often have you wanted to connect with someone but you are unable to because you are afraid? How many times have you missed an opportunity because you are shy? It has happened to me many times both at work and in my personal life.
During a sales class at HBS, a professor pushed us to overcome our fear of rejection: “Just ask.” He suggested that we go to a store and ask for a free gadget or connect with people we would not have been comfortable reaching out to. That week, whenever I went into a store, I asked for a free gadget. Whenever I met someone I wanted to talk with, I approached him or her. I was rejected several times. However, I was surprised my requests were accepted many more times than I expected. That gave me a tremendous amount of confidence.
Post-MBA, I want to keep looking for what makes me happy, and I think it is right and fair to ask. I do not want to be shy or afraid of being rejected. Shyness is a barrier to opportunities that could bring about benefits for us and others.
4. Have fun.
During business school I had fun partying, studying, meeting people, and traveling. I was very happy. Since I was very young, I have always been results-driven. I felt I had to study and achieve results. While having fun was important, it was not my top priority. Sometimes I almost felt guilty about having too much fun since it meant I was not dedicating enough time to my job or my studies.
Post-MBA, having fun is definitely going to be a priority — and even more, I want to spread this habit to other people, as well. I want to find new ways to spend time with other people, to practice new hobbies and discover new passions.
5. Be yourself.
During my MBA, there were moments when students shared personal stories from their past. Several cried in front of large crowds. They opened themselves up. They became vulnerable. At first, I was surprised by how they were willing to share their deeper selves. Yet I did not see them as weak. Afterward, I felt much more connected and closer to them. I felt that they had removed all barriers. They were so authentic.
I will not be afraid to show my emotions and who I am. I will not be afraid to show my weaknesses. I am confident that this is the only way I will be able to be myself. Some people will like it, others will not. But at least they will know me for who I am and not someone else.
6. Be patient and persistent. Rome was not built in a day.
I spent two years applying to HBS. The first time I was rejected and HBS did not even call me for an interview. Had I not been patient, I would not have had the privilege to live such a great experience. The second time I applied, I reflected a lot on the reasons I was rejected, and I tried to improve my application as much as I could. It took lots of effort, time, energy, and patience. If I think about the achievements I am most proud of, I see that they all took time, persistence, and lots of failure, too! Sometimes we want to have something immediately, and I am that type of a person. But that is not always possible.
Post-MBA, I want to continue being patient for the things I care about the most. Even though I find being patient is quite demanding, I cannot think of any better solution.
7. Seek out diversity.
At HBS you are often asked to work as a team. HBS students tend to be very opinionated and their opinions tend to be very different. Several times during projects, I felt that had I worked alone it would have been much easier. I was so sure my way of thinking was the right one. Yet at the end of the project, I often realized that a specific point I had not understood led the project to new directions and greater success.
Post-MBA, I will not be scared to work in diverse teams, I will seek out diverse points of view both at work and outside. Working in a diverse environment is not easy, since it requires lots of flexibility and patience to understand different points of view and adapt to various ways of thinking, interacting, and communicating. However, I cannot emphasize enough how much being in a diverse environment has taught me about myself and other cultures.
8. Be grateful.
Graduation day is a day I will never forget for the rest of my life. I was very proud of myself on that day. But even more, I felt very grateful. I felt grateful to my family. I felt grateful to so many people who had filled me with constant affection and support. I felt grateful to HBS as an institution, for allowing me to live such a transformational experience. I feel I have received a lot.
I want to continue manifesting my gratitude toward people and institutions that have given me so much. And even more, I would really like to start impacting the lives of people in a positive way as a tribute to so many family members and friends who have played a commendable role in my life.
9. Dream big and take risks.
“I want to create a firm that allows space travel.” “I want to help in reducing famine in African countries.” “I want to revolutionize the way education works.”
I have never been in a place where people thought as big as they did at Harvard. They had dreams that are very hard to realize. Yet these are their dreams and they are willing to invest lots of time and energy to fulfilling them. They are willing to take risks.
Post-MBA, I want to dream big and take risks. Taking risks can be pretty daunting. However, not taking risks means renouncing your dreams, which would be far worse.
10. Nurture meaningful relationships.
During my MBA, I got a chance to meet several senior alumni who shared their experiences and lessons. Few regretted not having realized some professional aspirations, yet the majority of them regretted even more not having spent more time with their families, friends, and others who mattered most to them.
My MBA really pushed me to understand what matters most to me. I realized that people and relationships are the most important part of my life. If I think about the happiest moments in my life, most would relate to family time or time spent with people I had deep connections with. I plan to dedicate much more time and energy to developing relationships with people, since they are my primary source of happiness.
At the end of my MBA, I reflected a lot about my experience, and these are the 10 cardinal lessons I pinned on the notice board of my learning.
While the MBA helped me become aware of these 10 lessons, I know it will be important to start applying them in my daily life. Having written these learnings down will help me think about them on a daily basis.
I also hope they can be of inspiration to other people like me.
Marco De Curtis is a member of the Harvard Business School MBA Class of 2017. He is a former analyst for Citi and former associate for BCG and Facebook.