Graduation weekend is a time for reflection – just not regret. As the Class of 2018 gathers to celebrate their experience and share their goodbyes, who wants to dwell on mistakes? This weekend, the message is don’t look back, seize the day, and live in the now. The graduates have made it – and the future is now theirs.
Well, this story is not for them.
Instead, it is for the Class of 2020 – whether they’re breathless and wary or starry-eyed and ambitious. Today, these incoming first years are tying up loose ends and making plans. Come August, most will be in a new town with no income, sitting alongside strangers in classrooms they left long ago. They think they know what’s in store…but they’re really don’t. They all have plans too. As they’ll soon learn, those intentions are only as good as their options.
A TWO YEAR EXERCISE IN LEARNING HOW TO SAY “NO”
The MBA experience, as the saying goes, is like drinking from a firehose. There is more opportunity than capacity. It is an exercise in knowing what to leave in and what to leave out – and in what amounts. Problem is, many MBAs struggle to find this balance until second year.
That’s why Poets&Quants looked to the Class of 2018 for their advice. As part of P&Q’s annual Best & Brightest MBAs storyline, we pulled the most insightful responses to the question: “What was your biggest regret during business school?” Sure enough, the regrets were both timeless…and sometimes unexpected.
FOMO – a popular acronym that stands for “Fear of Missing Out” – may as well been devised by an MBA candidate. It reflects the temptation to try everything in business school. Barraged by clubs, recruiters, trips, and classes, many first years spread themselves thin. Worried they may lose out on life-changing opportunities or contacts, they choose breadth over depth. In the process, says Arizona State’s Rachel Curtis, they give equal importance to everything. For her, the better strategy is slowing down to decide what’s truly important sooner.
In other words, business school flips the script. To lay the groundwork for business school, most first-year had continuously answered “Yes” to opportunities to sharpen the skills and build their track records. To succeed in business school, many had to learn to say “no” to better protect their time to focus on what truly mattered.
PICK-AND-CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
“There are so many clubs, activities, and events going on in business school that it’s extremely easy to overburden your calendar,” admits Bennet Hayes, a professional poker player turned consultant at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. “This breadth of options is precisely what made the last two years so special, but if you aren’t prepared to decline certain opportunities, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or miss out on other, more meaningful offerings. I think it took me more than a year to figure out that it was okay to say no to certain opportunities in an effort to get the most out of my time at Owen.”
How would the Best & Brightest advise the incoming class to cope? Melissa Young, a Facebook hire from the University of Washington, urges future students to practice “ruthless prioritization.” Chen Song, who earned her MBA at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, suggests leaving more “blank space” on their calendars so they can better “go with the flow and let spontaneous fun happen.” In contrast, IMD’s Valeria Cuevas would better pick-and-choose which tasks get her full effort. “With time, I learned that the amount of workload makes it impossible for any normal human being to excel at every assignment,” she confesses.
That’s advice that UCLA’s Melody Akbari wishes she had heeded. Like many, she endured heavy stress levels at times. Looking back, Akbari considers it a process that every MBA must experience for themselves. “I believe it’s a rite of passage to go through that river of stress and come out the other side soaking and wet, knowing you didn’t have to cross it so quickly, or so abruptly,” she argues. “And yet, no matter how much every second year and every administrator explains there’s no reason to stress so much, as MBA students, being the intelligent and mostly type A character that we are, I don’t know if the cycle of unnecessary stress will ever be perfectly broken.”
DON’T SACRIFICE YOUR HEALTH
Alas, this stress comes with real consequences. Just ask Tyler Whitsett, a Kelley grad who is ticketed to Procter & Gamble. He describes his first semester as so intense that it created a “B-School Bubble,” where networking and studying became his life instead of just a part of it. Soon enough, it took a toll on his health and relationships outside the bubble – one that compelled him to work with Kelley coaches to develop a plan that focused on his long-term well-being.
“I fell into unhealthy eating and sleeping habits and constantly de-prioritized relationships family and friends,” he acknowledges. “It wasn’t until spring break that I was able to “come up for air” and realized how far off track I really was from living the life that I wanted. Not only had my personal health deteriorated, but some of the relationships that I had built had been strained to the breaking point.”
Maintaining relationships outside the ‘bubble’ was also a saving grace for Ivey’s Jay Kiew. His biggest regret? Not calling his mother or fiancée more often. That said, his hectic schedule produced a positive that he didn’t anticipate “They’ve done a great job of hanging out together without me!”
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE ACTIVITIES
The MBA experience is designed to encourage students to hang out, to exchange ideas and partner together to make them happen. When she arrived at Kellogg, Kathryn Bernell followed the herd to the large events, where she quickly found herself lost and alone. That led her to adopt more guerrilla network tactics to forge deeper bonds with classmates. “This year, I have focused my time and energy on ‘high impact’ events; the small group dinners, impromptu trips, or coffee chats that allow me to get the most out of my time with peers.”