Vulnerable But Invincible
Home Country: USA
Previous Industry: Consulting
Analysis: The author takes a rather bold approach here. She uses the essay to point to the times when she showed vulnerability in the workplace. This essay presents a strong example of how an essay can be used to complement different aspects of your personality – while resume and application can be used to highlight accomplishments, the essay has been intelligently used to show author’s capacity to be strong enough to talk about situations when she broke down in a professional capacity, but took lessons from each of these situations and employed them to her strength.
I have cried exactly four times at work.
The first time was early in my career. It was 2 AM and I was lying in bed struggling with an Excel model. An overachiever my whole life, I was wholly unused to the feelings of inadequacy and incompetence bubbling up inside me. After clicking through dozens of Excel forums with still no right answer, I gave up and cried myself to sleep, vowing to never let myself feel so incapable again.
The second time was a year and a half later. I was unsatisfied with my project and role and questioning my decision to be a consultant. That uncertainty must have been apparent to everyone because my manager pulled me aside and bluntly told me that my attitude was affecting the entire team. I cried in front of him, devastated that I had let my doubts bleed into my work.
The third time was just a year ago. I was overseeing a process redesign and struggling to balance the many changes needed. The Partner called me into his office to say, “I’m worried our process is not as sound as it needs to be. I need to know that you care about this as much as I do.” I nodded, saying that I do, then ran to the bathroom to cry, overwhelmed by how much change I knew was coming.
Each of the first three times was driven by frustration and anger. I had tamped down my emotions to the point where they overwhelmed me. Particularly as a young woman in business, I never wanted to be viewed as a stereotype or incapable. I was ashamed of my tears and terrified at how others would perceive me.
However, each of those experiences proved to be a turning point. My tears motivated me to ask for help when I needed it, pushed me to restructure my mindset and approach, and gave me a moment to breathe, rebalance, and reprioritize. In each case, my work was better for it. I have also used each experience as a learning moment. Each time I asked myself what decisions led me to the point of tears, and what I could have done differently. I could have raised my hand earlier for help, initiated a conversation with my manager about my uncertainty and dissatisfaction, or involved the Partner more actively in the planning and prioritization. While I can’t change the past, I can learn from it and am more considerate of such outcomes when I make these decisions today.
Emotions are an inevitable part of the human experience, and as such, an inevitable part of the office. Rather than keeping them at bay, I have begun embracing my emotions to be a better manager and leader and build more authentic connections. As a manager, I understand my team as people, not just colleagues. I have regular conversations with each of my team members to understand their individual goals and motivations, so I can take those into consideration when building the team structure and delegating responsibilities. As a leader, I invest in traditions and events that foster camaraderie and high morale. I am the proud founder of [NAME OF OFFICE PROGRAM] in the office, a beloved tradition that is now an integral part of the office and that I hope will continue even after I leave.
The fourth time I cried was at the rollout of a process redesign I oversaw. This was our first time demo-ing the new process end-to-end for the rest of the team. As the demo progressed, I felt the team’s energy turn from nervous anticipation to dawning excitement, and finally to sheer awe and amazement. As the demo ended, one of my teammates turned to me, and asked in a hushed voice, “Are you crying?” And I was. This time, I cried not with frustration or anger. This time, I cried with joy for our success and with pride for my team. Embracing my emotions allowed me to show that tears are not shameful and don’t need to be hidden in the workplace. I am no longer ashamed of my tears, and I am proud to demonstrate that a strong leader can be pragmatic and emotional all at once.
Comment: “I started early on my essay (~ 3 months before the submission deadline) because it was important to me to iterate and be thoughtful. I started by laying out potential themes and stories for my essay, and while there are a lot of similarities, the core message changed quite a bit. Don’t get too attached to any one story or theme and allow yourself to let go of a draft if it’s not the right one. What I found most helpful was having 2-3 close friends that I trust wholeheartedly review multiple drafts, because they were able to provide continuous feedback and help me combine pieces from multiple drafts. None of them had ever gone to or applied to business school, but were experienced in writing and communication (e.g. one is a screenwriter) which helped me focus on communicating MY story more so than what is the story that HBS Admissions would most like.”