As a second year NYU Stern MBA, I’ve held several virtual coffee chats with new and prospective students. Almost everyone has asked me to share what happened that was unexpected to me. Maybe it has been the seven months of sheltering in place in a cramped New York City apartment. For me, I’ve been surprised by how the MBA impacted my time with my non-MBA relationships, especially my partner.
In the 11 years that Mike and I have been together, we have had lots of ups-and-downs in our relationship, including three years where I worked abroad in Japan. Starting the MBA at NYU Stern was meant, in part, to be a physical return to the States for me and a return to normalcy in our relationship. What I didn’t anticipate was how my MBA journey would re-shape our relationship.
Recently, I decided to put a spin on date night and interviewed Mike about our shared MBA journey. In the process, we reflected back on the experience and how we’ve come out stronger on the other side.
STARTING THE MBA APPLICATION PROCESS
Sometimes it feels like the decision to go back to school for my MBA was a momentous occasion. However, I don’t remember the exact moment I shared my decision with Mike and it seems it wasn’t that memorable for him either.
“I didn’t really think too much about it, I was just excited for you to move. It meant you were hopefully moving back, at least closer. And, I was excited for you to do something that you were excited about.”
I made a point to include Mike in the application process. I looked at applying as a personal branding exercise, and he knows me better than anyone, so who better to review my materials. However, he seemed a bit uneasy to review my resume or essays and I hadn’t dug into why in the past.
With respect to partners helping with the application, here were his thoughts…
“I think it depends on the people. The thing I remember the most is that NYU had something that was like, include six pictures in a slideshow that was going to represent you or something.”
The unique NYU Stern Pick Six essay allows applicants an opportunity to express their personalities through six images. With each photo, you include a sentence-long caption to explain the image’s significance to your identity and past.
“I tried to help you with it, but analyzing that kind of thing and giving you a good response wasn’t a strength of mine, and I knew there would be other people who would be more helpful to you with that. I didn’t have a good sense of what they would be looking for.”
STARTING THE MBA PROGRAM
LAUNCH, NYU Stern’s MBA Orientation, began as a blur – and continued at that pace for the rest of the fall. Returning to the U.S. was supposed to mean more time together with Mike. Instead, I spent more quality time staring into the eyes of my study group members than my long-term partner. What I should have been cognizant of before starting the program is the amount of time you need to dedicate to pursuing your MBA to do it right. If I had realized that, I could have set better expectations for myself and my loved ones.
“We were in a unique situation because we had been doing long distance before… Generally, I would say it felt good to have you back, but I was definitely surprised at how much of your time it took up.”
I was curious if Mike felt if that had changed since Stern had shifted to a hybrid in-person and remote model in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and I’d progressed to being an MBA2 with a job offer in pocket. I felt we were around each other more, making time for each other more. But he still felt a strain.
“Of course it’s different because now as an MBA2 you aren’t recruiting and most things have been virtual since March. At this point, your workload has lightened up a little bit compared to the past, but still I see a lot of investment and a lot of time going into it. Many of the same challenges are still present even in this hybrid environment.
MAKING TIME TO BE TOGETHER, OR NOT…
Being intentional and consistent about building time together was the biggest struggle I remember from my first year. A second year MBA shared that she and her husband scheduled a weekly date night on their calendar. I shared this idea with Mike and we attempted to implement it ourselves. We found our own way, authentic to our relationship, to make the most of our time together.
“Thankfully we were in a bit of a unique situation where even the limited time that we had together felt like a lot compared to where we were at before. But I think the surprise of that led us not to be ready for that. I know one thing we did right away that we hadn’t been doing is I had you share your Google Calendar with me so we could more easily find time together and schedule things.
“I remember even when there was a show I wanted to start watching. It was only an hour long and when I asked you about watching it, you told me to ‘put it in the calendar’ so you could make sure you saved time for it. It was jarring at first and I pushed back because I thought it was crazy to schedule such a simple and short event, but now we add things to the calendar regularly for each other! But what I would say is, we learned as we went how to make sure we had that time.”
Given that we had three years of a long-distance relationship under our belts, I knew Mike was prepared to handle any feelings of isolation and we would likely not experience the same kind of drifting apart that many couples face during the MBA. We were already based in New York, where he had his own community of family, friends, and a major time commitment of his own as a professional ultimate frisbee player with the New York Empire for the last seven years. In fact, we have discovered more challenges for ourselves in adapting to a hybrid virtual environment as I spend more of my school time at home.
“Surprisingly, I’ve found that it’s actually more challenging to manage our time together in the mostly virtual environment. Since March, my work has been virtual so we’ve been home together basically all the time, which makes it seem like we would have limitless time together. But, what I’ve actually found is that as a virtual MBA student and intern over the summer, you’ve been on calls and Zooms all day. You can be so busy that if I try to talk to you for a minute, I have to find the five minutes where you’re in between calls. For me, personally, it was a lot easier to be alone when just the other person is not there and I know that you’re doing your thing, whatever networking event or social event you’re doing, and I just sit down, do something else, and I plan for that. Now, there’s this new dynamic. You’re in the same room as the person and they’re still just as busy. It might even be more challenging because you have to do the work to create boundaries between school and work and home.