If you’re reading this, you’re probably either considering an MBA or currently in the process of applying to one. My name is Bianca Garcez, and as a first-year ESADE MBA student, I’d like to share with you some hard truths about the difficult and exciting path of going through an MBA course.
Some of those you may have heard of before — but in any case, let me dig a bit deeper to give you more perspective on what they mean in a student’s reality.
1 – You will be tired. All the time.
No matter which environment you came from before the MBA, this experience will drain every inch of your inner energy. Coming from the Consulting Big-4 world, where I had experienced both the Sao Paulo long working hours and London quality demanding clients, I underestimated this one. Going back to a full-time learning environment by itself is tiring, as most topics are either new or at least depicted under a new level of complexity.
There is no repetitive or operational task, so you will feel the burden of being intellectually challenged full-time. You never sleep enough, and when you do, sure you missed something that you should’ve been doing. Coming from very under pressure and dynamic environments, I thought this was an exaggeration, but it’s not. If you take your MBA seriously, it will take more energy than you knew you had to succeed. But the good news is that in reality, we are all much stronger than we think we are.
2 – Accept your selfish self (for a little while).
Partners and families don’t like to hear this and therefore, tend to underestimate its weight, but it is true. The time when you are exposed to an endless amount of information, possibilities, and network is a selfish period. There is much at stake and so many unique opportunities presented to you that often, in the end, there isn’t much free time left for the people you love the most in your life, so for the duration of your MBA, you have to learn to live with the emptiness that their absence causes (fewer proper dates and not much time to chat with your lifetime friends become, unfortunately, normal). But remember the fact that this is temporary (I still love you, friends! Not any bit less!).
3 – Diversity is great and difficult. Be ready to embrace it.
Before joining the MBA, everyone talks about the importance of diversity of backgrounds and opinions in the group, how they value and need it. I still love it, and I think it is one of the greatest assets of the ESADE MBA, but keep in mind that it can also lead to difficult conflicts: be prepared for some level of chaos! The more we diverge, the less we agree with each other, and sometimes finding common ground can be very hard. But it is the most fascinating thing when it happens, and it makes you learn to respect the value of our many different perspectives, which is also what makes us unique.
4 – You will be broken (not just financially, but in many different ways).
Similar to what happens in a therapy process, first, you need to be broken into many pieces to then be able to be built back up into your best version: the best version of yourself that you can offer to the world. Yes, you will face challenges that are sometimes too hard. And yes, you will be constantly thrown out of your comfort zone learning things you’re unfamiliar with, networking with a lot of new people (even in awkward Zoom “speed dating” networking… ouch), applying to internships/jobs with hundreds of other equally intelligent and interesting people, pitching yourself, presenting, having coaching conversations with people you just met, and these are just a few of the things that were designed to test you to your limits and make you stronger – and hopefully, a better leader. In the end, it’s up to you to decide how you will respond to it.
5 – School DNA matters. A lot more than people say.
Any MBA in a respectable business school will be hard – assuming you take it seriously, as otherwise, I’d suggest using that money in a lifetime memorable trip! But as you progress through the program, you will understand the relevance of identifying with how your school thinks and acts – especially if you’re doing it in the middle of a pandemic, when the school’s core values are constantly being tested by ever-changing external forces. More importantly, identifying with your school’s values from the start makes it much easier to build honest connections with your school’s alumni, and meet the kind of people you are actually willing to meet. And unfortunately, rankings don’t say much about a school’s identity and their match with your own values and style. Make sure you mingle with the tribe that is right for you, not just a renowned institution.
6 – It will be the most enhancing experience of your life.
Being a citizen of the world having lived in five different countries and worked in international and cross-functional teams prior to my MBA, I thought the diversity of the MBA cohort wouldn’t be anything unusual to me, but I was surprised with how much you actually learn and develop as a professional and as a human being throughout the MBA experience, and greatly as a result of that intense and diverse exposure. Just seven months in, I am not the same person, and I’m sure I will never be again. I spent two years trying not to do an MBA, going through short courses and interesting business literature, but now I can really see why the depth of this experience (which is often questioned and underappreciated by some) can never be easily substituted. On top of all the technical knowledge, you will acquire and the holistic business analyses you will be able to make, the MBA journey will take you through a unique path of self-criticism, self-review, finding (or refining) your own purpose, improving your leadership style, presenting yourself better to the world and arising from it as a better person than the one you wanted to be when you first joined.
Bianca Garcez is a first-year MBA at ESADE Business School. She is a Forté Fellow and vice president of ESADE’s Tech Club.