I spent the last few weeks of my MBA winding down my schoolwork. Ahead of me, I would be re-entering the workforce, putting all the lessons I learned to use. However, my anxiety over starting work again was palpable. On top of that, the lack of pomp and circumstance around a traditional graduation ceremony made the final weeks feel less celebratory. I had to remind myself that I had accomplished something truly special as I reflected on all of the wonderful experiences that I had at NYU Stern.
That’s why I want to close this chapter of my life – and this column – with reflections on my favorite things from business school. Here are three areas that make me nostalgic looking back at my two years in business school.
1) BEING A STUDENT
The chance to learn again was a huge motivation for me to go back to school. Being a student provides ample opportunities to challenge yourself with new subjects, test out leadership in different clubs, and generally broaden your experiences. But what makes this an opportunity worth having is that school allows you to do all of this in a low stakes learning environment. That is what is so hard to replicate in the “real world” and makes being a student so special.
I came back to school to fill gaps in my accounting and finance knowledge and develop stronger analytical skills. However, when I first came to Stern, my expected concentrations were Strategy, Change Management and Leadership and Business Analytics. For the most part, these were vague and not far outside of my comfort zone from an academic or professional standpoint.
In my second semester, I took Modeling Financial Statements with Professor Julian Yeo as a way to get some modeling experience before my summer internship. He opened my eyes to the power of deep quantitative understanding of a company. He showed me how it builds context around the narrative and helped me understand the health of a company such that you can be a prescriptive, value-add partner to a client. I made lots of mistakes in my modeling, but he always taught me a better way. This made me a better modeler and a stronger analytical thinker. From there, I took more advanced Finance and Accounting courses, ones where I would make lots of mistakes, but learn more than I had initially set myself up to learn. By the end of my program, my specializations changed to Accounting, Financial Systems and Analytics, and Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Your choices and actions at work have a level of consequence that doesn’t exist in an academic setting. That allows you to take a step back, look at the thought bubble over your head, and think about how you could do something better again in the future. Very few people get the chance to learn without the cost of failure. It’s a privilege worth leaning into right from the start of your MBA program.
2) PREDEFINED BREAKS
Coming from a family of self-proclaimed workaholics, my ability to know when to stop and rest has been compromised since I was 7 years old. Compartmentalization of my personal life and work was never a huge challenge; perhaps it didn’t need to be a challenge if I didn’t give myself that much time for a personal life in the first place. This has allowed me to be able to progress well in school and in work.
Now, I love to travel. However, when I look back on my past trips, few were for vacations I planned on my own. I was able to go to San Francisco, LA, Minneapolis, London, Tel Aviv, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo – all memories that I cherish. However, these amazing personal experiences were often piggy-backing on a work assignment. When I left my job, I had nearly two unobstructed weeks of vacation banked that I never “found” the time to use.
So how has school has helped me with this? As I mentioned in the past, I learned that while this is a low-stakes environment to do anything you want, you can’t do everything you want. I needed to learn to better define what mattered to me and prioritize accordingly. An even more powerful of a lesson was that I needed to be intentional about taking breaks to refresh and know I was bringing my best self to my next challenge. Winter break, spring break, summer break defined for me when I would have time to rest and time to work. Now it’s on me to remember this so that I can refresh to bring my best self to my job.
3) MAKING FRIENDS
What drew me to Stern was the sense of community and the intelligent, interesting people who comprised it. Being an engaged member of the Stern community is the foundation for making the most of all of the classes, clubs and experiences that you’ll have. We are a smaller program, and I loved that it allowed me to know more of the people around me and make my foundation as strong as possible.
That being said, there are lots of people I didn’t get to meet or know as deeply as I would have liked. But what I’ve just realized is that it’s wrong to think that those relationships stop forming now. Recently, I found myself on the rooftop at 3 AM reflecting with someone from school. A few hours earlier, I would’ve considered him a classmate, but by the end of the night he became a true friend. We had hit a time in our lives where our priorities ran in the same direction: how to be a good student, how to be a good professional, and how to impact our workplaces, communities, and world in the best way possible. Maybe I’ll continue to think this philosophically when I’m working again. In the future, when I am awake on a rooftop when a sunrise is imminent, I hope I’ll be thinking about how much I want to build a relationship like this instead of how exhausted I’ll be in my morning meetings.
As I was working my way back downtown after that night, I thought about how – even though school was ending – I felt like I was beginning a new relationship that I couldn’t wait to carry with me. The challenge here is that during school, people ran on a parallel schedule that made spontaneous 3 AM moments feasible. But that just means we’ll have to be more intentional outside of school to keep making this happen.
My hope is to not just stay close to the people I knew, but to better know the people I didn’t and keep expanding my Stern circle. While my environment and my schedule may change, the Stern community will be with me forever. This doesn’t have to end on May 20th, 2021.
There are many things I’ll miss about my time at NYU Stern. The time that we get here is a gift. While I want to bring the experiences with me, there is also a time and a place for them to exist and for me to be happy to have my memories of those experiences. I hope that these serve as reminders to those who are about to embark on their MBA journey, or are part-way through, of what to look forward to.
Congratulations to the Class of 2021 and good luck to all future MBAs! It’s been an honor and I look forward to seeing all of your future success!
Cortne Edmonds, who claims both New York and New Jersey as home, is a second-year MBA candidate at NYU Stern School of Business. Prior to business school, she worked as a general manager in the language services industry for eight years, with experience working in New York, Japan, South Korea, and Israel. After school, she will be working in management consulting. Each month, she offers her advice and perspective for prospective and current students looking to maximize their MBA experience.