Who hasn’t wanted to turn back the clock? Sure, you eventually reached your destination. Wouldn’t you prefer the path had been less torturous?
Most MBAs answer that question with a resounding “Yes”. They may marvel at their growth in business school, but they’ll also shake their heads at the missed opportunities and wasted energy. During that first quarter – or even that first year – many felt lost and alone sometimes. Some pictured themselves as imposters who didn’t belong. Others were terrified of missing out on any chance to learn or network. Too often, they invested their time in the wrong activities or stubbornly clung to “The Plan”. While they eventually overcame their fears and found their calling, the process took its toll on MBAs.
Ironically, their regrets sometimes seem counterintuitive. Take Olivia Koziol, a ’22 MBA graduate of the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Looking back over her two years as an MBA, she wishes that she had said “No” to more activities – a decision that would’ve conserved her energy and revealed her true interests sooner.
“Like with many MBAs, I felt the pressure to sign up for everything in order to achieve my goals,” she admits. “If I could go back, I would better evaluate which opportunities I said yes to, and only choose the ones that I enjoyed most of which I could learn the most from. This is twice as true for social engagements – there’s nothing wrong with skipping a networking event to spend a night in, especially if it helps refresh you!”
In contrast, Takeya Green, who graduated this spring from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, urges MBAs to step up and take ownership – no matter how uncomfortable they might feel. “In my student fund class, I did not apply for a leadership role because I felt I had too little finance experience to be successful. This is one of the biggest mistakes I made during my time at Rice. Business school is a place to learn, fail, and grow. Removing yourself from an applicant pool simply because you do not feel equipped is a disservice to yourself and your personal growth.”
Many MBAs would also change how they networked with classmates. Again, these regrets are plotted across a spectrum. For many MBAs, business school is a platform to build a wide rolodex filled with students from different industries, regions, and functions. That’s what Folasade Owoeye thought.
After graduating from HEC Paris, Owoeye wishes that she’d devoted more time to pursuing quality relationships over sheer quantity.
“If I could re-do the MBA, I would be less anxious about not connecting with or making friends with a lot of people, Owoeye admits. I felt immense pressure to socialise a lot and build a wide network with other candidates. Eventually, it is not the number of people you connect with that counts, but the strength and genuineness of the friendships you make.”
Taking networking a step further, Torrey Mayes talks about “fringe friendships” – that spot “where two people always talked about hanging out more but never actually did.” For him, this fringe represented missed opportunities to deepen connections with people who might one day become true friends, if not champions and partners.
“The MBA is a unique period in life where you have access to hundreds of bright and interesting people,” explains Mayes, a spring graduate from the University of California’s Berkeley School of Business. “While I am in no way regretting the friendships that I have made, in hindsight I’d have liked to leave business school with even more close friendships as opposed to surface-level friendships.”
And those friendships can extend beyond classmates to faculty and staff too. In the case of IMD Business School’s Carla Venter, alumni may be the most untapped source for networking brawn. For her, the missed opportunity was waiting until two months before graduation to reach out to alumni. “Once I stepped out of my comfort zone and started reaching out to people, meeting them for coffee, and asking for referrals it was almost like I signaled my intentions to the universe and things just started falling into place.”
MBAs may disagree on whether to be a “Yes Man” or a “Clock Watcher” – let alone choosing depth or diameter for their network. However, you’ll find consensus on one pitfall to avoid. Gabriel San Martin came to Brigham Young University’s Marriott School after studying psychology and working in optometry. Lacking a business background, he questioned whether he brought anything of value to his MBA classmates. During his first semester, he “continually downplayed” his experience. And this choice sapped his confidence – and robbed his classmates of a formidable perspective.
“There is nothing wrong with my experience,” he tells P&Q. “It is just a bit different from most. Over time, I have learned to have a greater appreciation for both my life experience and my work experience. If I were to do it again, from the first day, I would spend less time comparing myself to others and focus more on my personal journey and development. Eventually, I got to that place, but it took me a little longer than I would have liked.”
I wish I had done it sooner, done it differently – or just done it more or less often. These are some of the biggest regrets of the MBA Class of 2022. This spring, P&Q surveyed graduates from 75 top business schools – from Alliance Manchester to the Yale School of Management – on their biggest regrets as MBAs. In the process, we learned what they would’ve done differently to reduce their stress and ease their transition. Looking to start business school strong and avoid wasting time? From overemphasizing grades to undervaluing case competitions, here are 20 areas where MBAs wish they could turn back time and get a do-over.
1) Didn’t Focus On The Long-Term: “I’d try to not worry as much about short-term outcomes and just enjoy the journey more. Being in the thick of the MBA puts you in this bubble where you care about several short-term outcomes, such as joining the clubs you want, getting the internship you want, and doing well in classes. Of late, I’ve been feeling that the real value of the MBA is to make sure you’re taking advantage of opportunities at your disposal to set yourself up for long-term success. For me, that has meant getting to explore a new topic even if you’re initially terrible at it, meeting people you may not have much in common with, and even flexing skills that feel awkward initially like public speaking and mentoring someone. I’ve found that talking to my family and friends outside of business school has helped me gradually gain the long-term perspective and stop stressing out about things which won’t matter a few months down the line.”
Anindita Ravikumar, University of Michigan (Ross)
2) Should’ve Explored More Industries: “With my determination to join in healthcare, I deliberately prioritized my time on the very topic – industry insights, networking, and so on. While it is great to focus, I missed opportunities to learn new industries and maximize the gains from the INSEAD experience. As boundaries between sectors are getting blurred (technology and healthcare, healthcare with consumer products), understanding how sectors cross-interact would soon be necessary. In my remaining time at INSEAD, I would love to learn more about different industries and network with more classmates and alumni.”
Xi Kang, INSEAD
3) Need To Be More Intentional: “I would be more intentional with setting aside time to forge relationships with classmates in business school. That’s because you are always juggling priorities and relationship-building typically happens by way of class work, extracurricular activities, or serendipitous moments. However, this can limit the number of classmates you may meet and the depth of the relationship you may form. To combat this issue, in my second year, I started being more intentional with creating connections. I would set up lunches and dinners with classmates I didn’t know or classmates that I wanted to get to know better. This was a great relationship-building opportunity and my deepest regret is that I did not do it sooner.”
Andrew Hazel, Dartmouth (Tuck)
4) Discounted My Experience: “Every day for the past 19 months, I have entered spaces fearful but courageous. This journey has required that I stand taller, reach higher, and think more critically than I have had to do in a very long time. I have been fearful because I have no formal background in business; it is not what I have studied my entire life for like I had biological sciences upon entering optometry school. With my current credentials, I felt that the expectations of my performance from my peers, school faculty, and staff were incredibly high; however, I wanted nothing more than to be invisible, to learn quietly. I soon realized that we grow the most when we are uncomfortable, and I have attained the critical skills and business acumen that I sought upon entering the doors of Terry. If I had to do it all over again, I would embrace the fear and trade the so-called “imposter syndrome” feeling for what I now know was my tremendous desire to be successful in learning new skills.”
Kayla Snipes Vickers, University of Georgia (Terry)
“When I started, I didn’t think of myself as a quantitative person. I had experienced enough confirmation of this that I didn’t challenge that notion at the start of the program. As I have progressed through the curriculum, I have realized that, while I didn’t have the natural aptitude that many of my classmates had, I could still keep up by relying on grit and hard work. Looking back, I’m surprised how much I’ve enjoyed my accounting and finance classes, and those skills will be some of the most useful tools I take away from B-School. Continuously challenging the notions of what I’m capable of is a lesson I hope to take forward, both professionally and personally.”
Ryan Hall, University of Chicago (Booth)
5) Dedicated Too Little Time To Reflection: “The common phrase about business school is that it is like drinking from a firehose. That often means you are taking in so much and you are constantly on the move, whether you are going to recruiting events, speaking engagements, club commitments, or social events. I wish I had taken more time to just celebrate moments of triumph and reflect on how things could have gone better. This time in business school goes so fast, and I think I spent so much time focused on achieving my goals and not enough and time just appreciating the privilege and blessing of being at Wharton on this incredible leadership journey.”
Andrea Madu, Wharton School
6) Wish I’d Said “No” More: “One thing I’d do differently is leave more margin for the spontaneous by saying no to a few more things. In the Spring of my 1st year, I took on a spring part-time internship amongst all the recruiting, my coursework, and a GA role. In the Fall of my 2nd year, I took seven courses in the first quarter and six in the second quarter. It was too much. I was able to complete everything successfully, but I left no margin. I didn’t feel present in some settings. There was not much time for reflection. It was all just execution. I guess I felt that my age and having forgone a salary for six years meant I had zero room for error or slack. This semester, I’ve tried to learn from those lessons. I realized that sometimes saying no to something enables you to say a bigger yes to something else. It’s better to have done a few things very well than a lot of things sufficiently. I look forward to continuing the habit post-MBA.”
Adam Cochran, Indiana University (Kelley)
“Candidly I wish I had taken on fewer leadership roles as a second year. While I have found each enriching in different ways and I like to think I have been able to give back to the Tuck community through these paths, I wonder if I could have created greater impact had I focused on just one or two roles.”
Lulu Carter, Dartmouth (Tuck)
“I hope I could learn how to deal with the Fear of Missing Out early on. In the first few weeks of the MBA program, I was overwhelmed by the coursework, social events, projects, competitions, and seminars at the business school and my college. I simply didn’t want to miss any one of the events! However, I ended up being exhausted after the first few weeks. Luckily, after re-adjusting my pace, I learned how to make priorities and follow my own agenda.”
Luvina Weilu Yao, Cambridge Judge
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