Reflections Of The COVID Class: 10 Career Lessons For MBAs

They called it “The Great Awakening.” Across history, you’ll find religious revivals sparked movements from 18h century revolutions to 19th century abolitionism, to 20th century freedom marches. Roused from their slumber, revivalists reflected on their lives and their world. These personal exercises led them to commit to a purpose, be it challenging inequities or spreading the gospel. Such awakenings were profoundly personal – and their legacies still reverberate today.

When COVID-19 forced civilization indoors, it sparked a similar reckoning. Among young professionals, it started with slowing down and taking stock. With time to themselves, they began to see the world in a different light. Rather than accepting the status quo, they began to question how things are run – and why. In their introspections, they winced at where they invested their time and the value it returned to them. At the end, they resolved to become more proactive and less satisfied.

Anna St. Clair Chopp, who earned her MBA from Ohio State’s Fisher College in 2022, describes the pandemic as the “The Great Exacerbator.” Not only did it expose disparities, but also forced her generation to re-examine all the “underlying aspects that most took as facts” – particularly as new possibilities emerge in digital.


Anna St. Clair Chopp, Ohio State (Fisher)

“For instance, the way healthcare was thought to be delivered has evolved with the emergence of telemedicine,” St. Clair Chopp notes. “The way classes were taught have changed to now provide options of attending virtually. And the way people work is now in debate about productivity levels between working from home or working from the office. With these rapid and numerous break downs of “What was”, it has introduced the foundation for the question “What’s possible?”. I now carry this question to the viewpoint of my career, in that I no longer look at my career in the sense of “What job or title do I want to be” but instead, “What is possible for me to be?”.”

In Mandarin, “Crisis” translates to “Opportunity” – at least that’s the popular myth. In reality, “Crisis” is closer to “Tipping Point” – a perilous time that can lead to either regression or evolution. For Liza Moskowitz, the early days of COVID enabled her to make a transformational distinction for herself: “What I do” does not define “Who I am.”

“What I choose to do as a career is only a part of who I am and what I contribute to the world,” explains the spring Vanderbilt Owen MBA grad “The lines between professional and personal selves are forever blurred due to the pandemic. I am not a different person between 9-5 PM on the weekdays than I am in the evening or on the weekend. My behaviors and tasks might manifest differently between the weekday and weekend, but I hope I continue to be authentically me to my co-workers beyond the pandemic.”

For the MBA Class of 2022, COVID-19 – and the changes it ushered in – served as a reminder that the time to act is now because nothing is ever guaranteed in life. “The pandemic has helped me to focus on what matters – family, friends, and finding work that I care about,” adds IESE Business School’s Emma Sussex. “Before it happened, I was used to mortgaging the present for the future, but the pandemic made clear that at any moment the paradigm could shift. If you’re not with the people you care about or doing something you love today, it might never happen.”

In the end, COVID-19 pushed MBAs to take more initiative and take less for granted, reminding them of the limits of the “ways things are” and enticing them to explore “what could be.” This spring, P&Q reached out the COVID Class – the 2022 MBA grads who were hit by the pandemic in the spring of 2020 before braving their way through on-the-fly online classes, last minute cancellations, and changing protocols. This spring, when P&Q reached out to 231 MBA Best & Brightest and MBA To Watch candidates, we ask them a simple question: How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? Here is the Class of 2022’s responses to what they learned from COVID-19 – and what they intend to do with these lessons.

Chikezie Anachu, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

1) Don’t Mistake Your Career For Your Life: “The pandemic has driven home the importance of a career that is sustainable. Prior to the pandemic, I was guilty of building my life around my work. Since the pandemic, I am more conscious of my other interests and the need for a career that allows me to grow not just professionally but also personally. While it remains very important to work hard, I believe it is now equally important to find activities that provide recovery from the stress of daily life. This could be as simple as taking advantage of the resources provided by one’s employer to de-stress, such as PTO, family leave, or counseling services. Utilizing those resources would not make one a less competent employee; rather, they preserve one’s ability to bring your best self to the role in a sustainable manner.”
Chikezie Anachu, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

“The pandemic helped me to see the importance of balance and how to achieve it. Prior to the pandemic, I had always taken pride and joy in the workaholic label. I correlated the hours worked to my dedication to working for youth. The more I worked, the more I cared. I put my students before every other relationship, and I lost partners due to that dedication because I didn’t know how to balance. Now, I no longer associate hours worked with dedication, but I still have the same burning desire to work for young people.
Tunde Agboke. Penn State University (Smeal)

2) Never Forget – Necessity Is The Mother of Invention: “Because TV production could not take place during lockdown, the pandemic literally shut my industry down for several months. As dark a moment as this was, the many ingenious ways artists found to keep telling stories – from micro-cast films to Zoom-shot network comedy specials – reminded me how critical it is to be adaptable in my understanding of where and how work can happen. The show must go on!”
Katherine Boorstein, Columbia Business School

3) Slow Down And Take Inventory: “I realized that it is not just about getting to my career destination, but also enjoying the journey. As part of that journey, balancing family along with personal and mental health are paramount. My career cannot be a tradeoff between these goals but instead must be part of a harmonized balance. My family and my holistic health bring me joy and if I cannot maintain these with my career then the journey is not worth taking.”
Andrew Hazel, Dartmouth College (Tuck)

4) Replace “How” and “Where” With “What” and “Why”: “The pandemic has probably epitomized ‘VUCA’ (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) more than anything we have seen in this generation. In the pre-pandemic world, the importance given to ‘how’ and ‘where’, although dwindling, was still present in some shape or form. Job descriptions seemed to focus a lot on tasks and locations. The pandemic has accelerated the focus to think about one’s career much more in terms of ‘what’ and ‘why’: There is significantly more focus on outcomes and purpose, and there is also a heartening effort on the part of many organizations to make outcomes and purpose co-exist. For instance, impact investing and climate change have come to the forefront of many boardroom discussions.

Personally, I feel the need to be associated with organizations that have a strong sense of purpose and think critically about how I could rally teams to impact our ecosystems positively. And I strongly believe that in a world that will soon start de-consuming, this would become an imperative.”
Arvind Rajan, HEC Paris

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