Dear First Year MBAs …

B-school’s a wild place. Nothing’s like it. It can be life-changing. But, it can also be tumultuous, anxiety inducing and lonely. More likely than not – it’ll be both.

Lots of content tells you why to get an MBA and how to get in, but there’s little for what happens next. You’ve heard a lot, but here’s what I wish I knew.

Quick intro: Consultant → Wharton → Big Tech (bio). More importantly, I aspire to balance working hard with deep connection to friends, family, faith and fun.

B-SCHOOL CONCEPTUALIZED

The concept is mad. Take a bunch of people whose self-worth is often driven by professional accomplishments, put them on equal footing and give them a million potential opportunities. Next, disrupt their value / support system (e.g., friends, family, routine, gym, work, place of worship). The cherry on top? Tell them ‘this’ll be the best 2 years of your life’ – which they will mentally translate to: ‘if I don’t maximize every moment, I’m going to regret it / miss out’.

Let’s be honest, put even the most balanced person in that environment and they will (should) be a bit anxious.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s obviously not all gloom and doom. B school will be fun. But, step 1 is realizing this context and that everyone’s feeling it, even if they hide it. So embrace it. Because doing so will put you in a place to challenge yourself, learn and grow vs. stressing out.

Also – best 2 years of my life? Wasn’t better than getting married or traveling with my best friends. Nah. Every new year, every new moment, has its potential.

FIGHT FOMO

B-school = FOMO. It’s drinking from 10 fire hoses – a million permutations of clubs, parties, classes, recruiting, travel, networking, and friends. You will miss things. By definition. And, as we established, you’re anxious to begin with. So, don’t underestimate how watching other amazing people make different choices will force you to do mental gymnastics.

The best (only) antidote is clear priorities. Priorities that fulfill you – not ‘priorities’ that everyone else influences you to (seriously, don’t recruit for consulting just because everyone is). They will filter the infinite options to those you actually care about – tradeoffs that you’re content with. Set these now, professionally and personally, before you begin and FOMO attacks you. Write them down and keep them somewhere you can see them throughout your two years.

Full transparency – I didn’t do this. I thought I’d figure it out when I got there. I ended up in too many clubs, info sessions, and hangouts that robbed time away from more fun, productive, and meaningful options. Don’t recommend. While exploring is rewarding and encouraged, you’ll be more content if you choose where you want to do that vs. follow what everyone else is buzzing about.

POP THE BUBBLE

B-school’s a bubble. People basically pause their whole life for 2 years to ‘make the most’. And it’s easy. B-school events will fill your calendar, every day, every week (often triple-booked).

Here’s the problem. You’ve spent 20-30 years building your life. Family / friends that know you better than yourself, hobbies that help you decompress, or routines that keep you centered. But they get unintentionally deprioritized to ‘make the most’. Suddenly, you’re disconnected and out of balance.

Fill your calendar with personal things, first. Whether it’s working out, calling your mom or prayer / meditation – schedule it. Only then, fill your calendar with b-school stuff. And make a rule: you can shift personal things within the day, but never across days. Otherwise, it’ll just drop.

Also, get the hell off campus (and out of Rittenhouse). Go see family, take a trip with old friends, go for a damn hike – just get away. Maintain connection to things / people that remind you who you are. They’ll tell you that you never wanted to be an iBanker or your situationship isn’t marriage material.

PLANT SEEDS, NOT TREES

B-school is supposed to be about networking – for a job and to find friends (maybe even a life partner). That’s (un)surprisingly challenging in B-school. Everyone I knew was asking who were / if they’d made any real friends in January – March of their first year.

Connections take time and intentionality. In the first year, you’re planting seeds, not trees, that need time to grow. You’ll find who are really your people, probably in your second year.

Re: Networking – the email address / LinkedIn is 85% of ‘networking’. People are responsive and want to pay it forward. The rest is making genuine connections (i.e., friends).

For the love of God, PLEASE DON’T treat networking like a checkbox exercise (e.g., robotically meeting people with questions you don’t really care about just to land a job). Everyone can feel it, it’s painful, and hurts you. Just find people you vibe with / genuinely interested in. It’s enough, promise.

Re: Friends – first, rationalize your expectations. At best, you’ll leave with 4-5 deep connections and that’s plenty. Second, with the people you vibe with, take the initiative and make effort for consistent small things (e.g., coffee, walks). Way more effective than one-off parties.

SWING HARD, GO DEEP

B-school is an amazing opportunity to grow in a new way with nearly zero risk. There’s very few other times in life where you get the opportunity to stretch and fail with nearly no consequences.

Pick 1-2 things that are different from things you’ve done before (vs. doing 100 things at a surface-level). You’ll develop new skills, have new experiences, and grow as a person.

I founded a podcast talking to senior execs at tech companies about hot topics on behalf of the tech club (Wharton Tech Toks). That’s something that I would have NEVER tried otherwise.

It rebuilt my confidence after a few tough years, inspired a passion for building something new, and taught me about tech trends that I used in recruiting. I also used those learnings to build an external speaker series at Meta that execs attend (and was just interesting / fun).

METAPHYSICAL INTRUSION

Find meaning, serve others, have character.

A lot of people come to B-school thinking their whole life is their career (whether they admit it or not). They want to find the thing that propels them to the most senior level or makes the most money. That’s not inherently bad – except, most people had some crisis about feeling empty and realize they want that because of a chip on their shoulder vs. genuine fulfillment.

My metaphysical intrusion is to push you to find meaning in your life. I vehemently reject the idea that ‘finding meaning’ is an exercise for the intellectually impaired. Rather, it’s the quintessential trait of people who are content, strong, resilient and impactful. I’m not here to tell you what that meaning is – you have to find your answer.

Ok, I lied. I’ll give you a hint. It probably has to do with serving others. You can amass as much wealth, accolades, professional accomplishments as you want – but you’ll likely feel empty at the end of the day. Pleasure is a fleeting feeling. I’ve found that real meaning only comes from something bigger than yourself. Often, that manifests in serving others. Do that at school through the clubs or even networking you do. And definitely find that in your career. Whether that manifests in providing for your family, directly in your work, or through charity. Figure it out.

Lastly, people are hyper individualistic in B-school (that ‘make the most’ culture). They flake…a lot. No, like, A LOT (e.g., group assignments, social commitments, club responsibilities). They flaunt and showboat on Instagram and TikTok about every trip and party. They attend things they have no interest in because everyone is going to it. You get the point.

Don’t. Be someone of character. Be reliable. Be real. Be caring. Be humble.

Be you.



Ibrahim’s a Wharton alum who used his MBA to transition from consulting to tech at Meta. He’s passionate about faith / spirituality, mental and physical health, and drinking way too much coffee with friends and family. You can contact him at ibubengali@gmail.com

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