Rotman To The Core: 5 Reasons To Have A North Star During Your MBA

The winners of the 2023 Marketing Challenge Case Comp. My team placed second. It was a great experience, and it reminded me why I loved marketing. It was during this case comp that I refocused my efforts.

“Follow your North Star.”

It’s a phrase I should have tattooed backwards across my forehead, so that I can read it every time I look in the mirror. I need to be reminded of it that often.

What is a North Star?

In astronomy, it’s the star that always points north and is used for navigation. It’s also a term that companies use to band employees together under a common mission.

For me, it’s the goal that students should work toward during their MBA. I think everyone should have a North Star, or at least have an idea of one.

My North Star is to become a better marketer and put myself in a position to make decisions that drive a company’s brand.

It’s especially crucial for me to keep my North Star in mind so that I don’t overload myself. I have to juggle my studies, clubs, case competitions, recruiting, and – in my own case – being a mom to a three-year-old and one-year-old. I must be very particular in deciding how to spend my time.

Unfortunately, I forgot the phrase when I narrowed down my choices for school-sponsored clubs to join at the beginning of Term 1. I had a list of eight clubs that caught my attention during Club Night, and I was trying to cull it to two.

It felt impossible.

I consulted friends, career counselors, second years, alumni, and the Office of Student Engagement. Everyone warned me to not overburden myself. FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) was a real thing.

This is a screenshot of my calendar for September of all the available club events. This doesn’t include recruiting events, school-sponsored workshops, and more. There’s so much that is available to students, I had to pick and choose which ones were of most value to me and my North Star.

One of the great things about Rotman is that there is a student club for every interest. There are clubs for job functions, like the Rotman Marketing Association or the Management Consulting Association; clubs for industries like the Business Technology Association; student interest clubs like Pride and Students Against Anti-Black Racism, and extracurricular ones like the Book Club and Athletics Club. And there are many more beyond that.

“You should probably take off the Rotman Beer Association,” my husband Chris told me as he peered over my shoulder at my list.

“But it’s supposed to be fun,” I protested. Everyone was talking about it, how there were brewery tours and there was a session to brew your own beer. It sounded like a great way to bond with my fellow students.

Chris frowned. “You don’t even like beer.”

I grimaced. “True.”

I crossed it off the list.

Seven left.

In the end, I signed up for five clubs.

Yet within five weeks, I realized I had overcommitted. Originally, I had promised Chris that I would only have two late nights a week so he wouldn’t be alone too much. With five clubs, there was something every night. I was killing myself to try to make things work, and I wasn’t contributing meaningfully to any club. I’d go to networking events, say hi to a few people, and then leave to go to the next event. Yet no one knew that I had even attended those events, and I was too tired to make connections or learn from any conversation. Worse, I missed my husband and kids terribly.

As a result, I pulled back. I focused solely on being an active member for the Rotman Marketing Association because it was the most relevant to my North Star. I decided that I would take on other club events as they fit into my schedule. Happily, I was elected to First Year Representative for my section for the Rotman Marketing Association. Pulling back my participation in the other clubs allows me to be the best representative for my section I can be.

In the end, it was obvious that focusing my efforts was necessary not just for my performance as an MBA student – it was necessary for my sanity.

Rotman School of Management

5 REASONS TO HAVE A NORTH STAR

My FOMO isn’t unique.

MBA students spend two years on a degree and a nerve-wracking amount in tuition – of course, we want to do everything we can to make the most of it.

But there’s folly in trying to do too much, where you can become ineffective by spreading yourself too thin.

I know I certainly did.

So if you’re currently an MBA student, a prospective student, or someone who is thinking about pursuing an MBA, start thinking about your North Star. And if you’re not sure about your North Star just yet, don’t worry about it. There are many people who aren’t sure about what they want to do post-MBA.

In the meantime, here are my top five reasons why MBA students should have a North Star:

1. It helps you know if an MBA is worth it. This is both the hardest and most crucial point: You must be honest with yourself about what you’re trying to achieve by going to business school. If your North Star isn’t strong enough to justify spending the time, money, and tears, then maybe an MBA isn’t right for you. And that’s okay.

2. It helps you focus your time. When I started, I was told that I’d spend a third of my time on academics, a third of my time networking, and a third of my time recruiting. Even after I’ve focused my efforts on fewer clubs, it still feels like there’s not enough time to do everything I want. Yet, with more time and bandwidth, I’m in a better head space to focus on my studies and really pursue efforts that will maximize and enhance my MBA, not dilute it.

3. Conversely, it helps you realize what not to do. If your North Star is strong enough, you can feel when something isn’t right. At one point, I did two case competitions simultaneously in the span of one week. I worked with great teams and placed second in one case competition and was a finalist in the other. However, it burned me out. I realized that management consulting did not align with my North Star, and I enjoyed marketing a lot more. As a result, it was easier to pull back and focus on what I was in business school to study.

4. It helps with your application. I didn’t know it when I applied, but your North Star is a crucial part of your admissions application. Admissions committees want to know why you’re interested in their program and if you’re a good fit. If you have a strong North Star, you’ll have compelling reasons to tell the committee why you’re applying to business school. In my application to Rotman, I let my passion for my North Star shine in how I want to be a better marketer and build brands that resonate with consumers. Because I believe in my North Star, it was an easy story to tell. I think the committee responded well, as I was accepted.

A strong North Star also helps you to know if the program is a good fit for you, too. For example, one of the reasons why I applied to Rotman because the school has a specialization in marketing, which aligned with my North Star. It also made it easy to exclude schools that didn’t offer a marketing specialization.

5. It helps save money. Let’s face it, business school is expensive. Those five clubs I signed up to all had fees that I could have saved if I had chosen fewer clubs. Not to mention, I spent a lot on Ubers trying to go to various events for those clubs before I realized that I needed to scale back. A North Star isn’t just good for mental health – it’s good for financial health.

Erin Gulyas

Even now, I may falter and still get FOMO sometimes, but my North Star always guides me back to my purpose. As a result, I’m much more aligned with my goal and happier for it. I’m ready for next term and whatever it brings.

Erin Gulyas has been fascinated with stories ever since her Barbie dated her Swamp Thing action figure when she was three years old. Since then, she has turned this passion into telling stories for brands and companies to better connect with consumers. She comes to the Rotman School of Management at The University of Toronto with 13 years of experience in advertising and marketing. After graduating with a Bachelor Degree of Science from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009, Erin completed a Graduate Diploma in Advertising Creativity from the Auckland University of Technology.

She has worked as a copywriter at lead advertising agencies and companies in both New Zealand and America. She last worked for Blue Shield of California as the Senior Manager of Content and Communications, where she oversaw six writers and three digital media specialists to create 4000+ member-facing communications per year. In her spare time (what little there is), she’s a New York Times bestselling author when she’s not wrangling her two young children.

You can find her on LinkedIn, and if you like Star Wars, we’re already best friends. 

 DON’T MISS: ROTMAN TO THE CORE: WHY I DECIDED TO GET MY MBA (AT AGE 36 & IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY)

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