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Comparing notes... and everything else

Posted by Joyce on 26 August 2009

Things which are (apparently) humanly possible to accomplish during your MBA:

  • write a book,
  • get a publishing deal,
  • throw a massive launch party to celebrate.

Highlights from a friend who began her MBA exactly one year before me…Oh, and on top of that, she also started her own consulting company.

I couldn’t be more thrilled or proud of her, but given that we both started with identical resumes, it’s impossible to avoid feeling like I’ve squandered some of my time here.  She’s written a book while I’ve produced little more than a smattering of blog entries!

Obviously, the point isn’t to outdo each other tit for tat. But the fact remains: yes, I could (should?) have done more. You might console me by saying “But Joyce, everyone can always be doing more, even your friend with superhuman energy. This isn’t one of your beloved math functions which can be “maximized.” True, very true. But if maximizing isn’t an option, how do you know when you’ve done enough?

Crossing the LBS threshold is a bit like hitting the reset button. Whether your life before was characterized by an early start, false start, late start, or lucky start, everyone gets lined up at the starting blocks again. And with that kind of level-setting, suddenly there are no more excuses to fall back on; your performance is your performance. How will you feel when you see others pull ahead?

“Hang on, everything I’ve been told about LBS says that everyone helps each other and it’s less competitive than other schools. What’s with the race analogy?”

Perhaps no one orchestrates deliberate psych-out attempts, but consider these scenarios which arise naturally from student panic:

  1. “If I don’t get a blackberry or iphone, I’ll miss the sign ups for [insert: important networking event] and not get a spot.” 
  2. A friend confides, “I’ve sent twenty job applications and only landed three interviews” (Meanwhile, you’ve sent a whopping total of two—for positions you genuinely want, but now you wonder if you should have spent more time on Plan B.)
  3. Another friend confides “Man, I’ve been studying accounting for two weeks now, and I’m still not ready.”  (Meanwhile, the exam is tomorrow, and you’ve only just opened the text.)

I believed myself relatively immune to these insecurities, but they creep in regardless, if only to exist a few seconds in your head before being banished as complete folly. The good news is we all find ways of coping, sooner or later. The sooner you figure out how though, the less likely you’ll wake up one day wondering how you got suckered into following the herd mentality. The lure of sticking your foot (and every other appendage) into every door, window, nook and cranny can easily tempt you astray unless you adamantly resist.

It starts by being told a thousand times to “make the most of your MBA”. But it’s merely preachy prattle until you figure out what that actually means. Many will mistake it for not missing out on any job prospect they’ve lived their whole lives not knowing about, could probably happily continue not caring about, but will end up considering anyway because it’s the MBA and “I should make the most of it”.  Errr... right. And so begins the rigmarole of elbow jostling at Career Services events.

I guess that’s what I mean by finding ways to cope: remembering it isn’t a race, being confident about missing out, and stopping short of going overboard with your exploration. Keeping perspective doesn’t require anything grandiose. As far as superficial methods go, some folks like calendars with inspirational quotes superimposed on pretty landscapes. I’ve taken to filling the empty spaces on my formula sheets with pictures of Nobel Prize winners... mostly out of self-deprecating humour (it’s infuriatingly funny having the face of someone brilliant taunt you as you trudge through an exam), but it’s nonetheless refreshing to recall other achievements which are produced from dedication—beyond this MBA bubble of ours.

Anyway, time-management envy aside, I’d still consider MBA part 1 a resounding success. I haven’t a book to show for it, but it’s too early to call. An entire year of MBA part 2 has yet to play out and I’ll be moving to Lant Street in a few weeks—living in Charles Dickens’ old haunt might yield a surprise or two.


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