Natasha Malpani, a member of the Stanford GSB MBA Class of 2018, shares some words of wisdom with the next crop of applicants targeting the world’s top business schools.
The first year of the MBA program has been a whirlwind. I moved to a different country, changed roles, co-founded a company and met some unbelievably amazing people. But I also struggled with adjusting to being a student again, and building a new home, career and circle of friends.
Looking back, I’m extremely grateful for both the opportunities and the challenges I faced. In the hopes of making the journey easier for those of you that will be enrolling in business school shortly, these are my key takeaways from the past nine months:
- Keep an open mind: The most interesting people and opportunities are not always the most obvious or visible ones. Take the time to step away from the whirlwind of recruiting and social events, to truly reflect on what you want to get out of the many opportunities you will have. But also make the time to go to some events that you would never have otherwise chosen to attend. You never know which conversation will lead to you finding your next job, career path, investment, or cause. But even more importantly, be willing to revise your first impressions of people. Your peers are every bit as overwhelmed and uncertain as you are at the start. Don’t be fooled by the act: no one has their shit together.
- Learning to learn: You only get out what you put in. Being at a great school, and having access to a ridiculously great network will not help you, unless you’re willing to be confused, challenged and/or unstimulated first. Make the time to do the homework assignments and group projects well. Even if they seem meaningless or unnecessary at the time, they’re being assigned for a reason. The dots will connect over time.
- The best things take time: The things worth learning, doing, and having take time. You cannot rush the process. You will not learn to read financial statements, run a regression, or make your best friend in the first week of school. Breathe and lean into the process. It’s so easy to believe that everyone is smarter than you, is hanging out without you: that you’re the only one that’s lonely or disengaged or confused. Stay away from social media. Get away from your phone and just turn up to events. Alone. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to connect with people. And in any case, you can’t really plan to make friends. Your community will form in the most unexpected places.
- Don’t let your calendar control you: Pick the top three things you want to get out of the year. You’re not going to be able to build that company, switch careers, transition to a new geography, be the most popular person on campus and meet your future partner at the same time. Decide how you want to spend your time, or the decision will be made for you: and you might not like where you end up. But don’t forget to always put your mental and physical health first.
- Entrepreneurship is a buzzword: Building a company is not sexy. Don’t get taken in by the buzz and glamorization. The work can be overwhelming, boring and repetitive. Building a team and engaging with customers is much harder than building a product. On the other hand, if there really is a problem you want to solve, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
- Soft skills are harder than hard skills: Developing self-awareness, building relationships and communicating clearly is a lot harder than learning basic programming or design thinking skills. Don’t underestimate the amount of hard work and pain this takes: and make the time to stretch yourself. You will never have this dedicated time and freedom to focus on personal development, or this much room to fail freely, without consequences.
- Your community will shape you: In the end, you might end up building a $1 billion company, finding your dream job, or your future partner. And you might not. But you will be blown away by the people around you. You will discover that everyone has a story. The more you get to know the people around you, the more you see the distance they have traveled, the more in awe you will be of their courage, strength and perspective. And you will have conversations and experiences that change the way you see the world, and perhaps yourself. Stay vulnerable and open. The more you express your weaknesses, the more you will connect with the people around you. Make the time to see yourself and the people around you in a new light.
Ride the wave: it’s only fun when it’s a little choppy.