I started business school at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business (McDonough Full-Time MBA Profile) with panic attacks. Once I met my classmates (incredibly accomplished people who were arriving from all walks of life and all corners of the world) and realized the full magnitude of our course load (four new classes every seven weeks, plus four residencies), I thought that a person like me (background in education, no real business experience) could never make it.
Two years later: I graduated as the salutatorian of my class and have started working as a consultant with the World Bank. I helped win awards at my summer internship through a branding campaign for the company's eco-sensible initiatives and produced a business development decision matrix for a Vietnamese retail client, ranking market attractiveness of major regions around the globe. I have shared meals with corporate chief executives and received a VIP ticket to hear President Obama's energy policy address on campus. This is a long way of saying that my investment in business school was very much worth it.
But I credit my successes at school to three important principles:
1. Power naps: As a student, I've had to juggle multiple assignments from entirely different disciplines, while keeping track of student leadership responsibilities, networking, and job searching. Keeping these balls in the air requires a sane mind, which I maintained by napping.
2. Closed laptop in class: Knowing I would be lured by distractions of modern communication if I kept my laptop open, I opted to remove the temptation and take notes the old-fashioned way. I was able to stay more engaged with the class and take deeper notes.
3. Getting involved (inside and outside the classroom): Staying engaged and raising my hand to offer opinions meant not just better grades, but also permission to seek out professors after class, whether for career networking or general mentoring advice. Getting involved as a student leader similarly helped me get to know my classmates better and network with professionals, not as just another student but as leader of a club pertinent to that professional's industry.
Point No. 3 required sacrifices: It meant passing up some socializing or couch-potato time to finish the next assignment, organize volunteers for a conference, and send that class-wide announcement. I focused on priorities. What these sacrifices brought was the aforementioned access to faculty and professionals and a stronger network at school. My friend Nick told me that the first time he needs a consulting engagement at his job, I would be the first person he'd call. I realized there is no better way to explain how I would want to leave my legacy at Georgetown.
Business school has a way of making you feel special. You are constantly learning challenging material from multiple perspectives, surrounded by bright and motivated people, with high-level speakers walking through the door every day of the week. In my entry at the end of my summer internship, I spoke of this constant supply of stimuli, something I will sorely miss once the everyday job routine settles in. Still, I am excited to get my Sundays back. I recently had a glorious, four-hour Sunday brunch and was so excited that nowhere in the back of my mind was a guilty feeling that I should be doing something else. Leisure time is no longer a short respite before the next assignment.
Looking back, Georgetown was the perfect fit for me. I wanted an urban school, with an international focus and a globally known brand name. I received access to alumni and resources from the entire university. Georgetown alums have answered my calls from around the world and have jumped on the opportunity to help me. I credit this to an incredible feeling of support that permeates our campus. The Jesuit ethos calls for reflection, slowing down to understand the impact of our actions, and being of service to others.
I would not have thrived in a more cutthroat environment, as I give my best when internally motivated. Georgetown offered me a sense of belonging with classmates who work hard but take it all with a bit of humor. The general public seems to consider business schools as money-grabbing, chauvinistic institutions. It is a testament to our program that at the school formal this spring, I was elected as prom queen and my female roommate as prom king. It takes a special place to have such fun with social norms others wouldn't dare to cross.
Understandably, Georgetown isn't perfect. As part of a faculty advisory committee, for example, I helped the school look into integrating the curriculum better with the rest of the university and reaching out more purposefully to business connections in D.C. and across the world. I joined the student government and various clubs in part to make change. I am well aware that my investment into bettering the school means a repayment through the increased value of my own education. One advantage of Georgetown's history and our long-standing global programs is that the school is in the position to start asking what business education 2.0 means in today's digitized, global world. If I have done my job right on the dean's search committee, the next dean, David Thomas, will help put our unique puzzle pieces into an even more impressive picture.
As we were traveling on our global residency in Vietnam, my friend Jonathan left me with a concluding thought about our experiences, comparing the crazy traffic with our lives as MBA students. With no break in the continuous traffic flow, you must simply inhale deeply and step out onto the street—or risk staying on the wrong side forever. When crossing the street in Vietnam, the worst thing you can do is freeze in your tracks, while the second-worst is trying to speed through to the other side. Instead, your step must be slow and steady, and you must maintain eye contact with the oncoming motorcyclists. If you keep your composure, Vietnam's crazy traffic—just like life—will simply find its way around you.
In my very first journal, I talked about zigzagging to business school through various professional and personal experiences. I see this now as more of a weaving in and out while crossing the traffic of life. I've crossed one street, and I'm not quite sure what the next road will bring. With all my diverse interests, I learned it was best not to make forecasts past a short-time horizon. I know I am interested in working for globally minded organizations and am confident that my education will help me rise to the top. For anything else, I follow the Indigo Girls' advice:
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.
I know that business school—and Georgetown specifically—has brought me closer to fine. Wherever you are in the journey of your life, I wish you the same.
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