The "Dumbest Decision 2006" Award

"Anyone who managed to ask why I looked as drawn and sickly as I did heard this: I have an internship, I know I'm an idiot, can we please now pursue another topic?"

So, have you ever wished that you didn't need to sleep? Have you ever actually pretended that you didn't, and promptly poked a hole in your chin after nodding off on your pencil in management science? If not, welcome to our world. But first let me introduce you to "footwork."

In our world, "footwork" isn't sophisticated tap dancing. Footwork is what you do on your own to get as much face time as possible for what you think might be the internship of your dreams (but then again, you haven't slept in four days, so you can't be totally sure about what your last dream was). But enough about dreams. I'm going to tell you about footwork, but of everything I'm about to say, this is the most important:

Footwork makes your feet and your heart sore, but you have to do it, so make it fun, make it worthwhile, and appreciate the time and help of the people you talk to, because the time is just as much theirs as it is yours.

Mundane Excitements

Footwork is the key element in your MBA studies that will ensure you don't get the grades you thought you would. Footwork is the act of perpetually contacting past informational interviewees, sending cards, making contacts, establishing relationships, maintaining relationships, and basically treating everyone you talk to in terms of business and internships as a client who is constantly barraged by competing companies (also known as business schools).

Footwork keeps you up late at night doing your homework because you were on the phone all day with people across the U.S. and then subsequently spent multiple hours writing thank-you cards and e-mails that were personalized enough to say "personal, I promise!" These are people with whom the weather and baseball get ample voice time. Excited about the weather? Baseball? Yes! It's highly advisable to find all bizarre and/or mundane statements exciting and to then respond enthusiastically about late-night delivery in New York City, which allows you to work later than even the most loudly complaining executive…and this is a good thing.

Footwork is the work you do to get the internship you want. And how's this for footwork: Find a fall internship to help you get a summer internship. Would I wish this horrible idea, miserable experience, and ultimately regretful decision on my worst enemy? Well, duh, yeah, they're my worst enemy, but obviously no one else. Yet, has it helped me in terms of opening doors and, more importantly, people's eyes to me and my desire to work in my dream field? Yes, it has, and quite a bit.

Part-Time Intern, Full-Time Masochist

Don't get me wrong—the internship itself wasn't bad. The effect it had, however, on my grades, quality of life, and quantity of sleep is a story too painful to even remember. Anyone who managed to ask why I looked as drawn and sickly as I did heard this: I have an internship, I know I'm an idiot, can we please now pursue another topic?

So Lesson No. 1: Don't intern while school is in session unless you're either desperate to bridge some sort of enormous experience gap or you are a diehard masochist, or both. Since I haven't slept much, I'm not sure which category I fall into.

I'm someone from a "nontraditional background." Unless you're a consultant, engineer, or member of a financial field, you will be, too. And if you want to go into finance, like I do, take a big gulp of Kool-Aid, drink an entire beer in under four seconds, and before either of them wear off, apply to a part-time internship to minimize sleep and maximize stress. Otherwise, be nice to yourself and keep extracurricular activities limited to school.

Access to Great Minds

The top reason it felt like such a bad idea occurred to me as I sat in office hours with my finance professor. I had to cancel my internship that day in order to go to these office hours, and the company was not happy with me.

But as I looked up at my professor explaining some points in class that I hadn't quite absorbed, it hit me: I'm in grad school. I have some of the most brilliant people in the country taking as much time as they can to explain their expertise to me in layman's terms, so I understand it, and then teach me how to translate it, so I can sound sharper, better-versed, and, well, like an MBA as opposed to a history major.

To engage in anything outside of school that takes away from this educational opportunity is about the dumbest thing in the world, and I, proudly, have awarded myself this "Dumbest Decision 2006" award. I listened to my professor's explanation, and the first thing that popped in my head was "Getting a slap on the wrist from my internship was worth it just to have this man teach me one on one."

The "Why" Stage

What makes a program amazing? The Monday morning Continental breakfast? Negative, Ghost Rider. It's the professors. And you will find excellence wherever you go. My best piece of advice to maximize your investment is to engage the wisdom and expertise of these professors as much as they will let you. I have probably annoyed my finance professor excessively, and appeared slightly overzealous and possibly obsessive to my economics professor.

My marketing professor spent his Christmas holiday basically reading my paper in progress and steering me toward research and methods to not just make the paper something great, but to make my experience of writing the paper hugely educational and beneficial. Did I annoy him? Of course. But in return from all these great minds, I have gotten answers to random curiosities, pressing questions, passing observations, you name it.

And it's this sort of dialogue and engagement that keeps me going when I just want to collapse and cry and be three years old again. Sometimes, when the going gets really tough, I skip the collapse and cry part, get going (as the tough have been known to do), but still act very much like a three-year-old. And despite the fact that these are graduate professors in an MBA program, they're pretty cool about it. Do you remember your "why" stage? You know, when every answer you got necessitated another "Why?" Your parents probably wanted to shoot you. These professors, they simply say, "That's a good question…"

Memos and Appreciations

Speaking of kid stuff, I'm in four clubs. The one that's the most interesting and the most work is the one I have given the least effort, due to other commitments. That's frustrating. In terms of extracurricular activities, find one or two and devote yourself to them, because otherwise you get nothing out of it. Please, learn from my mistake, as I have thankfully learned while it's still on the early side and not too late to make adjustments.

What do I want you to walk away with from this 1,000-plus-word self-directed diatribe? Footwork is hard on the ego, but it's important to keep your soul and perspective healthy and intact. Be honest with yourself about your mistakes and bad decisions, because that's the only way you will solve the problems they cause.

Appreciate where you are and the education you're getting. You have access to people who have devoted their lives to an expertise and are sharing it with you. Hard to find, and definitely something to gratefully take advantage of. Write everything down, because lack of sleep drastically increases memory loss—trust me, I know. Extend and engage and devote yourself, but don't overdo it, because otherwise you're cheating yourself of some great experiences.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.