Today we continue with Part 2 of this great series from the BSer Who Went Before:
Be honest with yourself and think about what kind of life you want to lead post-MBA.
I thought I wanted to be in finance and somehow maybe get into private equity, which is what seemingly everyone else wanted to do in business school. [This comment actually reflects a slightly different era – remember, this former BSer is Class of 2014, so this person was applying for bschool in 2010-’11… PE is not quite as popular among BSers today. -ES] My summer internship in banking was a bucket of cold water. Not only was the work not all that meaningful a lot of the time (sorry bankers), I also realized that I wasn’t all that excited about accounting or finance. It was an important area for me to gain an understanding of, but I felt like I would be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole if I deluded myself into thinking that I wanted to be a banker fulltime. It was a brutal epiphany for me when I confronted the truth that I simply wasn’t good—and lacked the motivation to become good—at financial analysis. Nor did the banking associate lifestyle appeal to me. As MBA graduates, we are at a point in our lives where we are starting to think about settling down and having good quality of life. While I didn’t necessarily mind the long hours, I did mind the fact that a lot of work wasn’t meaningful, that it was a lot of “hurry up and wait” for my would-be bosses, and that my life wasn’t my own to control. Simply, it wasn’t the life I wanted.
I thought one of my professors nailed it when he said: “Up until this point in your life, most of you have been collecting badges and brands. After high school, you went to the best college that you could attend. After college, you took the most prestigious job you could find. Maybe you switched jobs a couple times to try different things, but there was probably a progression to it. Then you came to the best business school you could attend. Now you’re wondering, what’s next? What other badge or brand do you need to be successful in life? The short answer is: This is it. There are no more to collect. You have to figure out what makes you tick and what makes you excited to get up in the morning. You have to figure out what kind of life you want to lead.”
I remember the first time he said it in class, I sat up straight and woke out of my post-lunch stupor. To those of us raised to crack standardized testing and achieve other people’s notions of success, it was shocking. There are no more gold stars to collect?!?! How do we let others know of our success?!? It was vaguely scary but also exhilarating to hear that it is now on ME to figure out what it is that I want, what success looks like for me, and my own happiness. Don’t live a life of success defined by others.
An argument could be made for career switchers that professional service industries like consulting and banking are good stepping stones, good springboards to figure out what it is that you are passionate about and leap into that dream job. I personally do believe that. However, like business school, you have to make that job work for you. It is easy to go with the flow and let the job dictate your work and shape your experience.
The soft stuff is the hard stuff, as my management professors were fond of saying. These are the hardest questions to answer because there are no objective answers, and the “right” answer is different for everyone. The herd mentality is the easy and safe path. There is safety in numbers, comfort in homogeneity. Except when you end up in a life that’s not right for you. Take the time to think and be honest with yourself.
You’ll have to return next time to get the last bit of well-earned wisdom from this former BSer!