Today is the last post in our Resume Week series. First post here, in case you missed it!
(Can you believe that another week has cruised past? How on earth did it happen that HBS Rd 1 is in less than two weeks?!?)
What we’re going to suggest to you today is really-truly still related to your resume. Even though at first glance, it may not seem like it.
Read on, whippersnapper!!
If you’re planning to apply to some of the best business schools on the planet, then by definition, you’re saying that you think you belong there. That you feel you’re “the best” in some way.
Didn’t look at it that way?
Well it’s true isn’t it?
We’re not saying that to get you to not apply to Harvard. Harvard is Harvard, and plenty of people have the attitude that if you don’t play, you can’t win. Fine.
Today’s post is to ask you, in the midst of all this self-reflection you’re doing, where you have truly excelled so far in your life.
There must be something.
Where have you been at the top of your class, ahead of all others, the leader in your field?
What is the one thing you know you’re incredible at?
We’re not asking you to only come up with things that you think are app-relevant. This question isn’t to get you to say that you brought in the biggest deal in your PE firm’s history, or that you are the guy (or gal) that your boss always taps for those important client meetings.
Think more broadly.
What are you really effin’ good at?
Is it video games? One game in particular?
Is it Photoshop?
Is it finding the best deals on travel, and collecting frequent flier miles that allow you to take your whole family on trips?
Is it spelling?
Cooking? That one dish that blows everyone away?
Did you get the highest grade in your biology classes in college?
What makes this one thing so important?
Or even more useful to ponder: WHY?
Why did you build this skill?
What was the motivation or drive?
(Pro Tip: If you figure that out, it’s highly likely you will have uncovered one of your core values. And hey! Some schools care about that!!)
Maybe you’re sitting here squirming a bit. Maybe you don’t feel like you really excel at anything.
Is that true? Or is that just your habit of self-sabotage and the pain in your psyche that tries to get you to quit before you’ve even started? Some people have that, and it’s just how you’re wired. If you have such a habit, it’s okay. See if you can settle into the question, and not let that mind-pattern take over, and maybe there will be a glimmer of an idea of what the true answer to this question might be.
We would posit that EVERYONE who’s in a position of applying to a top MBA program has done something spectacular, even if fleeting, even if just once.
Maybe you were the best big brother there ever was. Maybe you took really good care of your siblings, and you do so to this day.
Maybe you helped your dad build a boat. You weren’t the best carpenter, but you persevered and you helped him finish it, and nobody ended up at the emergency room.
Maybe you did…. something.
We are guessing you have done something.
Can you extrapolate from there what your skill is?
Often our passions are due to an inborn or natural ability. We become good at the things that we care about — or maybe it’s the other way around. We explore something interesting, and become good at it because we care. Doesn’t really matter.
Can you identify one skill that you own today?
Hopefully it hasn’t been lying dormant for five years, but even if it has, for the purpose of this exercise, it is still worth identifying.
Now, what does that skill say about you? What value does it reveal?
Even if your skill is gaming, or makeup, or some other personal internet-fueled hobby or pastime, and you feel a little ashamed of how much time you spend doing it, there is still something underneath that that’s worth focusing on now.
Or…. What if you truly cannot come up with something?
(Please give this exercise some time. Don’t just read through today’s post and move on without pondering it. These questions are often slippery ones, and many of us don’t like being forced to actually answer them – they can make us uncomfortable. Sit with it for awhile. See what filters up from your depths.)
Okay so here’s the next question:
Assuming that yes, at some point in your past, or even today, you’ve been engrossed in something that you’ve excelled at, you’ve developed some skill or ability or talent that you know is there within the collection of things that make up who you are.
WHAT DID IT TAKE FOR YOU TO GET GOOD AT THAT?
There are some who seem naturally motivated. For whatever reason, the personality is wired to push hard and compete, and achieve. Those types are typically at an advantage when a school like Harvard is evaluating, because in this culture, that type of achievement-based mindset is really rewarded.
But what if that’s not who you are naturally, or you find competition distasteful?
You can still be the best at something.
You can still find your niche and excel.
So today’s challenge is, find out what that is.
Think through a time when you were really motivated before.
What lit your fire? What turned you into someone who wanted to do that thing so well?
Can you trace it back? Articulate it?
What would it take for you to do it again?
Who would you be if you lived your whole life this way?
Bonus read: Check out this article on attempts to beat the 2-hour marathon . The takeaway for us in that story is how much attention was put on the environment for the athletes to perform. Where is your environment non-optimal? What can you do to change the circumstances of your life, to better support your interest in and efforts around increasing performance? Even making a small change, like showering in the evening and using that extra 20 minutes in the morning for your passion project, can make a big difference, and it can lead to bigger changes, like going straight home from work to spend time with that project, instead of going to happy hour with your work buddies. What can you do differently today?