It’s nearly a year since I graduated. It feels like 3 months, but that’s life. I have been meaning to write this post for at least 9 months but it is hard to reflect on something when you still feel a part of it… more on that later. For now, let’s just say that I feel the need to complete the circle and reflect on my MBA experience before it’s a distant memory- not only for my own benefit, but hopefully for someone else’s too.
Deciding to enroll on an MBA is a big decision- and certainly much bigger than I gave it credit at the time. On reflection, I am so glad I made that decision since it was business school or a house… and what’s the point in owning a house as part of a life that you don’t particularly enjoy?
Where I honestly feel I missed out was in the preparation to apply. Make no mistake, if going to a big-name, prestigious school is something that is important to you, then you really need to be starting your search a minimum of 2 years before you intend to start your program (which, for a standard two year course is a terrifying 4 years in advance if your proposed graduation date). Many people have said an MBA is a long-term decision, but I’m certain not many applicants truly understand exactly what that means. The MBA community needs to do a better job of making people aware of this so that they can plan better for such a life-changing move.
Thankfully, for me, it was never going to be about going to a well-known school for anything other than my own vanity (which, let’s face it is a terrible reason to spend to spend upwards of $100,000). I have written on these pages that where you go to school is becoming less and less important, and even in a city like Boston where hardly anyone knows the Hult name against the likes of Harvard or MIT, it only really opens the door for interviews for your first job out of school. You still have to walk through that door, impress people and perform well which depends on the individual, not the education or a recognizable institution.
This has been, without doubt the hardest blog post of them all to write. This is because it is almost impossible to properly reflect on such a major step in your life just three months after you have graduated, especially with the pressure of finding a job thrown in. Many of the major rankings systems base their results on surveys of students 3 months after they graduate. Frankly, this is ridiculous.
There are far too many factors in a graduate’s mind so soon after they have left school to give an objective reflection, the biggest of which is the need to convince yourself you made the right move when you are frantically searching for employment to pay off those intimidating loans. On a more personal level I still felt so ‘plugged in’ that it was hard to really impossible to take the emotion out of any evaluation. Three months after graduation I was in my second week of my new job… how on earth could I tell if I had made the right MBA decision back then?
Naturally there is no point reflecting on something without considering what you wanted to achieve in the first place. It’s obvious to say that MBA applicants have as many motivations to apply as there are stars in the sky but for me it was simple: use the MBA as a catalyst to take myself to a better place in both my personal and professional life. I am pleased to say I have achieved both so far, and while there are undoubtedly many twists and turns in the road ahead, I am certain that the experience has given me everything I need to succeed in both aspects. You can obsess about your choice of school all you want, but this feeling only happens if it was the right move to take an MBA in the first place.
Personally, I feel very fortunate to have landed where I did. I am currently (July 2014) Chief Operating Officer for a small hospitality consultancy in Miami. I achieved most of what I set out to do before my MBA- I have a much better work/life balance, genuinely enjoy going to work everyday and feel that I make a difference to our clients through my work. Undoubtedly I am on a journey, and this is not the final destination but simply the first step. My MBA wasn’t directly influential in getting me this job, but that really doesn’t bother me… it put me in the right place a the right time and I can have no regrets about that.
On a broader scale, there is an example of almost every possible eventuality from taking an MBA in my class of 2013. There are those who have prospered, landed incredible jobs on eye-watering salaries in big name companies and are living their own personal ‘American Dream’. There are also those who have struggled after graduation, returning home to former companies and/or former positions when they really didn’t want to. Some have started their own ventures, many more wish they had, and others are still searching for their path. Most tellingly, I’m certain that very few regret their decision to take an MBA now that they are a few months removed from the experience.
It is therefore impossible to speak in absolutes as to what you will get from an MBA. It will depend on you, the individual and no one else. Fortune is certainly a factor, but as the saying goes “sometimes, you make your own luck”. Make no mistake, a few letters after your name alone is not going to get you a better job in the same way that a nutritionist will not help you lose weight if you continue to eat five Big Macs a day. In contrast, the experience can be pretty much anything you want it to be if you give it everything you’ve got and manage to pick up a bit of good fortune along the way.
An MBA doesn’t change who you are, but if you work hard enough and get some luck along the way, it is a fantastic way to help you become what you want to be.