An open letter to business students

Some unsolicited candour from your classmate

Photo from Markus Spiske

Dear classmates,

We’re at an important juncture in our lives between academia and industry. Graduation is in a matter of months, and at this point we’ve finished dozens of group projects, hurdled countless exams, worked some internships and maybe even studied abroad. How do we feel?

Well, decent. Going from classroom to career is hella ambiguous, and the end in sight comes with tremendous pressure. Sometimes it feels plain intimidating as we look to embark on our early careers.

Some affirmation — or tough love, perhaps — would be really helpful for our self-confidence. Newly grads are far from feeble lambs facing corporate slaughter; just that many of us don’t have the same trust in our professional career as our academic one.

Naturally, many of us look to our collegiate upbringing as a source of career inspiration and support. Business school gives an honest effort on this front, but still leaves something to be desired (aging, institutionalized rhetoric hardly rouses our esprit de corps). Hence, this was written in an attempt to inspire some excitement — and however wishful, some confidence — as we transition into early careers.

What is early career confidence predicated on?

It goes without saying it’s partly an understanding of one’s discipline. Knowing industry norms — even at a surface level — inform a lot of career decisions. More significantly, early career confidence is predicated on recognizing our innate value, potential, and embracing our inner-rookie.

In her 99u talk, Susan Gregg Koger reminds us that we often forget how powerful being a rookie can be: “Approaching a problem from a rookie point of view enables you to innovate just because you don’t know how it’s normally done.”

I’m not bringing into question the merit of industry experience or proven processes. But our rookie mindset helps us to see old problems in new ways. In his Letter to a Junior Designer, Cennydd Bowles admits:

“You intimidate me. Your work is vivid and imaginative, far superior to my woeful scratchings at a similar age. The things I struggle to learn barely make you sweat. One day, you’ll be a better designer than me.”

Ian Wharton echoes these sentiments, explaining that as youth, our early creative and professional endeavours are free of encumbering internal and external etiquette. As a newbie, talent, naivety and tidbits of experience shape our business demeanour. This combination is liberating because we do not depend on precedent. I’ve operated with a reckless disregard for rules in my early career, and nothing (outside of my GPA 📉) has indicated I should do otherwise.

So let’s trust ourselves more as rookies — our instincts are valid. Furthermore if our hiring manager knows what she’s doing, she hires on potential, not experience. But so many of us forget this.

Naivety is one of the most tangible creative freedoms surrendered with time, so embrace it, and as Wharton urges, exercise unpoliced thought. Lay waste to insecurity and be prepared — out of obligation — to shape a confident discourse with your team at work.

As is likely evident, I hold deeply romantic and grandiose notions about business, so forgive me for writing in fluffy platitudes. Furthermore I apologize if these ideals are conceited or boastful, but this type of thinking feels fundamentally underrepresented in business school and I’m compelled to fill the void.

Consider, for a moment, that some of us will inhabit Mars within our lifetime. Let that one sink in: The vast majority of our working lives will be spent in a job that doesn’t exist yet.

Am I the only one that finds this incredibly fucking liberating?

Today we exist at the precipice of new mediums, platforms and entire paradigms for commerce and communication, and our generational cohort is a large driver of the culture surrounding this. It sounds silly to reference ‘swipe right’ and ‘Netflix and chill’ as social constructs, but these technological artifacts colour the lens through which we see the world, and they are increasingly part of business culture.

‘Emerging trends’ are subscribed to by the worker bee behind a desk. We’re the trend-drivers; we live the culture surrounding them, and needn’t we consult a drivel-tastic white paper to leverage them.

As our bosses fight an angsty battle to stay connected, our stature as a millennial (with innate resourcefulness, digital fluency and diversity of perspective) becomes ever more valuable in the career marketplace.

We are architects of our own illustrious, disruptive careers. Yet too-often we let self-consciousness and inexperience impede such ambitions. Our classmates love to believe they’re under-qualified, but such a default preoccupation with inadequacy is entirely misguided, and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Instead, let us feel comfortable in our own rookie skin, set our sights wildly higher than what feels rational, and even when we don’t get a particular job, still feel accomplished in the inertia and cadence of dignified, ambitious thinking. It’s the experimentation and confidence that we gain through it that’s key. I think of this process as healthy. 💪💭

This is part I. Read part II here.