A Year Later: Life after Graduating Business School

This post originally appeared on MBASchooled

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been exactly a year since I graduated from business school, packed up my boxes, moved out west to San Francisco and re-acclimated back into the working world. They told us that things would move fast but there’s always an amount of shock when you look up and realize how quickly time goes by. The past year has been rewarding challenging, exhausting and fulfilling all at the same time. As a naturally reflective person, I wanted to share some thoughts on what it’s like a year later.

Photo Credit: UNC Kenan-Flagler

Transition Sucks, until you reframe the opportunity — Reality checks suck. But reframing your mindset to understand the opportunities ahead will help you pull through.

I was always nervous about life after business school. I won’t sugarcoat it — there is definitely a transition period and it sucks. I remember the first few weeks after I started work staring at my computer screen while I was in training and thinking to myself “how am I going to survive the next 30 years?!”

Fortunately, we as humans adapt and evolve. There are so many opportunities that lie ahead of you that spending too much time reminiscing on the past only makes you miss valuable experiences. Accepting the past for what it is and giving its due acknowledgement is fantastic. So is experiencing in the present all that life has to offer.

The Important Mix of Confidence and Humility — I value and appreciate what an MBA gives me, while acknowledging the importance of other backgrounds.

Each year, about a few thousand people graduate from Top MBA Programs, and I am fortunate to be one of those people. I don’t take that for granted, and understand the inherent privilege and responsibility that comes with it. As such, I have developed a mindset that blends confidence and humility.

Confidence means that I have a set of skills and knowledge that enables me to envision a unique perspective along with the tools to execute that vision.

Humility means being self-aware enough to know that that the best thing I know is that I don’t know everything, and there are plenty of other insightful perspectives and approaches out there.

Prior to business school, I often would develop ideas or thoughts but wait to share them until I felt like everyone in the room respected me. While there are merits to this, it also meant I missed out on potentially sharing and impacting the greater good of the team. Now, I feel confident in sharing my opinions and ideas, regardless of how junior or senior in the room, even if it means in some cases, being the one to say that I don’t have the right answer, but I’ll find someone who does.

An (even deeper) appreciation for relationships — Business school accelerates the bonds and relationships you form. It’s exciting to watch them evolve and grow.

When you are in business school, you’re in a bubble, surrounded by the same people for two years who you see every day. That environment and shared purpose gave everyone the opportunity to form relationships and relatively quickly.

In the real world, building relationships doesn’t come easy and takes significant effort to sustain. I am glad I took the time to build meaningful relationships when I was in business school through formal and informal and social/career activities. While I don’t see people as often as I used to, when I do get the chance to connect it makes me appreciate that I invested the time to build those relationships. These relationships blossom as the people in those relationships evolve, which is an incredible way to learn but also to stay in touch.

Paths Diverge — People begin to chart their own course. It’s natural to feel lost or behind, but it’s fulfilling to know you’re following your own course

In business school, you tend to get boxed into lanes. Are you a Consultant or a Banker? Do you want to do Marketing or Finance? Those lanes, help provide focus and discipline to helping people achieve a stated end goal for when they graduate, and help those of us especially who have career ADD and sometimes need a little direction.

That structure works well to providing a general roadmap to hundreds of people at school, but after you graduate you begin to see that the paths diverge and the verticals and lanes start going all over the place. I have talked to classmates who love what they are doing and hope to do it for the rest of their career, to those who are already moving onto their next job, and anything in between. None of those things is right, wrong, best, or worst, but rather, it is unique to the individual to find the path that is best suited for them. Naturally, it can be easy to compare ourselves to our peers, and if we aren’t doing something they are doing to think that something is wrong with us, but what I’ve learned is I get most excited and engaged focusing on my own path as opposed to thinking about how others are traveling on theirs.

A sense of purposefulness for how to manage your time — Business school teaches you that time is your most valuable asset. I’m finally learning to maximize it.

In Business School, time is your most valuable asset, and with a few standing exceptions you have the ability to utilize your time how you see fit. For two years, you have a good amount of control over what you want to do and how you want to spend that time.

While we all have some level of control in our everyday lives unfortunately, we do not always have the ability to pick and choose the things we want to do. If only we could tell our bosses and managers “sorry, that’s not really a priority for me” without fear of retribution! This notion has driven me to manage and control how I spend me time. Professionally, I’ve learned how to say “No” to things that don’t align to my short-term priorities or my long-term vision. Personally, I spend a great deal of my time building relationships in my life, whether it’s friends or family, which sometimes means extra planes to visit friends and families who don’t live close to me. For some, this will not make sense, especially because I live in such a great city, but ultimately, this is important to me, so it’s worthwhile to spend my assets (time) on it.

Understanding what you don’t do is just as important as what you will do Moving on from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) to JOMO (Joy of Missing Out)

Two of the most important business lessons come from Economics and Strategy. With Economics, it’s all about opportunity cost, and recognizing the trade-offs you make when you accept or reject a decision you make. Strategy is often about answering core questions about your business (where will you play, and how will you win?) but implicit in both those lessons is what you give up and what you won’t do as a result of choosing a particular decision or path.

This is hard because there are sometimes multiple paths that have attractive options. On a individual level, I’m sure we all can relate to the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) on a particular path or choice. But acknowledging what you won’t, and moving from FOMO to JOMO is essential to making good decisions that you can commit to and pursue.

Photo Credit: UNC Kenan-Flagler

You may not have formal power, but you can have influence You won’t be calling the shots right away. But you also don’t have to be another cog in the wheel. The trick is in understanding power and influence.

Coming into a large organization after business school is unique spot. On one hand, you’re smart and intelligent enough to figure out what’s going on and understand how things work. On the other hand, you’re not well versed enough in the organization or senior enough to have power or to call the shots.

The good news is that there are benefits to being in this position, and there are ways to make the most of where you are and to help position you for future success.

First, build relationships. Developing relationships and building trust with leaders and managers will get you closer to the action and help you get visibility into what’s going on. These will also be people that can “get you into the game” and open up opportunities you could not get on your own, and eventually empower you to succeed once you get those opportunities.

Second, add value. If you’re contributing to the team or the organization people will want to keep you around. Sometimes this means doing things that you may not want to do, or may feel overqualified in doing, but your ability to execute, get things done, and contribute will help you build your reputation and make you indispensable.

Third, support others. You may not have the political or relationship capital to start influencing right away, so you’ll want to associate yourself and support those who already do. This is done by adding value, but it’s also a means of learning the ropes and understanding the organization and how things get done on a daily basis.

You’re time will come, but doing those things will ensure that it does, and when it does, that you will know what to do.

Conclusion

As a college freshman, my “life plan” was to graduate college, work for a big company, and go to business school. After that, I had no clue what I would do but I figured I would eventually figure it out. For the past year, I’ve been working on “figuring it out” and have enjoyed the process of learning and growing along the way. If each year is like this year, I’m excited about what the next year, three, five or 30 will have in store.

*I wish I could say these are my own thoughts but they come from numerous conversations with classmates and friends.

**Special Thanks to Jon, Jeff, and Ben for reading drafts and revisions and helping formulate my ideas into coherent thoughts.

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