The End of Q1 at Wharton: Keeping Perspective and the Unofficial MBA Letter

Last week’s exams marked the end of our first quarter at Wharton, a month and a half that flew by in a flurry of classes, extracurriculars, and social events. With so many exciting options, it was tempting to attend every industry info session, join every club, and meet every one of our 859 first-year classmates, all while grinding through the quantitive-heavy core classes. But inevitably our Type A personalities prevailed, and most of us reverted to our perfectionist undergraduate behaviors of studying constantly and stressing over grades despite Wharton’s grade non-disclosure policy. Throughout the quarter we found ourselves wondering, how will I have time for career recruiting with this courseload? Speaking of recruiting, what do I want to do with my life? Now that I’m so stressed about planning out my entire life, how can I study??

This rite of passage for all MBA first-years was perfectly captured by Stanford MBA student Shirzad Bozorgchami’s letter that has become a traditional gift from second-years to first-years just before midterm exams. Bozorgchami urges MBA’s to resist the impulse to achieve top grades in every course, to not judge themselves so harshly (we’ve been aggregated into an impossibly competitive crowd, after all), and to keep their original goals in perspective. Oftentimes, we’re so focused on the tiny minutia of academia, others’ opinions, and day-to-day tasks, we lose sight of our reasons for being here in the first place. In doing so we put ourselves through “unnecessary pain and hardship” – an affliction definitely not limited to the world of MBA’s.

With Q1 exams behind us, recruiting (primarily for consulting and investment banking) has kicked into full gear. The hallways are already full of black pantsuits and leather Wharton-embossed resume holders. Now that our focus has shifted, we’re forced to take stock of the past few months and re-define what our priorities are for business school. Are we here to focus on our careers? Academics? Socializing/networking? Entrepreneurship? Leadership skills? In pre-term, our student mentors warned us that while the options at Wharton are limitless, it’s only possible to focus on (and be good at) three objectives, and to let go of the rest. Try telling this to a crowd of overambitious MBAs… we’ll think we can do it all. Now, a few months later, we’re realizing this isn’t the case, and it’s time to reset and refocus to make sure we’re staying on track with the goals we set over the summer. By writing down his goals, checking back, and updating them, Bozorgchami was able to maintain his perspective and “keep a cool head in hot times”. This is something I’ve found helpful for years, especially now when the risk of getting distracted is high!

The phenomenon of becoming subtly distanced from your goals can be largely attributed to a social disease that runs rampant not only at business school, but also throughout society: FOMO, or the “fear of missing out”. The onset of FOMO is sparked by overindulgent use of social media, extensive research of others’ career paths and successes, and asking everyone what their weekend plans are. Symptoms include feeling left out or insecure, and wishing you were elsewhere when the place you’re in is probably pretty cool. For years my classmates worked endlessly to have impressive careers and competitive GMAT scores with the ultimate goal of entering a top MBA program. Now after all the hard work, sweat, and tears, we’re finally here. And yet all we can do is worry about our next steps! Shouldn’t we enjoy the place we’re in and soak it all up, rather than constantly live in the future?

Of course, I’m not advocating for a totally unplanned and carefree life (although I’ve met many people who do, and love it). It’s just easy to get caught up in the whirlwinds of daily life and suddenly find yourself focusing on things that may not actually be in line with your future goals. It’s important to maintain your sense of individualism and resist “conforming to the enormous pressure of group norms”, a difficult task when you’ve contracted a serious case of FOMO. Although originally set on pursuing a career transition into technology, you may suddenly find yourself thinking that consulting could be a great fit; a career in finance might not be so bad after all; or maybe retail is your true calling? Instead of trying to tackle it all and waking up at the end of your MBA wondering why you didn’t join that cool tech company, take a moment to breathe and make sure your energy is being directed towards achieving your original goals. And if we can do that while also enjoying the process,  then it will be “worth all the pain. But remember, it can be as much joy and pain as you allow it to be”.

So don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees: you won’t remember those extra points on your accounting exam, but you will remember having coffee with an interesting classmate who’s had your dream job. But make sure you’re choosing the right forest: don’t get distracted by what you think is expected of you and stay true to your original, overarching intentions. And finally, take time to reflect and embrace these moments when we might not yet have it all “figured out”: uncertainty can feel uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s those moments that lead us to our greatest potential. If we can learn from our MBA predecessors and apply these lessons while we’re still getting started, hopefully we’ll come out the other side with fewer regrets. And I’m sure Bozorgchami would be proud.

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Bozorgchami, now known as Shirzad Chamine, went on to publish New York Times’ bestseller “Positive Intelligence” based on his theory of how to achieve one’s true potential. I guess he knew what he was talking about, after all; I just hope I can keep his lessons in mind over the next year and a half!

Download the full letter here or read it below*.

*Before my fellow MBA’s get their recruiting pantsuits in a twist, I’m not disclosing this letter for the first time. It’s also been written about in Business Week and Daily Mail.

**Top photo from Founder’s Retreat, a day-long event hosted by Wharton Entrepreneurship and Founder’s Club. Photography by Kat Clark.

3 Comments on “The End of Q1 at Wharton: Keeping Perspective and the Unofficial MBA Letter

  1. Pingback: 8 Skills to Listen and Lead Effectively: Advice from an FBI Hostage Negotiator | MP is for Mary Patton

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