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If last year someone had asked me what words best characterise the life of a second-year MBA at London Business School, my immediate response would have been “ease” and “freedom”. At the time, the reasons for drawing such conclusions seemed perfectly rational.
Although separated by only one year, the contrast between the life of a first and second year was just too striking to think otherwise. While we first years were consumed with a busy course load of core classes, the second years had a much less demanding portfolio of electives. We were required to work with one, diverse, six to seven-person study group for the entire year.
They, on the other hand, had the discretion to work in much smaller groups and with whoever they wished. Most of us had neither job nor interview, while many of the second years were either interviewing and/or had offers from the world’s most highly regarded companies.
These contrasts suggested that the second year offered a much less stressful experience. As a result, many of us eagerly looked forward to what seemed to be the more enjoyable phase of the MBA.
Having this impression firmly etched in my brain, I anticipated a rush of ease and freedom on my return from the summer internship. However, this feeling was nowhere to be found. Instead, anxiety greeted me. Thankfully, misery loves company and I did not suffer alone. Usually over a drink, my classmates and I would discuss the unexpected difficulties the second year had brought.
However, this anxiety should be appreciated as, for the first time, we have been forced to ask ourselves the questions that really matter and will bring about true fulfilment in our lives.
School administrators, teachers and mentors warned against letting career decisions rely too heavily on pay and prestige. They continually reminded us that quality of life, family and personal fulfilment are what should be our most precious considerations.
However, during the exhaustive internship search, very few heeded this advice. Who could blame us? With this unique opportunity to explore new career opportunities, it would be foolish not to pursue something we had never done before.
Yet looking back, I suspect that many of our decisions were not purely based on expanding our horizons and knowledge. At least a small part of all of us was looking forward to the satisfaction that comes from telling others what we did, who we worked for and how much we earned.
Their validation would be enough to justify our decision and the drawbacks such a decision requires us to endure. Thankfully, the internships gave us the opportunity to analyse the true motivations behind our decisions and whether we are ready to make the commitment these industries and companies require.
Regardless of how well our internships went, most of us reached the same common conclusion; we still have more growth to experience. An MBA from a top programme merely makes your entry into certain companies and industries much easier. By no stretch of the imagination will it bring about our success. For that to occur, we must continue to demonstrate the same hunger and drive that has taken us this far.
As we quickly saw, commitment to further growth again requires much sacrifice and compromise. It may require living in a place that we may not like, or spending long hours at our place of employment, or continually travelling.
To make this decision we must consider questions we never really reflected on during the internship search. We had to look at our bosses and supervisors and ask ourselves: “Is that who we wish to be?” We had to ask ourselves that all-too-often-forgotten question: “Does this make us happy?”
There were those lucky few who could immediately respond either yes or no. But, I have the impression that the overwhelming majority of us languished somewhere in the middle. This ambivalence has become the root of the anxiety that hits the second-year student.
But the best resource to help navigate this treacherous period is our classmates. Our countless lunches, dinners and drinks help us find our way. Our conversations expose us to new job opportunities and help provide a critical analysis of our perceived strengths and weakness.
They give us the opportunity to listen to the experiences and impressions of others working in various roles and positions. Consequently, we are beginning to see what we really want to do with our lives.
It demonstrates yet again another invaluable aspect of the MBA, the unique chance to gain advice and insight from some of the sharpest minds, a luxury you do not appreciate until it is placed in front of you.
I have still not decided what to do with the next phase of my life after my graduation in July. But I can say that I can now see much more clearly than I did a few months ago. I realise what opportunities are not for me and those in which the commitment is too great.
In spite of the anxiety, I am aware that, if ever there was a time for prudent decision-making, it is now. So I can firmly say that life as a second-year MBA is not necessarily the place of ease and freedom, but is in fact full of some very real stresses. But I am comforted by the fact that through thoughtful deliberation and consultation, I will not make a decision that is purely about pay and prestige. Rather, one that brings about personal fulfilment and happiness.