My MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS) is over, but I will harbor memories from my two years there for a long time. I had some incredible experiences, met inspiring friends and professionals, visited fascinating places and – last but not least – reflected a lot. It has been a transformational experience not only professionally and academically but especially personally. As I embark to go back to what MBA students usually call “real life” (vs. bubble MBA life), these are the seven key lessons I plan to take with me.
1. Prioritize ruthlessly
As most MBA students learn, especially during the first weeks at business school, the academic, social, and professional activities are so plentiful that it becomes unfeasible to participate in each and every one. It would be great to do them all, but that is not possible. The solution is not easy: learn to say ‘no’, or as a famous poster shown in my office used to say you need ‘ruthless prioritization’. During business school, I learnt to focus on questions like how to prioritize my time, what matters most to me, what is important but not a priority, and to spend my time purposefully. Also post-MBA, I have planned to spend weekly time reflecting on whether I am devoting the right amount of time to the activities and people that matter most to me.
2. Be yourself
During my time at HBS, there were some moments where students shared some very personal stories from their past. Several students cried in front of large crowds. They opened themselves up. They became so vulnerable. At first, I was surprised how they were willing to share their deeper selves. Afterwards, I felt much more connected and closer to them. I felt that they had removed all barriers. They were so authentic. I will not be afraid to show my emotions and who I am. I will not be afraid to also show my weaknesses. I am confident that this is the only way I will be able to be myself. Some people will like it, others will not. However, at least, they will know me for who I am and not someone else.
3. Be patient and persistent
I spent two years applying to HBS. The first time I was rejected and HBS did not even call me for an interview. Had I not been patient, I would not have had the privilege to live such a great experience. The second time I applied, I reflected a lot about the reasons I was rejected and I tried to improve my application as much as I could. It took lots of efforts, time, energy, and patience. If I think about the achievements I am most proud of, I can easily realize that they took time, persistence, and lots of failures. Sometimes we want to have something immediately and I am that type of a person. But that is not always possible. Post-MBA, I want to continue being patient for the things I care the most.
4. Just ask
How many times do you get tempted to ask for something but you do not, due to a fear of rejection? How many times have you wanted to connect with someone but you are unable to do so because you are afraid? How many times have you missed an opportunity because you were shy? It happened to me many times both at work and in my personal life. During a sales class at HBS, a Professor pushed us to “just ask” in order to overcome our fear of being rejected. He suggested that we connect with people we would not have been comfortable reaching out to. That week, whenever I met someone I wanted to talk with, I approached him/her. Sometimes, I was rejected. However, I was surprised my requests were accepted many more times than I thought. That boosted a tremendous volume of confidence. Post-MBA, I do not want to be shy nor afraid of being rejected. Opportunities arise when we’re brave enough to seek them out.
5. Seek out diversity
At HBS you are often asked to work as a team. HBS students tend to be fairly opinionated and their opinions tend to be very different. During group work I was initially certain my way of thinking was the right one. Yet at the end of the project, I realized often that a specific point I had not understood led the project to new directions and ways of thinking. Post-MBA I will seek out diverse points of view both at work and in my personal life. Working in a diverse environment requires lots of flexibility and patience to understand different points of view and adapt to various ways of thinking, interacting, and communicating. However, I cannot emphasize enough how much being in a diverse environment has taught me about myself and about other cultures.
6. Be grateful
Graduation day is a day I will never forget in my life. I was very proud of myself on that day. But even more, I felt very grateful. I felt grateful towards my family. I felt grateful towards so many people who had filled me with continuous affection and support. I felt grateful towards HBS as an institution allowing me to live such a transformational experience. I want to continue manifesting my gratitude towards people and institutions that have given me so much. And even more, I would really like to start impacting the lives of people in a positive way as a tribute to the many people who helped me get where I am today.
7. Dream big and take risks
“I want to create a firm that allows space travels.” “I want to help in reducing famine in African countries.” “I want to revolutionize the way education works.” I have never been in a place where people thought as big as they did at Harvard. They had dreams that are very hard to realize. Yet these are their dreams and they are willing to invest lots of time and energy fulfilling them. They are willing to take risks. Post-MBA I want to dream big and take risks. Taking risks can be pretty daunting. However, not taking risks signifies renouncing your dreams, which would be far worse. **** Now that I’ve graduated from HBS, I hope to continue to apply these lessons in my daily life. And I hope they’ll be helpful to anyone considering applying to Harvard Business School. Credit: Sharing from Marco De Curtis – HBS alumni