Upon receiving my degree in chemical engineering, I joined a company that I loved. What I was doing was interesting in a problem-solving sense, but the engineering part wasn’t as interesting. I realized that what I loved doing the most was talking to people about the various problems in building the business. After I was there for a couple of years, I was doing really well. But I felt my heart wasn’t in it and it was the right time to do something else. Harvard Business School offered me the opportunity to learn a new area and learn in a different way.
To make the most of your MBA, I would say, first, you should recognize this as a unique opportunity. For most MBA students, business school is the last time that you’ll ever be in an educational institution. You may go to a class for a day or two or through a short program — but this is it. I would encourage you not to miss the opportunity to challenge yourself in new areas and build skills that may be outside the core skills that you may want to eventually develop. You may know the area you want to go into, but you won’t get everything out of school that you could if you only take classes in that area. It’s too good of an opportunity to be exposed to things that both challenge you and build your broader perspective and skills.
Second, you’ll find other achievement-oriented, really high-potential people who are often very different from you. In the communities that you participate in, whether it’s your section or extracurriculars, make sure to take advantage of the learning experience that comes from getting exposed to people from different backgrounds. When you’re in college, you often gravitate to people you feel comfortable with. In business school, you’re in your twenties mostly and you have a chance to have exposure to very different kinds of experiences.
Third, use your time in business school as an opportunity to pursue self-reflection. I find that people often miss how valuable it is to have moments in time when they don’t just learn new things, but have a chance to reflect. What gets you motivated? What do you think will make you happy? What is your long-term plan? You have resources at your disposal — professors and friends and school resources — to be very self-reflective if you want to take advantage of it. It’s easy to come in and focus on the classwork and extracurriculars and lose that chance, but I think it’s a missed opportunity.
I can’t tell you what exactly I learned in one class and what I used. But, I can tell you what was truly valuable. It was the skill to be able to quickly understand a situation; try to figure out what’s most important; be part of a discussion where you’re expected to make a meaningful contribution (which is as much about listening to others as it is about sharing your own ideas); and getting to the heart of the issue and the opportunity in an effective way. I think two years of doing that was really, really valuable.