[Editor's Note: The following is the first in our new series Business School Diaries, written by Alexandra Bochicchio, a first-year at a top business school (which we'll call "XBS").]
I officially have finished my first semester of business school! After living, breathing, and talking XBS for the past three and a half months, I am looking forward to a one-month hiatus. While school definitely has been fun, it has not exactly been the vacation my friends and colleagues told me it would be. Specifically no one warned me about the emotional rollercoaster: I fluctuate daily among self-doubt, apathy, gratitude, and excitement. While I by no means have it all figured out, I do want to share a few things I wish I had known in September.
You’re no different from anyone else. Because I am introverted and hoping to make a career switch out of finance, I immediately thought I was different from my seemingly networking-loving, super-social classmates. However, over the course of the semester I have realized that we all are at turning points in our careers and slightly nervous to have made the decision to step off the professional treadmill and go back to school. While people show insecurities in different ways, at the end of the day we all want to be accepted by and learn from one another.
Differentiate yourself. I used to stand out as the smart, former college athlete who worked in finance. However this now describes 90% of my classmates (just swap out “consulting” for “finance”). Therefore, I need to find other ways to distinguish myself. One of my best decisions was applying to be the first-year writer for the XBS parody show. Although I applied because I thought it would be fun, writing for the show has led to a disproportionate number of conversations with classmates and potential employers. Graduate school allows me the time and resources to explore things outside of the core curriculum, and I need to make sure I take advantage of this.
Be vulnerable. One of my biggest fears is looking stupid or weak, and I used to live by the philosophy that it was better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak out and remove all doubt. However, I have made the best connections with classmates when I let my guard down or am not 100% politically correct. There is so much pressure to be professional in business school that it is easy to forget how friendships actually are made: I (while not too inebriated) share something personal, you share something, and BOOM! a little trust is formed.
You were let in for a reason. Sometimes a dumb comment in class can lead to a downward spiral: Why did I say that? That was dumb. I am dumb. XBS was dumb for admitting me. This is cockamamie. More often than not no one notices my stupid comment or action (however, the same can be said for the few times I thought I made a brilliant contribution). Because admissions are so competitive, schools take it very seriously, and no student is accepted because of a fluke (one exception – is the school currently constructing a library in your name?!). The sooner I accept this, the sooner I can stop the downward spiral and instead concentrate on trying to say something brilliant (a work-in-progress).
Keep your eye on the prize. My classmates and I asked about twenty-five questions during our last finance class in hopes our professor would let slip a nugget of knowledge which would give us an edge on the final exam. And XBS doesn’t even give grades. Our professor said it best when he pointed out most of us have worked for a number of years and some even have families; being overly stressed about an exam is, well, silly. The stakes in business school are relatively low – I would much rather mess up my net present value calculation on an exam than during an important board meeting (warning – I may be rationalizing a bit). Although it is a constant struggle, it is essential to maintain perspective and remember everything will work itself out. This philosophy has served me fairly well thus far; there is no reason to think it won’t in the future.