Like many people who attend business school, I “knew” exactly what I wanted to do with my life until the day I got in. I wanted to start a door hardware company. But just getting into Fuqua offered me the opportunity to explore and potentially work in almost any industry or job function. Maybe I’ll be an entrepreneur, a consultant, or an ops specialist, no … wait a tick … a professor! At one point, one of my classmates asked me, “So, JC, what career path have you chosen this week?” All of a sudden, so many doors opened, and I was no longer pigeonholed into the construction industry from whence I came.

I was warned to enjoy it while it lasted, because recruiters would show up and slap the ignorant dreamland smile off my face and I’d enter a world of overwhelming pain and agony … OK, a dramatic exaggeration. Nevertheless, there came a point last year when it was time to start narrowing my search, but how? I had no idea what I wanted. Did I pick the door with the high salary? Should I do what’s comfortable or should I switch careers?! Did I pick the door that my friends were picking? Was there some awesome door that I don’t even know about? The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) began to settle in …

So after beginning my job search last year, I quickly came to the realization that during my entire life I had been opening hypothetical doors to give myself more options for the future. Well, I succeeded. All the doors were open and my future was right in front of me. It was time to close (or at least temporarily shut) some doors and pick a career path.

I walked into Fuqua’s Career Management Center and began my relationship with my new therapist career counselor, Mary Beck. After hearing my situation, she proposed a novel idea which was Lesson #1: Stop thinking about what you SHOULD do (Brain) and consider what you WANT to do (Heart). This advice led to a breakup with my longtime girlfriend, but that’s another story (thanks for freedom Mary Beck!). I began to analyze what I wanted out of life and what I would enjoy doing. I kept a list on my iPhone titled “Passions.” When I did something that I truly enjoyed, I’d jot it down in my phone. Today my list looks like this:

Helping people, hanging out with friends/family, learning, hiking/camping, technology, teaching/mentoring, math problems, Shooters, operations, analytics, Volleyball, decision models.

Lesson #1 knocked out plenty of career options. Prior to understanding Lesson #1, I thought that my career would be full of presentations, that it would put me on a path to CEO, that I should keep my options open for later, that I’d make a bunch of money. But I eventually realized that:

  1. I’m an introvert at heart (this took time to admit to myself … who are you?) and I’m never going to be perfectly comfortable presenting
  2. CEO is not really a career choice
  3. The lengthy Tavern receipts that I pull out of my pocket every Sunday morning repeatedly remind me that more than 1/3 of my life is likely already over so I need to stop settling on things I don’t love simply to keep options open

One piece of advice that rings true with me is that a passionate worker will crrrussshhhh a hard worker any day, and will be much happier doing it. So I had a new goal: pick a career/company/job function for which I’m passionate.

Lesson #2: Analyze and perhaps redefine your definition of “success.” I was under the assumption that “success = $,” but over the course of several months, and with much difficulty, I finally became convinced that “success = happiness.” Sad, right? I’m 27! And where does happiness come from? My family, friends, and experiences (which, granted, require some $). But I realized that most of my happiness would be derived outside of work. So I prefer a job and company with significant work-life balance! Boom, knocked out a few more career paths.** Take that, doors.

My third lesson came from the CEO of P&G, Bob McDonald. He randomly popped into my leadership class one day to give some free advice. I had heard this advice before but for some reason, it stuck this time: Lesson #3: Align yourself with your company’s values/vision. I get pumped reading articles about the advancement of technology and how it impacts the world (talk nerdy to me). I also agree with the philosophy that the public’s collective thought will create a better outcome than the ideas of just one company. For these reasons, I was naturally drawn to high tech and ultimately interned at a company called Autodesk. Autodesk’s vision is to provide design tools to professionals and individuals to “imagine, design and create a better world.” Nailed it. Their culture is laid back, has great work-life balance, employees bring their dogs to the office and the people are awesome. Lately, I’ve been meeting with teams at Autodesk that put a strong emphasis on modeling and analytics to appease even more of my passions within a company that I align with.

My first year at Fuqua was truly transformational. You read all of these articles that say “is the MBA worth it?” They use metrics mostly based on dollar values and ROI, but they don’t look at the transformational value, the redefinition of life and redirection. These things are what I got out of my first year at Fuqua. Will I make more money after school than I did before school? I don’t know. Do I care? Not really. Will I be happier? Yup. Was the past year of my MBA worth the costs? You bet. So I advise that incoming (and future) MBAs take these two years, drop the word “Should” from their vocabulary and explore what is important to them and what they’re passionate about. You have entered a frustrating time where your brain and heart will pull you in different directions. I challenge you to at least give your heart a voice and listen.

I’ve given this spiel to some of my closest friends and I’ve been hearing a lot of “you get it” comments. I couldn’t disagree more, but these comments ensure that I’m on the right path. I’m not speaking to you from a state of completion, just from a point along my journey. As Ferris Beuller eloquently put it: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” I know you don’t have much free time, but the time I spent reflecting has proved more valuable than any assignment or meeting I’ve had at school, so try to make it a priority.

The most rewarding result of this post is if someone gains a new perspective on life, school, or their career so please reach out and set time to chat if you are inspired by my experience thus far. Good luck!

Another Student’s Perspective — I shared some of these thoughts with a close friend of mine and he pulled out a poster board with answers to the below questions. He called it The High Level Brainstorm & Soul Search. Maybe you’ll find this framework useful as you think about your goals and plans:

  1. What do I want/what are my dreams?
  2. How am I going to do what I want?
  3. What are problems I believe need solving?
  4. What industry/-ies to focus?
  5. Random Ideas?
  6. Misc.

**Note that this is MY experience and will be different for each person. I have a good friend who is a great example of someone who finds energy and excitement in the challenges inherent to banking. He doesn’t mind the 100-hour work weeks since he loves the work. If you would like to speak to this individual to get his perspective leave me a comment, and I’ll connect you. It’s also worth mentioning that work-life balance is not a binary option, it is a range. Where do you fall so that you can meet your professional and personal goals?