Business school is not for the faint of heart.
This is no joke. Before matriculating, I had a fulfilling job, a fledgling small business I had just founded, a busy social life, and numerous volunteer commitments on my plate. And I wasn’t one-tenth as busy then as I am now.
The process to get into business school is designed to make sure that people who attend the program have a good idea of not just that they want to go, but why they want to go. This “why” is invaluable. I was 23 when I decided that I wanted to go, but 29 when I attended because I didn’t know the “why” well enough to articulate it.
Know Your “Why”
The average amount of work experience in the Daytime MBA program at Fuqua is around five years. An understated benefit in waiting that amount of time is that it gives you the opportunity to explore paths in your career to decide what you like and what you might not. For me, that was invaluable for the “why.” If I had tried to apply even a year before I did, I would’ve put together a much weaker application because I wouldn’t have understood the tools I wanted in my toolbox.
Personally, I came back to business school because linear regression models were not taught sequentially after Leo Tolstoy in my undergrad English Literature coursework. I discovered my career passion through a combination of mistakes, intuition, and luck. How do you sum up the guiding force of that process? So I sat in front of a blank computer screen, cursor blinking, and answered personal questions about what energized me about my work life, how I may have solved a terrible situation that I hadn’t created, but I had wanted to fix, and why certain things that had felt right for me were right.
My advice to anyone like me (passionate, but inarticulate): think about times in your career when you were incredibly happy. Why were you happy? What were you doing? Were you learning? Convincing people to adopt your idea? Managing people, seeing them grow and learn, working with a tight-knit team, or giddy because you had hit an estimate dead-on? Take time to dig deeply into why these situations felt good. Did they validate you? Scare and excite you? Humble you and show you a part of yourself you didn’t know?
How to Find Your “Why”
I explored this reflective process in the same way I studied for the GMAT. I woke up about an hour early every morning for a few months and went through a series of questions that would help me articulate it, while pulling stories from my past that displayed various aspects of it. It helped for the essays, sure, but 95 percent of the things I wrote down never made it in front of the admissions committee. They only wound up seeing the tip of the iceberg.
These unwritten motivations are most important for when you’ve begun an MBA program. When you’re juggling multiple commitments, all equally important and time-consuming, and you’re scaling down rest to focus on them because you’re going to wring the business school experience dry. Your “why” is your fuel when you need pushing and your nourishment when you’ve forgotten to eat because you’ve been so busy.
So spend a lot of time focusing on your “why.” Learn how to talk about it succinctly, at length, and in passing. Most importantly, let it power and guide you through two of the most intense, fun, challenging, rewarding, and humbling years of your life.