To Apply or Not? That’s the Question & Here’s My Answer:

It’s seventh grade, and I’m listening to my teacher, Mrs. Stoltz, speak about our assignments for the day. The flow chart on the wall delineates our projects for the duration of class. As she goes through each item, she re-emphasizes one statement over and over: “Remember kids, be proactive!” Throughout the day, whether it be in history, math, science, or free-time, we are encouraged to take initiative and go beyond the scope of our duties to strive for excellence. At that time in my life, being proactive didn’t mean much besides, “get your work done, and get it done well.” It was simply a way to get us to finish our assignments in an efficient way. Now, however, I realize that it means much, much more than that.

Initiative. Proactiveness. We hear these words in conjunction with excellence, success, and leadership on a regular basis, especially at Fuqua. I’m sure that you’ve heard these words at some point in your life and rolled your eyes. Am I right? Believe me, I’ve been there! It’s much less about the words themselves. It’s the implications of applying them in our day-to-day behaviors that give way for an amazing array of opportunities that can shock and surprise even the most self-assured of people, and create unique and exciting paths for us in this enigma we call life.

Don’t believe me? Well, what if I told you that being proactive means the difference between being good and being amazing? It means striving for the stars rather than being happy on the ground. For me, it meant the difference between staying in California and going to an MBA program or coming to Duke for the MMS: FOB program. And it all began with an email …

I’ve joked with Cathy Johnson, my Fuqua admissions counselor and friend, about this. The reason I am in this program is because of an email. It’s really true. I had just finished applying to some MBA programs last May when I received an email from Duke inviting me to apply to the MMS: FOB program. Before then, I had never even heard of a Masters in Management Studies program, let alone thought of applying to one. My plan had been simple: get a business degree from a reputable university which could provide the basic business tools to work in the social entrepreneurship sector. I studied hard for the GMAT and worked tirelessly on essays and applications, all the while working 3 jobs. I had laid out my plan in advance and scheduled my days to fit in everything; my year consisted of working at a non-profit and our family’s rug manufacturing business, tutoring calculus, and fine-tuning and submitting MBA applications.

So when I randomly checked my email address one evening and saw “Duke University” in the subject line, not only was I not too excited (by that time I was drained from the application process), I was also extremely skeptical. Is this really from Duke University? I thought to myself. Or just some imposter? At first, I thought it was some wanna-be college with a similar name to Duke’s (Harvard College, anyone?). A quick glance at the email didn’t convince me otherwise, so I decided to google the program.

What I saw impressed me. A lot. The program, geared towards recent graduates, seemed great: fundamentals of business, preparing you for the job market, and equipping you with tools to succeed. All good. And of course after seeing the MMS website, I realized that the email was definitely legitimate, and so was the program. I did, however, still have doubts. Did the program offer any benefit to people who had work experience, like me? How much would the program prepare me to get a job that I want? And how exactly did the program measure up to MBA programs? Would it carry the same weight with companies, or would I simply be paying for a few extra letters next to my name? All of these questions, many of them doubts, swirled in my mind. I had already applied to all the programs I wanted to go to. I was done. I had no need to look into this MMS program …

Now, this is a situation I like to call a “proactive/passive moment.” In life, there are situations in which one can take action and be proactive, or sit back passively and do nothing. And as we grow older and have more control over our lives, it becomes progressively easier to be passive and take the lazy way out. These moments can be as small as deciding to help a stranger pick themselves up after a fall, or as big as deciding to speak up when a severe injustice is occurring in front of you. One thing is certain; these moments happen multiple times in a day, week, and lifetime, and only we have the power to decide which action (or non-action) to take.

In moments like these, I like to think of my choices and how I might feel about them in the future. Would I regret them, or be happy? I have an innate desire to live life to the fullest. Carpe diem, if you will. So, more often than not (if I am honest with myself), I find that I would regret NOT taking action more than taking an action. This case about MMS was no different. I thought about it and realized something: this could become something big, or it couldn’t. I could either see if the program was right for me and apply, or I could just sit back and wait for the other schools to respond. The latter option would definitely be the easiest, but truly, whether or not I got into the program was irrelevant. For me, the most important thing was being completely content that I had done everything in my power to take this opportunity, even if I ended up going to one of the MBA programs I had already applied to. What mattered most was that I would know that I had given it a chance. No regrets, right? I really had nothing to lose!

Needless to say, I applied to MMS: FOB, got in, and am in Durham writing about it now. The funny thing is that although I busted my butt crafting my application and submitting it in time (I applied very late in the admissions cycle), the only thing going through my mind was: Be proactive. Do your best, so you don’t regret it in the future. I viewed the process as an opportunity to explore, and because of this, I opened myself up to a new experience I couldn’t have imagined before. I’ve found that Fuqua has one of the most amazing resources in the world when it comes to social entrepreneurship, and that all of my innate principles (having an impact, leaving a legacy) are core values that Duke embodies. I realized that this school, and this program, was actually the perfect fit for me, much more than any MBA program I had applied to. So when I got the phone call from Cathy about my admission and scholarship offer, I knew that despite my initial doubts, I had definitely made the right choice. And the rest of those MBA programs? I got rejected from EVERY SINGLE ONE … if that’s not fate, then I don’t know what is.

So life, and my teacher Mrs. Stoltz, have both taught me that being proactive leads to amazing things. Taking initiative clears your mind up for different possibilities, opening up an array of different doors that could not have been opened without that first, seemingly futile, action. If I had ignored that email — that one email — I would not be at Duke. That’s kind of mind-blowing. So next time you are faced with a proactive/passive moment, however insignificant it may seem, stop yourself and think. Think about what kind of person you want to be, and take action based on that desire. Not only will you feel accomplished, but you will also completely and honestly be the person you wish in that moment: the person you truly are. And maybe, just maybe, that action might change your life forever.

mms student

Danya Akbar

MMS: FOB, Class of 2014

I’m a California native, but also a second generation Pakistani-American raised with a global perspective at a very young age. I'm pursuing my master's to prepare me for work in the social entrepreneurship sector where I hope to make the world a better place.

Learn more about Danya | View all of Danya's Posts

  • Stephenie Yuan

    I really enjoyed reading this. It’s so nice to hear from someone who went through the same process I’m going through and the fact that you were intrigued by Duke’s abundance of resources for social entrepreneurship, which is what I’m interested in, gives me even more reassurance about my decision. Thank you so much for sharing!!!