Last week, I started my second year at IESE Business School, and I must say I love it. My mornings are free, my days open (to pursue my interests), and the weather is fantastic.
However, my favorite moment last week was a conversation with a first-year MBA about summer internships and her experience at IESE.
I loved hearing about the teams, the cases, and the professors. It made me smile as I recounted my own memories. It also reminded me of how far I’ve come, things I stressed about that didn’t matter, and things I would do differently.
Seeing that some of these stresses can be avoided or managed, I would like to share 5 ideas/lessons for surviving your first year in the MBA.
Lesson #1: Try Fast; Quit Fast
My first six weeks at IESE, I joined about 8 different clubs. I also signed up for the Business Spanish Program, multiple events, and company visits. Then something happened . . . I realized I was not happy.
Assessing my schedule, I saw that arriving home late in the evening was incompatible with my need to cook healthy meals, run errands, hit the gym, and have time to decompress.
So I made some hard choices.
First, I decided that I would never attend events on the days I had Business Spanish class. Instead, I chose to sit down, enjoy my 90-minute lunch period with friends, drink a cortado in the sun, and spend the remaining 30-40 minutes on case preparation.
Second, I decided that I would no longer attend events that were simply interesting. Instead, I chose to only attend events that were (a) required, (b) helpful in my specific career search, or (c) related to a skill I could implement immediately.
This meant focusing on coffee chats with 2nd years, time to clear my head, and skill-building courses (such as Udemy’s Beginner to Expert Excel).
Lesson #2: Determine Your Three Mountains
Last year, I came up with a framework for myself I call the three mountains. Similar to Ikigai, the three mountains are (a) what people will pay me to do, (b) what I would do for fun/free, and (c) what is most important to me. I call them mountains because they are broad targets, easy to see in the distance, and approachable from multiple paths.
In my case, I am an optimizer, decision-maker, and leader. Thus, I believe my x-factor is the creativity I bring to make human-centric systems happier and more efficient. For fun, I enjoy writing, spending time outdoors, and exercise. What is most important to me is spending time with those I love.
My execution of this looked like what I described in Lesson #1 as well as focusing on recruiting for Large FMCG companies and start-ups, volunteering at my church in Barcelona, and spending time with my partner. Writing fell to the wayside.
Lesson #3: Be Honest About Your Lifestyle, Personality, and Needs
As I stated before, by week 6 of the MBA I had effectively made myself miserable. One of the reasons behind this was me caving to peer pressure. Many of the events in the MBA get a lot of hype—and some of them should—don’t miss the Mexican Dinner! Others are not worth your time. It’s hard to know which ones are, so here’s my advice.
Whatever you choose to do make sure it lines up with your values, your personality, and what you really want for your life.
This doesn’t mean I suggest you blow off your team (I’ll discuss that in a minute). Instead, I recommend you examine your onboarding materials regularly, look at what they are telling you, and extract what will make you happy and effective.
Do you love traveling? Research travel start-ups. Do you love Excel? Find a field that will value your analytics passion. Do you hate Excel? Learn it for the MBA, but don’t find a career which is excel-centered.
Be you! Look at what attracts your attention and where you spend time.
Lesson #4: Learn From Your Teammates
During our final feedback last year, my team kindly stated that I was the most improved member. Given I came from the military, with no business experience, I saw this as a huge win. In return, I stated how much I appreciated each of them and how much they taught me.
For example, Miguel, our consultant from Bain, was exceptional at structuring our presentations and ensuring we answered the assigned question. Juan Carlos, my Peruvian teammate was incredible at teaching us economics one hour before the midterm. Marika, our Japanese teammate, was a gifted administrator and the glue of our team. Everyone taught me or contributed something.
I absolutely learned from classes. However, I learned the most from interacting and solving problems with my team.
Value your team, be a team player, have fun, and treat each other well. At the end of the year, you’ll be grateful you did.
Lesson #5: Don’t Be Afraid to Miss A Lot of Social Events
I spent two years volunteering around the world before attending IESE. My motives were heavily career-focused. However, the first six weeks of the MBA were definitely a wild time. Everyone is in Barcelona. The weather is beautiful. The beers are flowing. Life is good!
Then, the case method strikes. Your energy levels start dipping. Now you must play the game of perseverance.
After two months of monitoring my WhatsApp. I began to notice a trend . . . a lot of the same people were appearing in the social events photos. Now, I’m not knocking those who have the stamina or the 1% who can sleep 4 hours and be great. They are champions in their own rights.
I’m just not one of them.
When it comes to monitoring your energy throughout the MBA, I would suggest that small gatherings are the best and most meaningful. For example, my favorite events were the veterans barbecues at my buddies’ homes. It was awesome sharing beers with service members from Singapore, France, Greece, Russia, and other countries.
If partying isn’t your style, go for a beer, leave at midnight, and focus on other things. If it is, have a blast. Make your MBA experience fit you.
It’s Your MBA, So You Decide
You’ll hear this about many things in life, but I’ll say it anyway.
Time is your most precious commodity in the MBA.
Yes, IESE tells you what to do your first year. Yes, it can be frustrating. However, it is an incredible program and I would not have been prepared for my internship at ABInBev without it. It has changed the way I think for the better.
Nevertheless, you need to do it the way that works for you, given your limited free time. You must ruthlessly prioritize your wants and needs while supporting those on your team.
It’s not easy, and it’s not supposed to be. But if you do it well, you will make friends and learn a way of thinking that will last a lifetime. Enjoy the ride!
Charles E. Payne II is in the full-time MBA program at IESE Business School. He is a writer, older brother to three sisters, and, most recently, an uncle. He will graduate in May 2020 and return to ABInBev, where he completed his summer internship.[This article is re-posted from Linkedin]
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