An MBA explains what life is like a year after business school

August 2, 2016  —  By

alex-dea

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a year since I graduated from business school, packed up my boxes, moved out west to San Francisco, and reacclimated into the working world. They told us that things would move fast, but there’s always some shock when you look up and realize how quickly time goes by.

The past year has been rewarding, challenging, exhausting, and fulfilling, all at the same time. As a naturally reflective person, I wanted to share some thoughts on what it’s like one year out.

Transition sucks, until you reframe the opportunity

Reality checks suck. But reframing your mindset to understand the opportunities ahead will help you pull through.

I was always nervous about life after business school. I won’t sugarcoat it — there is definitely a transition period and it sucks. I remember the first few weeks after I started work staring at my computer screen while I was in training and thinking to myself “how am I going to survive the next 30 years?!”

Fortunately, we as humans adapt and evolve. There are so many opportunities that lie ahead of you that spending too much time reminiscing on the past only makes you miss valuable experiences. Accepting the past for what it is and giving its due acknowledgement is fantastic. So is experiencing in the present all that life has to offer.

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The mix of confidence and humility  

I value and appreciate what an MBA gives me, while acknowledging the importance of other backgrounds.

Each year, about a few thousand people graduate from top MBA Programs, and I am fortunate to be one of those people. I don’t take that for granted and understand the inherent privilege and responsibility that comes with it. As such, I have developed a mindset that blends confidence and humility.

Confidence means that I have a set of skills and knowledge that enables me to envision a unique perspective along with the tools to execute that vision.

Humility means being self-aware enough to know that that the best thing I know is that I don’t know everything, and there are plenty of other insightful perspectives and approaches out there.

Prior to business school, I often would develop ideas or thoughts but wait to share them until I felt like everyone in the room respected me. While there are merits to this, it also meant I missed out on potentially sharing and impacting the greater good of the team.

Now, I feel confident in sharing my opinions and ideas, regardless of how junior or senior in the room, even if it means in some cases, being the one to say that I don’t have the right answer, but I’ll find someone who does.

An (even deeper) appreciation for relationships

Business school accelerates the bonds and relationships you form. It’s exciting to watch them evolve and grow.

When you are in business school, you’re in a bubble, surrounded by the same people every day for two years. That  shared purpose gave everyone the opportunity to form relationships and relatively quickly.

In the real world, building and sustaining relationships doesn’t come easily. I am glad I took the time to build meaningful relationships when I was in school.

Paths diverge

People begin to chart their own course. It’s natural to feel lost or behind, but it’s fulfilling to know you’re following your own course.

In business school, you tend to get boxed into lanes. Are you a consultant or a banker? Do you want to do marketing or finance? Those lanes provide focus and discipline, especially to those of us who have career ADD and need a little direction.

The structure provides a general roadmap to hundreds of people at a business school. However, after you graduate, you see those paths diverge, and the verticals and lanes start going all over the place.

Some of my classmates love what they do and hope to continue doing it for the rest of their careers. Others are already moving onto their next job.

None of those things is right, wrong, best, or worst. Rather, each individual must find the path that is best suited for him or her.

It can be easy to compare ourselves to our peers. If we aren’t doing the same things they are, we might think that something is wrong with us. I’ve learned that I get most excited by focusing on my own path as opposed to thinking about how others are traveling on theirs.

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A sense of purposefulness for how to manage your time

Business school teaches you that time is your most valuable asset. I’m finally learning to maximize it.

In business school, with a few standing exceptions, you have the ability to utilize your time how you see fit. For two years, you have a good amount of control over what you do and how you spend your time.

Things are different in the real world. While we have some control of our everyday lives, unfortunately, we can’t always pick and choose the things we want to do. If only we could tell our bosses and managers, “Sorry, that’s not really a priority for me” without fear of retribution!

This realization drove me to try harder to manage how I spend my time. Professionally, I’ve learned how to say “no” to things that don’t align with my short-term priorities or my long-term vision.

Personally, I spend a great deal of my time building relationships in my life, which sometimes means extra plane rides to visit friends and family who don’t live close by. For some, this won’t make sense, especially because I live in such a great city. But ultimately, it’s important to me, so it’s worthwhile to spend my time and money on it.

You may not have formal power, but you can have influence

You won’t be calling the shots right away. But you also don’t have to be another cog in the wheel. The trick is understanding power and influence.

Coming into a large organization after business school is unique situation. On one hand, you’re smart and intelligent enough to figure out what’s going on and understand how things work. On the other hand, you’re not well versed or senior enough in the organization to have power.

However, there are benefits to being in this position, and there are ways to make the most of where you are that will help position you for future success.

First, build relationships. Developing relationships and building trust with leaders and managers will get you closer to the action, help you get visibility into what’s going on, and empower you to succeed.

Second, add value. If you’re contributing to the organization, people will want to keep you around. Sometimes this means doing things that you don’t want to do or feel overqualified for, but contributing will help build your reputation and make you indispensable.

Third, support others. You may not have the capital to start influencing right away, so you’ll want to associate yourself with and support those who do.

Conclusion

As a college freshman, my “life plan” was to graduate college, work for a big company, and go to business school. After that, I had no clue what I would do.

For the past year, I’ve been working on figuring it out. I have truly enjoyed the process of learning and growing along the way. If each year is like this one, I’m excited about what the next one, three, five, or 30 will have in store.

I wish I could say these are all my own thoughts, but they come from numerous conversations with classmates and friends.

Special thanks to Jon, Jeff, and Ben for reading drafts and revisions and helping formulate my ideas into coherent thoughts.

Al Dea is the founder of MBASchooled, a digital platform dedicated to educating people about the MBA experience. Al received his MBA from the University of North Carolina, his bachelor’s in business and theology from Boston College, and currently lives and works as a consultant in San Francisco.