They say that if a man is a fool, you don’t train him out of being a fool by sending him to university. You merely turn him into a trained fool, ten times more dangerous. I suppose that notion is only amplified when paying an exorbitant amount in MBA tuition for a third turn at university (albeit a very old and storied university). So for me, and for anyone who comes into contact with me in the future, let’s hope to god I’ve done enough coming into SBS to render myself no fool. But I suppose one can never be too sure about such things…
I have tried though. And that is the theme of this blog post.
My being here means that, as many of you are doing now, I went through the countless hours of GMAT and interview prep, essay writing and school searching — and that was just to get in the door. Then the real work came when I turned to the much more difficult task of preparing myself mentally for the MBA year — and ensuring I wasn’t pursuing this degree for foolish reasons.
I weighed my career options, spoke to alumni about their motivations for doing an MBA, spoke to colleagues and clients about their careers and looked inward at my own motivations.
I originally thought I could arrive at SBS with a specific and unequivocal plan for the year and all that would follow. That’s what being prepared meant. But, on a good day, I have only a loose notion of what I want to be when I grow up. In fact, I haven’t been unequivocal about a career since I was fourteen and abandoned hope of being a professional ice hockey player. And it’s been clear in my brief time here that many of my classmates share this experience. Those who know exactly what they’re doing here are the exception (and congratulations if you’re one of them — your time will be much easier).
But regardless of the inherent uncertainty you may feel about your path, do the introspective work before you commit to a program.
Academically, know what streams of business you want to study, have an idea what electives would most appeal to you and recognize the professors, PhD students and experts you want to engage with throughout the year.
Professionally, start narrowing your focus fast, making new connections and investigating specific careers or finding causes to which you think you could dedicate a lifetime.
Personally, know how the MBA fits into your own narrative, why you’re doing it and the values and principles you will refuse to abandon in spite of all you may be subjected to during the year.
Finally, and most importantly, spend some time considering what an MBA reasonably can and cannot do for you. Because it’s too easy to immerse yourself in the glossy school marketing material and begin to overestimate the real impact an MBA will have on your career. In the end, we all know an MBA is no magic bullet for career indecisiveness, nor is it a fast track to becoming some hero CEO or wildly wealthy financier. It is but one year (in the case of Oxford) amidst a lifetime of learning and experience. To think differently would be foolish. And yet many of us fall into this trap at one time or another.
So that’s my first tip to new applicants, for what it’s worth. Before you spend too much time learning about the schools and figuring out where you want to go, please, take the time to make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons and that you’re not looking for a quick fix. No sense investing the time and money to become a trained fool, ten times more dangerous, or, as some would have it, “a menace to society.”
Then again, learning is fun, Oxford is beautiful, there are some fantastic people here and I expect this year to be a worthwhile experience regardless of the outcome. So why waste time on finding any higher motivation for doing this. Even with the countless hours of introspection, I may be no wiser, and mine may still be a foolish pursuit. As one Bill Shakespeare put it (when in Rome, right?): “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”Back to top of article