Tiffany Handley




United States



By Tiffany Handley

My MBA Takeaway: Know Thyself

Years ago, one of my mentors told me that I could not “Be In My Life” unless I “Knew Thyself.” At the time, I was a wild, hippie leading backpacking trips and working on international development projects across five continents. There was no doubt to me that I was present “in my life,” but her counsel to “know thyself” seemed like self-indulgent, unproductive work which would slow down my great adventure.

At MBA launch last year, Dean Tufano exhorted our class to slow down and “listen to the small, quiet voice” within ourselves as the year played out. In his own words, he was telling us that while it would seem easy to “be in our Oxonian lives” by partaking of a thousand clubs and filling out a dozen job applications each month, it could be our own demise if we did not first and continually know ourselves.

Having already had a mentor coach me through this lesson, I tucked it into my pocket and went on my merry way into my ambitions for my post-MBA career path. However, after throwing myself full force at the industry and going through interviews in my first term, I realized it was not the right track for me and I floundered.

At that point, I gave myself permission to relax—to widen my career lens for the remaining two terms. This was my year to see the near-infinite opportunities on offer to an Oxford MBA. However, it quickly became apparent that one must have a mechanism through which to filter the constant updates about new jobs posted on the careers website, and the careers my other classmates were pursuing.

In an effort to structure my thoughts, I joined a weekly meeting with a group of classmates, who at that point had nothing else in common with me except a free window during Tuesday lunches. Each week, we committed to reading one chapter from the book “Designing Your Life” and completing the activities that followed, as a tool for discussion. Then when we met, we talked through each of our musings and helped one another to find common patterns in one another’s words week-on-week.

The process of ideating through entrenched habits, comparing passions and skills, writing through personal philosophies on work and life, and hearing one another’s backstory was not a simple feat. In the midst of valuing an entrepreneurial venture for one class and writing a paper about the future of banking in another, sitting with my own idiosyncrasies and others’ stories did not seem a fruitful activity on my to-do lists. Still, showing up each week to the group of classmates who were slowly transforming from strangers to sounding boards, from allies to friends freed me up to do some of the most important work of my year: the work of knowing myself, especially as the MBA changed me.

A week ago, I stood on stage in front of our class and publicly roasted the triple-threats of the cohort: the jobless, homeless graduates in a foreign country, knowing I was amongst them. Today, I began to panic in the face of the reality. And yet, I am reminded again that as I launch into the work of pursuing a meaningful career, the tangible skills acquired in the classroom are meaningless unless backed by and tethered by the truths I have uncovered by doing the intangible work of knowing myself.

To the 2018-2019 MBA cohort beginning in less than a week, throw yourself headlong into all that is on offer, but also build in the time to know yourself, whether that means you initiate your own “Designing Your Life” group or finding a group of strangers who will encourage you to be thoughtful about your story. Good luck!

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