Making Your MBA Work for You

Making Your MBA Work for You

By Jake Richardson, Contributor

The acronym “FOMO” – fear of missing out – has officially made it. Last fall, the mantra was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, a harbinger of the word’s popularity, if not its stupidity. And it is in these times that we have elected to pursue a graduate degree. But not just any degree, a business degree. Or a networking degree, as your ‘working’ friends chortle when you complain about the work, or recruiting, or social events that you just have to attend. But inside our tiny vacuum, these are real concerns. The brevity of a two year MBA program has imposed upon us a false need to cram every last activity in. As we were all told in our first week of orientation, you will be deciding how to allocate your time across three discrete buckets: academics, recruiting, and socializing. What our orientation leaders failed to disclose was the extent to which we would measure ourselves against the overachievers in each category (neglecting to recognize that excellence in one of these three categories is oft at the expense of the other two).

As a career student, I have spent almost the entirety of my life in school, and practice most certainly makes perfect. I have been through many orientations, and have seized on amazing opportunities here at UCLA, but also failed to capitalize on others. Through all of this, I have synthesized a makeshift system for maintaining focus on why I am here, and what I want to get out of my experience at Anderson. Those foundational notions are provided below, at no cost – well, at no additional cost:

1. Don’t Do Things You Don’t Want to Do. Sounds simple enough. But, the reality is that many of us spend almost all of our time in our first year attending on-campus days, DOJs, informationals, lunches, career fairs, etc. that we don’t really care for. When asked by a friend whether we’ll be attending, we sense an upwelling anxiety about our decision: Who else is attending? What recruiters will be there? What if my dream job is there and I miss it? In fact, your dream job might be at that career fair. It might! And you might miss it. But, the chances are, if you planned on attending because you were afraid to not attend, your dream job is waiting for you somewhere else.

With each decision, no matter how big or small, career related, or social or academic in nature, ask yourself: Do I actually want to be doing this? UCLA Anderson now costs $167,612 for non-residents. With $167K (after taxes, mind you), think of all of the places you could go and things you could do. It is financially irresponsible to spend a single minute here at Anderson doing things you do not want to be doing. One caveat, however: when we find ourselves saying “No, I don’t want to do this,” we must ask the follow-on: But, is it necessary to get me where I want to go? Sometimes, tedium cannot be avoided. If it must be done, we should be sure that it is a requisite to get us where we want to be.

2. Hit the Bulls Eye, Not the Target. When Harold Koh was Dean at Yale Law School, he gave the convocation remarks to the entering class one year. And in his speech to a new tranche of eager future politicians and regulators and lawyers, he reportedly stated that “yours is the generation that will die having kept all of its options open.”

Newsflash, Andersonians: if you are here, you have achieved greatness! You are in a select group of less than 5,000 of your peers at comparable Business Schools. You are the 1% of the 1% of academic achievement. This place, Anderson, this is what you were keeping your options open for all of this time. So enough of thinking of our jobs as setting us up for the future; the future is now! Seize this opportunity to commit to a career that you can really invest in.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask. Over the course of my two graduate degrees at UCLA, I have traveled to three continents on the school’s dime. I have been named an International Fellow, a Grammy Foundation Fellow, and a Peter Bren Real Estate Fellow (all of which come with compensation, none of which are similar to one another). I have taken undergraduate screenwriting for core credit. And, this is the tip of the iceberg. I say all of this not to brag, but rather to point out that these seemingly incongruous activities are yours for the taking, if you just ask.

Each one of these events in my time here can be traced directly back to a time when I asked a question that hadn’t been posed before. Too often, I find that we are afraid here at Anderson to color outside the lines, assuming instead that no one is doing it because we aren’t allowed. But in fact, the answer is almost always yes: people hate to say no! Here at Anderson, everyone around you is wholly invested in your success and well-being, and if I’ve found one thing, it’s that they bend over backwards to make things happen for you. But you have to ask!

In short, if I could synthesize my experience at UCLA into three brief statements, which have allowed me to really make the most of my time here: (i) Don’t do things you don’t want to do; (ii) Hit the bulls eye, not the target; and (iii) Don’t be afraid to ask.

Business school is inherently a very personal journey. Despite overwhelming FOMO to the contrary, there is no singularly right way to go about it. But, there is most certainly a wrong way.

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