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My parents always taught me to be an independent thinker. Whenever possible, they allowed me to make my own choices—even if that meant I might make mistakes along the way. When I was age 7, my mom gave me a budget for school clothes and allowed me to decide how best to allocate it. While I spent an entire year dressed from head to toe in purple, I also learned to align a budget appropriately against long-term priorities.
If I was a decisive child, I graduated from college more confident in my thinking and ideas. Quirky, creative, and unafraid to color outside the lines, I had much to offer an employer, but I was a terrible fit for a role within the typical corporation. I grew up 30 minutes north of Manhattan, and though my friends were lining up jobs in the city and renting almost comically small rooms in shared apartments, I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. Dressing in stockings and heels on a daily basis and heading to a job at a Wall Street firm, or even a Madison Avenue ad agency, held limited appeal.
Despite my clarity about what I did not want to do, I had little insight into the type of job that would make me happy. Armed with heavy student loans, I did not have the luxury of being a lady of leisure while I tried to “find myself.” Instead, I moved back into my mother’s house and took on a temporary role working at a small startup in Union Square.
While the epiphany I was waiting for did not surface in either the bustle of Union Square or in the relative serenity of my childhood bedroom, I received a visit from a college friend. She was working at Google in the San Francisco area and described it as being “unlike anything you could imagine.” I had read about the many perks Google offered its employees, but what appealed to me was not free lunches or gyms located onsite. Rather, it was that I wanted to be among creative, smart people who would see my quirkiness as an asset rather than a deficit.
A few months later I was living in San Francisco and working at Google’s headquarters in the heart of Silicon Valley. I was given the rather ambiguous title of “advertising associate,” which was, in actuality, something of a glorified customer service representative. Strangely, I did not care. Even if I was in a customer service function, Google was a company rife with opportunities to innovate and shake up the status quo.
As predicted, Google was indeed a place where I could be successful. In the four and a half years I spent there, I worked in three official functions and on dozens of projects related to the monetization of AdWords, Google’s advertising product. Although I was engaged in my work, at some point I naturally began to think about next steps. Particularly as a woman who intends to have both a career and a family, I knew I needed to shape my career early on; later, there would be far less time.
At some point, I decided that my long-term career goal was to manage and own a boutique consulting firm focused on brand strategy. This stems from both my fascination with all things brand related—the assignments I enjoyed most at Google were always those that gave me the opportunity to work with advertisers on their broader marketing strategy—and my longtime fantasy of being my own boss.
When I thought about how to achieve this, business school was an option, but one I quickly dismissed. It was too mainstream, antithetical to the way I saw myself. Why would I go to business school when I could be getting real-world experience?
My grandfather was an entrepreneur who had built two businesses from the ground up. Given that he himself had become quite successful without the benefit of a college degree, I was very surprised when he recommended that I consider an MBA. When I asked him to explain his rationale, my grandfather responded with a question of his own: If my generation managed to get our clothes perfectly clean without the benefit of a machine, why does your generation insist on using a washer and dryer? In other words, building a business with the benefit of an education was more efficient. Of course, it was easier than starting from the ground up, but when did easy become a bad thing?
Mulling over my grandfather’s words, it occurred to me that, as usual, he was right. For one thing, in order to start a business, I needed a better sense of the way a business operates. I’ve never managed another person, and while I’ve led a variety of projects from the ground up, I’ve done so within the cocoon of a successful organization. In addition, especially in the beginning, wooing clients would be a lot easier if I had a degree that signifies I’ve received the appropriate level of training. For better or worse, having an MBA improves a person’s credibility.
Once I had committed to entering a full-time MBA program, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management emerged pretty quickly as my first choice. The school boasts a flexible curriculum with robust programming in both entrepreneurship and marketing and allows students to blend theoretical learning with practical application. Further, attending the weekend for admitted students, I found that the school is likely to be a strong fit for me socially as well as academically. My future classmates appeared to be friendly, intelligent, and diverse, not only demographically but also in their thinking and experiences.
And, of course, all else being equal, warm weather and proximity to the beach never hurt anyone. In the unlikely event that business school proves to be a total waste of time, I can always drop out and learn to surf instead.
Between journal entries, you can keep track of Yael’s business school adventures at the Business Schools Facebook page.
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