Embarking on my business school journey means big change for me—moving across the country, meeting hundreds of new people, and asking my brain to do math for the first time in several years. My coping strategy has included the creation of something of a superhero alter ego named Business School Lindsay. She wears pantsuits. Look out, Philadelphia. She’s on her way.
Perhaps I should spend a few minutes introducing the current version of Lindsay. I grew up in Los Angeles, went to Vanderbilt (Go, ‘Dores), studied cognitive science and Russian, and was both a cheerleader and the head of our campus television station (though not at the same time, as that might have caused the world to implode). I came back to L.A. after I graduated and have worked in entertainment for five years, editing movie trailers and commercials. So fine, I’m not Ms. Traditional Business Background, but I’ve met many other outliers in my application/matriculation process. Nontraditional, it seems, is the new black.
I first contemplated applying to business school when the company I worked for went out of business and I found myself in a bit of a free fall. The timing was off—I would have been taking the GMAT about six seconds later and scrambling to get applications in for Round 3, which didn’t seem like the right way to go about things. Plus, I fell into a great new job right away, which took the urgency out of the situation. But even though things had worked themselves out fairly easily, I soon noticed that my feelings of panicked free fall had already given way to another, more exhilarating feeling: weightlessness, and with it the realization that what I did next really didn’t have to be the logical follow-up to what I had done before.
All right, fine. Live the dream. But what, then? Who was I going to be if not Lindsay the trailer editor? And if I managed to figure out that part, was I actually going to be capable of changing tack? Or was I going to be like one of those dogs you see on America’s Funniest Home Videos, which you pick up out of the water and its legs still think they’re swimming?
I got very philosophical about the whole thing. I journaled. I soul-searched. A few weeks and one dog-eared copy of What Color is Your Parachute? later (thanks, Dad), I had something close to an answer. I thrive under conditions that are somewhat unstructured and ambiguous. The idea of creating and defining my position within a young company, perhaps even my own, is tremendously exciting to me. I’m also attracted to positions within larger, established companies that have something of a “startup” feel, like the launch of a new product or department.
There’s something else you should know about me. If I want to do something, I tend to just … do it. Throw it at me—I’ll figure it out. I’ve taught myself complicated software. I’ve dismantled electronics. I’ve personally assembled every piece of furniture in my apartment (which may explain why my bookshelf appears to have had too much to drink). So the idea of sitting around and talking about stuff for two years instead of just doing it was initially hard to wrap my stubborn, independent head around. I envisioned myself as the lone, rogue cowboy who didn’t need a highfalutin diploma to prove myself. Wouldn’t it be all the more impressive if I went it alone?
OTHER ROGUE COWBOYS?
And that’s what did it. Alone. The one thing about editing that I never quite got used to was its solitary nature—working in a windowless, soundproof room. I’d burst out of my edit bay after a long session like a person coming out of The Hole—desperate to catch a glimpse of sunlight and talk to anyone who would indulge me. “Alone” was not an appealing concept. During my business school research, I’d picked the brains of lots of people who’d gone through it. “O.K., so you’ve told me a few reasons you chose to go to [whatever school they went to]. Was there anything that you didn’t even know to expect, but that ended up making you really happy you went there?” No matter where they had gone to school, nearly all of them said, “The people.” All of the sudden I started to see business school not as a passive, sit-in-a-chair-and-write-stuff-down kind of thing, but as an active process, one in which I could engage with similarly driven individuals—maybe even another rogue cowboy or two.
At this point, even though I’d talked myself into applying, I still had no idea what these schools would think of me and my notably business-free background. Would they see me as a rare, exotic bird or as a kid too short to ride the roller coaster? I channeled the bird, and figured she would aim high. So aim high I did. And at about 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 17, I screamed, “Are you serious? That’s awesome!” into the phone, nearly deafening the first-year student who had called to tell me I’d gotten into University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. I know, I know. You wouldn’t expect a fancy bird to get her feathers so easily ruffled, but of all the schools I applied to … Wharton? Stuffy, intimidating, finance-y, Wall Street-y Wharton? Me? Go there?
It took about five minutes at the Wharton Winter Welcome (the school is big on the W’s, it turns out) to shatter every stereotype I had. (Well, not every stereotype. Winter in Philadelphia is, in fact, substantially colder than it is in West Hollywood.) It felt good being there. I liked the buildings, the classrooms, and what I learned about the program. Even though I was months away from being their official classmate, I could already clearly fast-forward to a time when I’d be saying that the people were what made my experience so incredible.
Excitement is high, and so are feelings of calculus-induced nausea. My head is stuffed with questions: Am I going to like it? Are people going to eat lunch with me? Can I actually pull this off?
My superhero pantsuit is pressed and ready to go. Let’s do this thing.