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"Business school seemed like an excellent way to shake up my life while building a bridge to another career"
When I wrote my first article for this series nearly two years ago, I laid out a number of reasons why going to business school made sense for me. One year into the Kellogg School of Management's MBA program, I've been thinking about a reason that I didn't articulate — at least not explicitly. I just needed a change.
Before coming to Kellogg, I had spent the majority of my professional career as a consultant, mostly helping firms implement large information systems. While I enjoyed my colleagues and appreciated the stability, I had become increasingly dissatisfied with the type of contribution I was making to the world. I had grown immeasurably since leaving college, but the long, grueling process of helping big companies make painful changes had begun poisoning my natural curiosity. Worse, this malaise had started creeping into my personal life.
Some people would call it a rut and I suppose that's where it began. As months slipped by, I felt increasingly unhappy with my trajectory. That fall, a friend died in a single-engine plane crash. She was 26 and her death was a difficult, jarring reminder that time is short, even in your early twenties. Against that backdrop, letting my energy slowly languish felt urgently unacceptable.
Shaking Up My Life
A new job might have been a reasonable prescription but I had already been looking. Unfortunately, I didn't want any of the jobs that wanted me. Or, conversely, the jobs that I found most interesting seemed frustratingly out of reach, often because I lacked the right combination of contacts, experience, or training.
I also thought about entrepreneurship but admittedly, I didn't have any inspired ideas, nor did I feel I had the business acumen, the network, or the funds to venture out on my own. While those elements might have come in time, I wasn't willing to wait around for the stars to align.
Business school, on the other hand, seemed like an excellent way to shake up my life while building a bridge to another career. Sure, it was more expensive than finding a new job and safer than starting my own business, but it fit. I'd expand my network, strengthen my credentials, and fill the holes in my formal business training, all while gaining exposure to cutting-edge ideas. Getting into a top program and doing well also presented an enticing challenge on its own. As a package, an MBA sounded like the right solution.
So, here's the $100,000 question: Has business school been the change I needed? And, more specifically, do I expect an MBA to vault me into a job that makes me happy?
I'll take the second question first.
Kellogg has certainly given me the tools and resources necessary to find a rewarding career. The school's approach to teaching has been integrated, collaborative, and thorough—top notch in every way. Whatever you've heard about business school being light on academic rigor, forget it, at least as far as Kellogg is concerned. My professors and classmates expect my best thinking, and we push each other constantly. I could have easily spent my entire career accumulating the knowledge I've gained over the last 10 months.
Seeing the World Differently
Beyond the classroom, I've developed invaluable friendships with classmates, alumni, and professors. While it's easy to count my tuition costs, it's impossible to value my newfound network. These benefits—and Kellogg's sterling reputation—will open doors for me in the future. But I'm willing to acknowledge that no job is going to make me happy on its own. Whether I'm working with a startup or a blue-chip firm, work is still going to be work. There are enough downsides, annoyances, and setbacks in any job to make it feel stale eventually. What will make me happy is working on projects that I enjoy with people I like and respect, employing my talents in a good cause, and having the flexibility to explore new and varied paths when the time is right. My MBA will help make the last element possible; finding the first two is entirely up to me.
And has business school been the change I needed? Absolutely.
Not only am I gaining more through this experience than I ever expected, but I now see the world through a lens of exponential—and attainable—possibility. Yes, even amid formidable unemployment forecasts.
More Than Inspiration
I've also reinvigorated my love of learning and indulged my sense of adventure. I've lived in two new cities (Chicago for school and Philadelphia for my summer internship), I've taken time off to travel, and I've explored industries and functions that I didn't know existed. Last fall, I met recruiters from some of the best-known companies in the world. Right now, I'm interning at an innovative startup. In May 2009, a fellow classmate and I began building the foundation of my first entrepreneurial venture.
I probably didn't need business school to do any of these things in isolation, but I can't imagine a better way to blend them all into a cohesive experience. In retrospect, the change I wanted two years ago was really a desire to find new challenges and rekindle my enthusiasm. But I found much more than inspiration during my first year at Kellogg.