"...even when you don't see the whole staircase."

First, allow me to thank you for being here, whether you've followed this blog since its formal inception in June 2012 or if you're here because you read my post last week and decided that reading what I had to say could regularly be worth a little of your time. What I shared last week was among the most honest things I have shared on this blog and probably my proudest post since I fully committed to writing in this space in June 2012. The number and types of people who read this post, ranging from all times and spheres of my life, positively astonished me as much as inspired me. The support and love I received for it from all of you seriously blew me away, and I thank you, thank you again, and hope you'll keep reading.  

Given that it's Martin Luther King Day,  I wanted to come out with a really strong and elaborate post on dreams, weighing in on something huge and worthy of Dr. King, like Humanity or Justice (with a capital H and J). But what seemed more appropriate was to share this story in the spirit of Dr. King's words on dreams and faith.

I had no intention of being a researcher at HBS when I graduated college--I wanted to be a student there, a member of the Class of 2016 and future leader in international business. My senior year, I had applied to 2+2, HBS's deferred admission program, and despite my efforts, I was rejected. I didn't even get an interview.

My first year of working at HBS, I reminded of my rejection on a daily basis, and I tried to take my mind off of the sense of failure by figuring out other careers and degrees I might want to pursue. I toyed around with possibilities of work for companies on which I was writing case studies. I humored law school and a career in Chinese patent law. But the dream of the MBA wouldn't keep quiet, and while I finally admitted it was what I wanted, but told myself I could not apply to a program until I knew exactly why I wanted it.

In summer 2013, while working as a consultant to a MBA student with a yoga/wellness/nutrition startup in the Harvard iLab, I started thinking of grandiose ideas for food businesses, waxing poetic on phone calls with an entrepreneurial friend. Then I went on this legendary retreat weekend in New Hampshire and came back to Boston on August 26th with the clear, fully-formed (and totally insane) decision to actually start a food business. The next morning,  I decided that it was time to apply to a MBA program--I finally knew why I wanted it. To some people, a MBA program meant little more than $100K of networking and a few zeros added to your paycheck two years later. But to me, never having learned the fundamentals of accounting or finance, a MBA was what I needed to succeed in business. Specifically, something in the food and health business.

I faced a lot of judgment when I decided to pluck up my courage and apply to MBA programs at the end of August. "That's an expensive, BS degree," countless people told me. "You don't have nearly enough experience," was another one I heard often. It stung because it was statistically true: the average applicant came into the program with five years under his or her belt. The barb that hurt the most though was, "They don't want more humanities majors. They're into engineers now." Whether or not this was actually true, this felt true for me: while this comparative literature major had been rejected from 2+2, a peer who was a financial engineer had been admitted.

Just weeks before the first round of deadlines, I traveled to China for work. I was filled with doubt about whether to go through the application process for the fall until I reconnected with my friend Scott, whom I'd met on my last trip to Shanghai in June. In conversation over some weird fruit bowl at an even weirder juice bar on Nanjing Xi Lu, I learned he was applying to MBA joint degree programs. I told him I had been thinking about doing my MBA, too, but a lot of reasons from friends and family were holding me back. I started going through the reasons, and I must have looked visibly deflated as I listed them all. Then Scott, the sunniest spirit in the smog of Shanghai, interrupted me: "Erica, if this is something you really want, who cares about them! Do it!" The rest of my time in Shanghai, we met up daily to write essays for our respective programs, and I returned to the US with a full draft of my application to MIT and partial drafts to Kellogg and Berkeley.

One of my favorite quotations of all time, appropriately enough for today, is from Martin Luther King Jr.


Applying to these MBA programs was an act of faith. I had no idea what would happen. I feared my friends were right and it was too soon to have applied. I was terrified of being rejected again, especially as I applied this time around with so much more conviction and purpose than I had in college. I had put my soul on paper (and in video) and there it was for three institutions to evaluate and either embrace or crush. But one month ago today, the school I loved let me know it loved me back.

In seven months, I'll officially be starting the program, and while getting in feels like being at the top of some staircase, it's really just another step. School and whatever comes after--whether it's trying to implement my bigger business idea or working for an established company--is going to be unpredictable and even more challenging. But I have to believe in one step at a time and the more faith I have walking up, the more fun and the more wondrous the view from the top. If there really is one.