Before I had any clue how crazy my schedule would become, I signed up for a Chinese conversation partner through MIT's Language Conversation Exchange. Twice a week for an hour, Kai, a Petroleum Engineering Master's Candidate from Beijing, and I meet, he to improve his English and I to maintain my Chinese. The comparison I use to describe my Chinese proficiency is cookie crumbs. Cookie crumbs taste like cookies and smell like cookies even though they have lost the beautiful integrity of their cookie shape. Similarly, my pronunciation is good, my understanding is good, but my go-to word bank has significantly disintegrated.
Needing to get away from the two buildings between which I had spent my entire day, I asked my language partner to meet me at Clover in Kendall Square. The restaurant is matter of meters away from Sloan, but it's far enough to forget about my strategy assignment on Monday and reconnect with myself. Sitting in the open kitchen, I'm centered again by the passion that brought me to this MBA program to begin with--a passion for food and a fascination with the industry.
I was already late on account of running into a friend who had filmed the first cut of my bakery crowdfunding campaign last year, and just as Kai and I were about to sit down for our Chinglish session for the next 45 minutes, I got caught up in conversation with another familiar face from my pre-business school life. He was a farmer whom I'd met at the Somerville Armory Farmers Market last January, when I was roots-deep in the Boston local food scene. When the 2PM hour rolled around, he generously gave me a 10+ pound bag of the most beautiful turnips and beets and carrots in exchange for any baked goods I hadn't sold.
He was just as kind meeting him again over eight months later in the middle of the Kendall Square Clover, where he was hoping to get subscribers to a winter share with his farm. It wasn't exactly working at the 5PM hour, when Kendall experiences its workday exodus and people wanted to grab their chickpea fritter sandwiches and go.
Especially when I realized he was sitting with the Communications Director of Clover, who was trying to promote his farm share, I began counting down the minutes of my language conversation exchange session. Clover had expanded a lot in the past few years and was starting its first out-of-Boston operations in D.C., and as a b-school nerd intrigued by food business strategy, I couldn't focus for the rest of the session. I was probably wasting my dear Chinese friend's time at this point, as the only English I wanted to use was to talk about food businesses, which isn't necessarily the most practical thing for a Chinese exchange student. But I was impassioned. I was on fire. And nothing could put me out.
On a night that most of my peers were going to a "Big 3" consulting recruiting session, I was reminded of myself back in undergrad, attending presentations for every big company panel. Regardless whatever doubts I'd carried into the room, I'd always leave the panels and networking events feeling really excited about the opportunities. "This is perfect for me," I'd convince myself. "Money, travel, growth opportunities, exposure to various industries, smart, hard-working people. What's not to like?"
I didn't realize just how deeply I was getting brainwashed. And when I interviewed for and got none of those jobs, I felt defeated and confused. I asked myself every day, "Why didn't I get this job?" and the answers ranged from, "Because you're not smart enough," "Because you're not cool enough," "Because you're not competent enough," all of which stemmed from one awful reason of, "Because you're worthless." Which wasn't real, but it sure felt like it.
Thinking about my friends headed to the MBA version of the presentations I attended as an undergrad and sitting in a restaurant that exemplifies many of my career ambitions and personal values, I asked myself again: "Why didn't I get that job?" This time, no longer beating myself up relentlessly, I got a different series of answers: "Because it's not what you really wanted," "Because you weren't supposed to be there," and, "Because you had a better story in store."
I didn't know myself well enough then to realize that the lifestyle wasn't one for me. I didn't trust myself well enough to believe that I could be myself and live without shame of what I wanted, even if it was something different from what everyone else was doing.
Now I know this is the voice to trust as I enter recruiting once again. This is what I will have to tell myself, which came through my head so clearly crossing the street from the Kendall Clover, high on good feelings and the sugar from a pear soda, and heading back toward the classroom:
"You're allowed to want something else. In fact, you're meant for it."