10 Weeks a Graduate: A Post-MBA Update Email

Views expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

Twice a year, I write update email to my old professors and bosses, keeping them posted on what I've been up to in the half-year since we last connected. Below is what I wrote in the most recent update. I found it fitting to post this letter as this month's piece since this blog began four years ago as "the open letter" to anyone who cared about me and wanted to know what I was doing in my life.

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I’ve had a hard time writing since June. Or, more accurately, I’ve made a lot of excuses to not write over the last two months. “Post-MBA life is so busy,” was the main one, and, “I’m afraid of having nothing to say,” was the second. At any rate, this weekend, four weeks into a new apartment, new job, and fully-formed new life after graduate school, I decided to put both these thoughts aside and put fingers to keyboard.

Here’s how I’ve spent the last few months:

Since graduating on June 3rd, I spent the next month decompressing from business school (as I wrote in the last post) and taking a few trips—Chicago for a long weekend of food, drink, and improv shows, and twice back to NJ/NY to see family and celebrate friends’  weddings, which are suddenly becoming frequent commitments. The travels weren’t as exotic as some of the global adventures my peers took after graduation, but I never really bought into the “extravagant trips” part of the MBA experience, and I’m relieved that that part of my life is now over. I saved most of my spare money and energy this summer for moving into a new apartment with my boyfriend in Chinatown. It’s a 20-minute walk to my new office, and while it’s summer in Boston, it’s nice to be outside and take in the sight of Boston Common and Copley Square in my morning commute before they’re teeming with Pokemon Go players. 

Speaking of the job, I started at Wayfair in Boston four weeks ago as a Product Manager for the largest of its four Lifestyle Brands, Joss and Main. After 2 years at MIT, I had hoped I’d have a better answer to the question of “What does a Product Manager do?” The best I can say to friends and family these days is, “It differs by company, and even differs within my company, but in my specific role, anything that involves the look, feel, and functionality of Joss and Main’s website on a laptop and phone is my responsibility." Most of my time is spent identifying problems to fix on the website (totally real example: your shipping address doesn’t show up when checking out) or brainstorming new things to build and getting senior management to buy into them (totally fictional example: if there were a multi-million dollar opportunity in making a filter feature to better help animal-loving customers find wall art exclusively with pictures of dogs, I would be the one making the case for building the filter and then leading my team to make it happen). 

Despite graduating with a master’s degree from a school of management, I’m far from good at the management part of my job yet. This makes sense because I’ve never actually managed people before—and when it comes to managing people, managing engineers has its particular challenges. Then there’s the added challenge of communicating with and managing the expectations of my business stakeholders in marketing and merchandising. They’re mostly ex-"Big 3" Consultants who are hardcore data junkies. So to the engineers, I need to speak in code, and to the stakeholders, I need to speak in numbers. 

In that regard, my life seems like it hasn’t changed at all since my life as a Comparative Literature major in college—today I’m still learning new languages and practicing them simultaneously. In the effort to be patient with myself in this transition, I’ve even likened this job to my experience learning Chinese: in the first two months, I could barely say two words without one of them being a mistake, but by the time I was nine weeks in, things were starting to click and I could say a sentence with confidence. Tomorrow starts my fifth week, so I’m hoping in another month, I’ll feel like I’m getting closer to “proficient” in all things Wayfair, and maybe, six months in, approaching “fluent."

Especially with the Olympics on, I've had an interesting time to reflect on how my sense of identity has changed pretty much every year for the last five years. Five years ago, I was in Beijing and Rio doing thesis research on the Olympics, and people in college knew me as “the language person.” When I started my job at HBS and wrote case studies on Chinese companies for the MBA program, I was “the China expert.” Next year, starting up the baking business in Boston, I was  “the food entrepreneur.” My last two years, I was “the MBA blogger/storyteller/podcaster” and “the girl who was interested in the food industry but interned at Sephora.” I want to be known for more than being a product manager at Wayfair, but it means actively considering the questions of who I am and what I care about outside of the office. But for now, I’m just trying to find some solid ground in a time of major transition. Or, to continue the Olympics talk, trying to “stick my landing” like all these very inspiring gymnasts.

I hope you’ve been well and would love to hear what you’ve been up to the last few months. And needless to say, if you’re in the market for home furnishings and decor, let me know. I’m a little biased, but Joss and Main has a fabulous selection and you’ve got someone inside with a great corporate discount :)

Warmly,

Erica