Engineering Identity: Reflecting on (Almost) One Year at MIT Sloan

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I was in the same shoes of the eager beavers (pun intended) who joined us last weekend as AdMITs to next year’s MBA cohort at MIT Sloan. Spending last Friday night with lovely MBA ’16s and likely ’17s, glasses full of sangria and table full of tapas, it was hard for me not to be taken back to the memories of my own AdMIT weekend. Sloan didn’t have to sell me–among the schools to which I applied, there nowhere else I’d rather have been. So AdMIT weekend for me wasn’t about distinguishing between options but rather an opportunity to get a head start on meeting people in my class.

I remember my dinner at Rendezvous in Central Square, which I spent fascinated by two of my soon-to-be classmates for completely different reasons: one was sipping a coke with Fernet Blanca (apparently a thing they do in Argentina) and casually mentioning going for a 20-mile run the next morning; the other, hailing from Russia, was talking between bites of tapas about his times working for the Mexican government, his tone stoic relative to the drama of the stories he related. I remember the SWIM brunch at the Liberty Hotel, where my sense of self alternated between utterly intimidated and painfully boring as I listened to future classmates describe their lives before Sloan and exciting summer plans they had in the run-up to August. Worn out from the activities the previous two days, too tired to make small talk, I spent my time meditating on the architecture of the venue, a jail-turned-boutique hotel architecture (and one of my all-time favorite places in Boston). The last thing I recall doing is feebly brushing up on my Chinese with a visiting student and a MBA ’15 who also knew Mandarin and who, at the time, terrified me (who is now one my favorite people at Sloan and among the five MBA ’15s students I will miss the most.)

Much like the rest of my first year here at Sloan, the weekend was a whirlwind. And more than the moments above, I remember my feelings from that weekend. In particular, I remember the feeling of self-doubt.

All the people with whom I interacted over that weekend and I had the obvious in common–a desire to earn a MBA to advance their careers and a “yes” from MIT Sloan. This cohort, statistically and artistically engineered by the nebulous AdCom, was to be “my tribe.” Yet the more people I talked to, the more anxious I felt. I wondered how I could ever connect with these people who seemed so different from me. Better educated. More experienced. Better traveled. Older. Wiser. And so on.

I had no idea what AdCom had seen in me. I had no idea how I could possibly contribute to this place. I certainly had no idea what my role would be in this this cast of characters.

Over time, my identities have shifted. In college, I was “the a cappella singer” and “the language kid,” studying 6 different languages, feet traversing no more than 400 meters but mind jumping across at least three continents from class to class. Prior to Sloan, I was both “the gluten-free baker,” “the entrepreneur” and “the China expert.” Long ago, I was the “closeted beauty nerd” whose allowance was strategically allocated across skincare products and makeup brands (a part of myself I’ll get to seriously indulge again at while working at Sephora this summer). Always, I was “the overachiever.”

As for who I am a year later at MIT Sloan? Based on feedback from friends: “The Yarn Organizer.” “The blogger.” One of “the food people.” “The HBS casewriter.” But the thing I’m proudest of my identity here is the part I share with so many others. It’s that I’m here. I’m a Sloanie. And I get to take that part of my identity with me well beyond my two years on this campus.

So snap back to last Friday when I sat near two MBA ’17s who served in the military, reflecting on their AdMIT weekend thus far. One cited the challenge of “learning the lingo,” with which I immediately sympathized, coming to my MBA from a similarly unconventional (but totally different) background. Another mentioned his awe at the “diversity of thought” here was encountering at Sloan after 8 years of service. It seemed they felt what I’d been feeling: that their conversations with their peers left them more confused than reassured about their MBA mission and about what they were bringing to the table–or into the boardroom, more like.

Running on little sleep, my ability to restrain my stream of consciousness from future Sloanies was especially off, and I recall blurting out a whole mess of advice, which may or may not have been helpful. Still what I was going for was communicating something like this: “Don’t forget what you’re feeling and thinking right now. It will be easy to forget when you get so busy here. But don’t. Write everything down now, and while you’re here, reflect as often as you can. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll remember who you were and take pride in who you have become.”

Half-thoughts aside, I smiled thinking about them being in my place this time next year, reflecting on all the ways in which their lives will have changed since this April. And I’m smiling now, thankful for the opportunity to take my own advice here and now on this blog, two weeks away from the end of my own incredible first year.

Originally published at mitsloan.mit.edu on April 28, 2015.