To the Class of 2017: Get Ready for Your Second Chance

While I don’t have regrets about my MBA experience, I’d be lying if I said there was nothing I wish I’d done differently. There are plenty of things I’d have changed about my second year, in particular, from classes I wish I’d taken to places I wish I’d traveled. If there were any business school in the business of time travel, MIT Sloan would be the one, but the reality of it is that my two years here are done and there’s nothing I can do to set the clock back and do it again.

I generally avoid dwelling on the things I didn’t do or should have done at MIT, but in meeting up with my handful of friends in the Class of 2017, the question of how to do second year “right” inevitably comes up. And while my advice is completely subjective, here’s what I have to say on the subject—and it’s a list of three because this is business school.

1. Break the “senior-freshman” barrier with the people in the incoming class. It’s worth it for them and for you.

Being a second year in business school is like being a senior in college—you walk around confident in how to get from place to place and what’s generally expected of you. Being a first year, at least during the core semester, is a lot like being a freshman in college—you’re both excited and confused as you adjust to a very strange and new experience.

As former freshmen and soon-to be seniors of business school, I urge you to find time to hang out with next year’s freshmen. Looking back, I wish I’d made an effort to get to know more of the first year class—for all the wonderful people there are in my year, there are just as many magical people in the class below that I’ll never get to know. I have to admit: I often forgot that all of the first years who were “younger than me” (on account of being in b-school for less time) were actually older, wiser, and more seasoned than I am in topics I wanted to understand, work I wanted to explore, and life experiences I wanted to have.

Whatever that “gateway” looks like for you to connect to the incoming class, whether it’s TA-ing a course, participating in a club, or partying after a C-function, take advantage of it. Your experience here will have been richer for having done. While I believe I made the most of getting to know 400 people in my class, I could have made more of the opportunity to know a bigger chunk of the 400 in the class above mine and the 400 in the class below mine.

Some of my most meaningful friendships from MIT are with people who were second years when I was a first year. They offered invaluable advice, perspective, and kindness on many things regarding the MBA but on many more things regarding life, and I can’t imagine my Sloan experience without them. For those of you in the Class of 2017 reading this who know me, I hope your Sloan experience was better for having known me, and I hope you can make a few people in the Class of 2018 feel the same way.

2. There’s a wide world outside of E40, 51, 52, and 62. Explore it!

Earlier this year, I wrote about my experience cross-registering at HBS and how valuable it was within my greater MBA experience. While I’m glad I learned a few things across the Charles River, if only I’d ventured beyond East Campus to take a course at “Greater MIT,” or at least walked a few blocks to take a class at the Media Lab.

Administrators speak so often about “One Sloan” and the power of the MIT community, but the reality is that the number of people who truly take advantage of it is relatively small. It’s far easier and more convenient to swim in our “Sloanie pond” with people whose backgrounds and experiences—even in all their diversity—resemble one another’s far more closely than they resemble a PhD’s or an undergrad’s. I’d argue that MBAs and students in other Sloan portfolio programs have more in common with one another than they do with anything you’d find on Main Campus. If you really want to learn from people who are different from you, step outside your comfort zone yet again and spend some time away from Course 15.

That said, I’m grateful for the MIT memories made outside of my Kendall Square shell. I taught a couple cooking classes for the Food and Agriculture Club. I went on a Birthright trip to Israel with many MIT undergrads, recent alumni, and current graduate students. I performed in this year’s Vagina Monologues, where I found myself regularly inspired by my smart and spirited cast-mates—I only wish that I’d taken the chance to really be their classmates.

You may be a graduate student, but you’re still part of a world class institution and a culture that goes with it. Go study in the library under the dome. Attend a lecture you find on a poster in the “Infinite Corridor.” Take a class if you feel called to it. Whatever it takes for you to appreciate that you don’t just go to Sloan—you go to MIT Sloan.

3. You do you—and feel no shame or FOMO for doing you.

I never took Finance 2, Macroeconomics, or the other 5 or so classes highly regarded for their famous faculty. I didn’t go on any study tours or treks abroad. I didn’t do G-Lab. I don’t think I went to BHP more than 3 times during my MBA. These are just a few of the things I chose not to do and about which I sometimes wonder, “What if I did?”

Then I remember: not doing Finance 2 or Macroeconomics made room for “enActing Leadership” and “Building Successful Careers and Organizations.” Not going on study tours and treks allowed me time to reconnect with people from the non-MBA world and return enriched with the balance and perspective I needed to make it through the rest of my MBA. Choosing the lesser-known L-Lab over G-Lab gave me the most valuable education in teamwork and systems thinking within organizations from my entire time at Sloan. Every time I chose to go home and rest instead of staying up for social events, I had more energy to put into people, organizations, and causes I cared about during my MBA, writing this blog among them.

Just because we’re all in the same program doesn’t mean we all have the same goals for earning a MBA. So don’t feel so pressured to learn what others are learning, apply where others are applying, or do what others are doing during their time here. This time is yours to use in the way that’s best for you, and the money you paid for your MBA is an investment in yourself. Instead of using that time and money comparing yourself to others, find the courage and hold onto the strength to focus on what you want from your experience here, especially in your second year. It’s worth it. You’re worth it. And your best friends here will be those who support you in doing you.

A bunch of 2017s have asked me, “How do you feel being done?” I’m not sure I can answer because it hasn’t hit me yet: That in two weeks I’ll be donning a graduation cap and regalia. That in two months I’ll be looking at Sloan from the other side of the Charles from the office of my new job. That all these people who’ve defined my last two years will return to their respective corners of the world and we’ll be living our lives apart once again.

Even though the end hasn’t completely dawned on me (and when it does, it’s likely I’ll feel sad), my response to the question of how I feel is this: “I feel ready.” I’m ready to take on what’s next in my career and put my mind, hand, and heart into it. I’m ready to see how far around the world and into the future these friendships go. Class of 2017, I’m ready to watch you seize your second chances in your second year. Live it up so much that this time, next year, you’ll feel ready, too.

Congratulations on finishing your first year. Have a wonderful summer. Stay in touch, get in touch, and get ready,

Erica

Originally published at mitsloan.mit.edu on May 20, 2016.