An MBA Will Change Your Idea of Success

This is a weekly series written by Alejandro I. Sanoja and Matt Avery.

Picasso had it right, in general, good performers copy and great ones steal. One step can be added to that process.

That step is the one you will be able to take after learning and doing for a long period. Achieving success will probably start as copying and stealing best practices from great performers, that is how the journey starts. But at some point, if you want to travel happily through the road of success, you have to understand that success must be personalized.

Success has to be something that you achieve every day, with every action and thought, and that it is unique to you. We want to share with you some important steps in our journey, hoping that the information will be helpful and applicable to yours.

How did you think about success before the MBA?

Matt: take a moment to think back to when you were a child.  What did you want to be when you grew up?  Was it a singer, dancer, athlete, astronaut, or something else?  When you dreamed of your future what did you see?  

I ask because it is interesting to hear what people wanted to be compared to where they ended up.  Of course, we all grow up, life happens, and our ideas of success change.  

When I was really young I desired to be a professional basketball player, there was one large problem . . . I stopped growing at 5’8” and never dedicated enough time in practice to overcome my physical obstacles.  

In high school, my idea of success turned to becoming a college professor.  

Teaching, researching, writing, and summers doing field school were a dream.  I was fortunate enough to reach my goal and taught at two colleges by the age of 26.  

The problem was that after 4 years of teaching I did not know what to do with my life, I had reached what I thought was my ideal of success but something was missing.

Alejandro: In essence, I used to see success as winning. I had to win at anything that I did or it was a failure. Because if you are going to do something you have to be the absolute best or you are wasting your time right?

This mindset helped me excel in the things that I focused on. At a very young age I bounced around from sport to sport until my mom gave me a slight push to play basketball. I ended up playing state level basketball during my high school years and then in college.

Similar to what happened to Matt I stopped growing and decided that focusing on my studies was a safer bet. Looking back, a negative part of that mindset is that a lot of energy was wasted.

I engaged in arguments of any type just to prove my point or would get mad if a lost at monopoly, risk, FIFA, or basically any game.

How has an MBA program changed your definition of success?

Matt: My MBA experience narrowed my definition of success.  Before my MBA program I was floating through life and enjoying what I did; however, in the back of my mind there was this lingering feeling that I had no future.  

I had never really sat down to write out life goals or thought about what success would look like for me until Lisa Jammer made me put down my goals.  I remember what I wrote.  

Written in MBA orientation 2014: I don’t know what it is called, but what I really want to do is travel to third world countries with non-profit organizations to collect content like stories, photographs, and videos.  Then bring the content back and create marketing campaigns to make people more aware of marginalized populations and how to help them.  

Lisa along with an army of others helped me reach that goal and I can say that I am publishing this article from Haiti where I am collecting stories for Coreluv International, a non-profit with a goal to defend the orphan.  

So yes, my MBA changed my definition of success, but more importantly, it focused me to actually achieving what I view as success instead of just fantasizing.

Alejandro: Prior to starting the MBA program at Bauer I had already started to change my mindset of what success meant. I realized that success is more a path that we travel than a destination, at that we can make of it whatever we decided.

One of the reasons I was a bit worried about starting business school was that I thought the “winning only” mindset would emerge again due to the competitiveness of the environment.

What a misconception! Thanks to the diversity we have I’ve learned that success is whatever we each decide it is. I’ve also been influenced by the Tim Ferriss podcast and his guests, because he always asks, “when you hear of the word successful who comes to your mind and why?”. I now see that success has to be personalized but has two main elements:

  • There always has to be growth in any area (family, career, personal, health), and there has to be a reasonable balance between this areas. Growth has to be balanced across the board.
  • Adding value: you have to have a positive impact on your environment. If you are changing people's lives, even in tiny aspects, you are successful. And that can be done in many different and personalized ways.

I like to think that even mid-way through the program I am already successful. Not because of me but thanks to what I’ve been able to learn from others. I’ve gotten involved in projects that go outside my comfort zone. And thanks to that I’ve learned a lot from the best practices of my classmates that are talented in the areas that I’m not.

Do you think the definition will change in the future for you?

Matt: of course!  Years ago I never thought of non-profit organizations, helping those that are voiceless, or coaching others.  Now that is what I do on a daily basis.  I am not an expert or the best at what I do, yet I try to get better daily.  

I push myself to learn, be mentored, read, write, and execute marketing campaigns.  I say all that because a decade ago I could not have imagined being where I am now and if I am honest I have no idea where all this work will take me.  

My idea of success will be fluid but I doubt my purpose of helping others will ever change.

Alejandro: Without a doubt. I actually think that if your definition of success is not changing then you are not successful because you are not growing. As you constantly learn those new pieces of information will change your mindset, which will in turn change the way you see the world and how you think about success.

This is another great thing you learn during an MBA program, you acquire different “glasses” to see the world (operations, marketing, strategy, finance, accounting, etc.). You can sit in front a problem and have a 360 view of it.


As you can see, both Alejandro and my ideas of success completely changed over time.  As children, we viewed success through athletics but quickly realized that would not be our future. 

We had to mentally re-define what it meant to be successful.

An MBA helped to dramatically alter our perceptions and focused us on our goals.  You do not need to be in an MBA program to know your definition of success changes over time; however, just knowing it will change is not enough.  You must actively focus on you goals and shift your mindset.

In the second part of this article, we will move past our story and walk you through how to define your idea of success with tools that both of us have used.

Until then feel free to contact reach out to me and Alejandro for more information.