Many people think MBA students have it together and know exactly what they want to do with their life. Or they are just in an MBA program to reach their goals which is specifically to make more money.
The secret is a lot of students enter their program with fear and misconceptions of an MBA.
Both Alejandro and I have gone through these fears and realized that an MBA is exactly what we needed to push ourselves to higher professional levels.
Below is a brief description of our initial fears, how we overcame them, and advice for anyone thinking of attending an MBA program.
What were you afraid of before starting an MBA?
Matt: Two years before I entered my MBA program I had lunch with a mentor and mentioned the thought of applying to business school. He said it was a great idea based on my personality and skillet.
However I was scared.
When I imagined MBA students I thought they only cared about money, would do anything to get ahead, and coming from a teaching and non-profit background I would be a complete outcast.
I did not want to go through the fears I had created in my mind. So for another two years I did not even think of an MBA until the idea came roaring back one summer morning as I was prepping for class. I was teaching summer school at the University of Houston and was trying to identify where the next chapter of my life would take me.
Those fears remained, yet I feared not trying something new even more which took me to an MBA program at Bauer College of Business.
Alejandro: My main fear was awakening the competitive and task-oriented energy that I had inside.
As a kid and teenager I would get furious when I didn’t win at anything (basketball, monopoly or any kind of argument), and I would get very passionate about anything that I was doing. I burned a lot of bridges because I didn’t know how to control and use that energy as needed. And I was letting that energy control my thoughts, feelings and actions.
Over the years I started to become more mindful, thanks to several books on the topic like The Way of The Seal by Mark Divine. Thanks to books like these and consistently doing mindful practices like meditation, I was now able to control that explosive and impulsive passion that I had.
When I was thinking about the MBA I thought I was going into an environment of pure competition, every man and woman for themselves, which would awaken the energy that I had fought so hard to control.
Another fear was that I wouldn't be at the same level of the rest of the students. In high school I started reading some of my father’s books on Investing and Business. I read books such as: Adam Grant’s Give and Take, Beating the Street by Peter Lynch, and most of Warren Buffett's books. I thought that reading those were giving me an edge in the regular world but in an MBA program for sure all the students would’ve already read those and many more.
And then add the fact that I am not a native English speaker. Because of some books that I had read on body language and public speaking before the MBA, I knew the value of being a good communicator. As an introvert it was a struggle for me to do it in Spanish, and I was sure in English it would be even harder.
How did those fears change during the program?
Matt: I was shocked at the team atmosphere at Bauer. From day one of orientation until graduation, and even beyond graduating, the faculty and staff at Bauer have been incredibly supportive. Not only the faculty and staff, but my classmates have become friends and business partners.
Most of my fears were wrong. Of course, some students were solely in the program for a six-figure payoff at graduation, yet the majority of classmates were helpful, team players, and the type of people I want to know the rest of my life as friends and colleagues.
As I write this I have a breakfast planned for tomorrow with an alumni and classmate who are both considered close friends. My MBA experience pulled me out of my comfort zone and what I found were amazing people who were both equally talented and encouraging.
Alejandro: Some of my fears turned into reality.
My competitive and passionate energy was awakened, but because it is harnessed by a strong purpose I was now able to mindfully use it and direct it to where I needed it. I’m also capable of turning it down when my task-oriented mentality can get in the way of a human connection. All of this happened because I realized that the competition is not among the students, because we are all in this together.
I realized that everyone at Bauer was willing to help me. I started reaching out to second-year students, faculty, staff, alumni, and always received a YES as my request for advice. The biggest lesson was that a mindset of abundance is not the opposite of success in business.
The competition is not about trying to get the bigger piece of the pie, but about making that pie as big as possible.
The rest of my fears went away easily. The language and cultural barrier was not as big as I thought it was, it just required a little extra work and putting myself out of my comfort zone. And I also understood that it is not about how much you know, how many books you’ve read or TED talks you have watched. It’s about how you put all that knowledge to good use, you have to take action and produce value. If you read a book or take a class, and you don’t put that knowledge into action, it’s the same as not having read the book or attended the class.
How would you advise someone thinking of an MBA?
Matt: You will not find many people who were more afraid of an MBA than myself. I never took a business course as an undergrad, I have slept in Olive Groves in Greece while on an archaeological dig, I spent my summers in Haiti serving orphans, and honestly I had a negative viewpoint of business students.
My prejudice kept me away from business school for two years and it is one of my biggest regrets. There are many nights when I think, what if I was two years ahead of where I am now?
Those are thoughts you do not want to have at night. If you have even the smallest nudge towards business school then you owe it to yourself, family, friends, and the world to explore the option. Business school refines you and what you become is someone who can make a major impact on the world at large.
Alejandro: Don’t overthink it and do it. Your background before starting your MBA will not define your success, what really matters is what you will start doing once you begin your program.
Find a school that is providing an environment where you feel at home, where your main values are in line with those of the college. Bauer is that place for me. Come visit to find out if it can become your home too.
As you can see, Alejandro and I had fears before our MBA program, yet we knew that our goals would only be reached by being pushed to greater heights.
Our MBA program has been filled with many people that have constantly pushed us. For myself, I graduated last May and am still supported by faculty, staff, classmates, and alumni. Almost everyday I receive an email or text message of encouragement, advice, or a referral for my consulting business.
Alejandro is going into his final year with a trajectory of doing something amazing with his life. Our MBA program has been a catalyst for growth.
If you have any questions about an MBA or would like information on more resources check out Your MBA Purpose a website to identify your professional purpose. Also, feel free to connect with Alejandro and myself.
This is part of a series of articles by Alejandro I. Sanoja and Matt Avery