It is over. In mid-May, I walked down Locust Walk with my classmates, listened to Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet, Inc. give the commencement speech to the Class of 2016, received my scroll, tossed my cap into the air, and officially ended my two years at Wharton.
In the period of time between the end of my time at Wharton and the beginning of my new post-MBA career, I find myself reflecting on the last two years. (Parenthetically, I can neither confirm nor deny the statement that there might have been a few fingers of whisky involved in the reflection.)
I suspect that I will revisit this topic two years from now, after two years in a completely different industry and role from the industry and role I had pre-MBA. For now, though, I will essay a few thoughts on what business school has meant to me, at this point in time.
If I had to define my two years at Wharton, I would define it as the art of embracing serendipity. From volunteering to lead (and win) tug of war at Cluster Olympics, to dancing on stage in the Cluster Dance-off, to being auctioned as a date—after a surprise nomination in my first year—for Winter Ball, the one constant of my MBA experience has been embracing serendipity.
This approach to life has also been part of the way I approach my summer internship search while at Wharton: have a well thought out plan for what you want to do, but be open to unexpected opportunities. From exploring venture capital private equity and asset management roles in the U.S., Europe and Asia, to finally choosing to develop and execute a fundraising strategy for a venture capital fund in Latin America, sometimes interesting opportunities you hadn’t thought of emerge unbidden. I’ve seen a remarkable country that is recovering from decades of low-intensity conflict and drug trafficking, and had the great honor to see a number of entrepreneurial ventures tailored to local conditions at Polymath Ventures. And I’ve had the great pleasure of exploring—on the weekends—one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited (and I have, by the way, visited quite a few beautiful countries).
Even my approach to full-time recruitment has been focused on staying open to unexpected opportunities, with the exception of excluding investment banking and consulting. I would not recommend my approach to anyone who has a fear of uncertainty, but it worked out—after some nerve-wracking moments—for me.
If you are pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, you will fail. I did, quite a few times while I was at Wharton. I will not go into too much detail here, but I will say that failure should be part of your MBA experience. It’s the surest way to know that you are not taking the path of least resistance.
Don’t be afraid to fail. That’s something I learned at Wharton that I hadn’t really learned anywhere else. Wharton was, in many ways, a safe environment to fail, because the consequences of failing are so much less severe than they would have been in the “real world”.
My two years at Wharton were a period of exploration. I traveled in South America, Japan, and the UAE. While on one of Wharton’s GMCs, I learned about the challenges facing the majority of the Gulf Cooperation Council states with oil prices falling well below their budgetary break even points, and the strategic directions some states were taking to adapt. I discovered that my preconceptions of the UAE as a mirage in the desert were very far from reality.
If there is one thing I regret and would change if I had a chance to do things over, it is that I did not push myself out of my comfort zone—finance and entrepreneurship—as much in my MBA classes as I did in other aspects of my MBA experience. In retrospect, I might have devoted more time to learning about data analytics, operations, and marketing, beyond the level taught in the core curriculum.
It feels a bit trite to say this, but Wharton will always be defined by the people I have met, both classmates and faculty. There are, literally, too many to name individually, but I will say that I have had the great pleasure of encountering a number of people whom I will continue to count among my dearest friends for years to come.
I will miss the impromptu dinners and drinks—especially fine whisky—during which we spoke of so many fascinating and meaningful things, or sometimes simply argued over the latest movie. I will miss the shared vocabulary we created. There will be times, I know, in the future, when I will wish I was back in Philadelphia, with the people I have come to love.
While at Wharton, it was easy to sometimes spend far too much time worrying about problems: recruiting (remember, there are no poor Wharton alumni), friction with your learning team (what, never), too many assignments all due at the same time (remember, grade non-disclosure), that cute lady who wouldn’t return your texts (her loss), and not being able to get a ticket to Follies (someone always sells tickets at the last minute). We lived within a bubble formed around Huntsman Hall and Rittenhouse Square, with often very little interaction with people outside of the MBA bubble to give us some much needed perspective on things.
Relax, it’s—almost—all champagne problems, if I may borrow the immortal words of Wharton’s beloved Kembrel. It’s good to take a step back and recognize that more often than not, the problems one faces at any top business school are not that serious.
If there is one lesson I have learned, it is, to paraphrase Doctor Strangelove: Stop worrying and love life. Be resilient and recognize that more often than not the problems you encounter seem worse than they really are.
I wanted to end this with some words for the classes of 2017 and 2018, but after some thought, I’ve decided not to. You should make Wharton your own, as we did when we were there.
If someone asks me whether it was worth it, taking two years out of my career to pursue an MBA, paying more than $200,000 in tuition and living expenses, and forgoing two years of income and potential promotions at work, I will say only this. It was.