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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Getting Real

So two summers ago I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life.  I was totally content with my company, totally pleased with my career track, and totally excited to have gotten into NYU to get my MBA.  My company was excited at the prospect as well: they were often telling me about the big plans they had for me to transition into sales and become an account manager, as well as how interested they were in developing me and my career.

Then reality came, and here I am preparing to start my business school applications for full time MBA programs starting Fall 2017.  Round 1 applications are due in September for the most part, and I really wanted to get an early start on this.

I went ahead and crushed the GMAT in March, and then realized that wasn't even close to the toughest part of the application process.  Business schools firmly believe in a person being able to explain how an MBA (and ONLY an MBA) can help them advance their career to their specific goals.  I've never really been one for specific goals, so I've kind of stagnated at this point, much as my career has beyond the basic get-it-started mode.  It seems like these should be serious and well thought out and well reasoned, but how can I know if they're right?  So comes the next step...

Well, I know I want to be successful but that's not specific enough.  I know I want to be highly respected but that's not a goal.  How can I possibly strongly convey something I myself feel unsure about at best?

It's been a time for self reflection, for sure.  I've started reading a ton about career paths and attending admissions events for schools I'm considering and listening to how other people parlayed their specific education and previous work experiences into fabulous and fulfilling careers.  I've meditated on what exactly it is I'm passionate about, and how I could make that a part of my work.

I've come to the conclusion that what I am most passionate about is helping people.  I feel like I have had a unique set of experiences and I really struggled through a number of hardships and difficulties, and I want to be able to pass that along to others, so that they may learn from my mistakes.

In reading the profiles of incoming students to the schools I'm applying to I've realized that I am up against some very serious competition.  There are sons of CEOs and daughters of artists and people who have had both the money and the opportunity to spend significant time abroad helping others in third world countries, while I worried about how I would pay off my student loan debt within the next 20 years.

Last year I met someone who asked me which countries I've been to and told me he found it to be a good measure of how "intelligent and cultured someone [is]".  I pointed out that travel is very expensive and definitely a major privilege.  He told me that I could have just gone abroad to volunteer, but even then - that's missed opportunity time that I could have been working, could have been finishing my degree.  It's something that bothered me then and I remained self conscious about now.

How can I compete with people who have had all these fabulous experiences when my most transformative experience was spending a year of my life in bed and not functioning?

Not surprisingly, it's a tough question.  As much as I'd love to start a non-profit and dedicate my time to helping kids struggling with depression or losing a parent or a particularly painful and unexpected divorce, I'd really prefer to have my own shit together first, and getting rid of the anxiety of worrying about loans and finances is a major aspect of that.

Then I thought about Marissa Mayer, and how she was so lauded for being a female CEO of a major tech company, and could inspire so many girls into pursuing fields that are traditionally male dominated.  With my extensive technical experience in an "old tech" field (i.e. the unsexy kind), I could maybe offer that same kind of inspiration to people who need it.  You don't have to have had your shit figured out from when you were 12 on, getting into Harvard and Princeton and then just completing the marathon from there.  You can start late and sprint to catch up, and have developed some important and invaluable skills others may not have yet along the way.

Or at least, I hope you can.  Because I want to.  And then I want to tell other people they can too.

If someone asked you right now to spell out your career goals, both short- and long-term, would you know what to say? What would they be?