I remember reading Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage” in which he talked about this highly paradoxical behavior which he observed among students on campus: "no matter how happy they were with their original success of getting into the school, two weeks later their brains were focused, not on the privilege of being there … but on the competition, the workload, the hassles, stresses, complaints."
This comment very much stuck with me ever since and I very much wondered if my experience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business would be any similar. I’m now two months into the experience, and I have to say that there is a lot of truth to Shawn’s observation (the validity of which, needless to say, easily extends into other parts of our lives).
So here I am, eight weeks in, and it’s been an amazing ride so far. But truth be spoken, it’s not always easy. I sometimes catch myself with a not-so-positive mindset and then instantly try to remind myself of the day I got “the (admission) call” or the first night on campus during which I couldn’t sleep because of the excitement I felt.
The thing I have most struggled with so far has been focus (or lack thereof). Academics are going all fine (I very much enjoy the classes so it doesn’t feel like much work) and there isn’t too much peer pressure on the grades (mostly due to the student-initiated norm to not disclose/talk about our grades). But the biggest challenge is focus, exacerbated by the sheer amount of offerings and the necessity to say no.
My days often start at 6.15am, working out, and they often don’t end before midnight, reading cases. And during the day, it’s a never-ending back and forth between meetings, classes, social events, information sessions, assignments, and what have you. And in between all of that, you try to maintain your life-long friendships, call your parents, and manage your inbox (#DROWNING)
For everything that I do, there are 5 things that I had to say no to. For every lunch event, there are a handful of equally interesting invitations I have to decline. For every evening activity, there are a bunch of pictures of other events that show up on Social Media which gently remind me of all the things I missed out on. FOMO overload.
The hard thing so far has been to deal with this feeling and to be ok with it. To go to bed and feel appreciative of the 10 things I did, not be regretful of the 10 other things I really wanted to do but didn’t have time for.
Not knowing what you are trying to get out of this experience can make it feel excruciatingly difficult to enjoy. You keep doing things, but you never really feel that you are getting closer to your goal. You do a lot, but you don’t feel like moving.
In the end, every decision is a matter of prioritization. That’s why it’s so important to have one’s priorities clear. What am I optimizing for? Learning things I didn’t know about? Doing the things that help me figure out my future? Go to events which are unique to this environment and which I couldn’t experience outside? There are many “decision models” that can be applied and it’s not always easy.
So far it’s been fairly manageable, yet the number of decisions that need to be made is increasing and it’s even more important to have my priorities straight. It’s important to be open when coming to such open and stimulating environments, but it’s equally important to have some sense of direction that can help lower the pain of saying no to the many opportunities offered.
As I increase my focus, I realize the importance of moving away from "forced 'No's" to "deliberate 'No's." With increased clarity on the things I want to get out of this experience, it's becoming increasingly easy to make a decision in favor of one thing over another thing.