About a year has now passed since I wrote my first reflection piece on business school right at the end of my first quarter (December 2015). I did occasionally share some thoughts here (about the concept of morphing) and there (about social life at school), but I wanted to make this the second reflection piece now that I have three additional quarters under my belt.
Let me address the elephant in the room: is the MBA worth the investment? Well... I don’t really know – in fact I will never know – but I like to believe so. Maybe I will sell my future company for a ton of money and then directly link my financial success to the investment I made into my graduate education or a specific person I would have otherwise never met. But until then, I rely on “good faith” that this will all be worth it – financially and on every other dimension (how do you even measure the value of connections, friendship and a reputable school degree anyway?)
No Omid, but now for real: do you think it’s worth it? Let me rephrase the question. Is this MBA degree the only viable path? Maybe the best path? Absolutely not. There are many paths that would have helped and will help me to achieve the things in life that I "want to achieve” (I am intentionally avoiding the word “success” because what does it even mean?). Sometimes I even think that I might be even further in my life if I wasn’t tied to this 2-year journey. But once again, you can’t A/B-test your life.
Now, as the critical thinker that I’d like to be: what if I am actually worse off with an MBA?Well, this ties directly into one of my biggest frustrations with business school. I feel that I got into the program for everything that made me unique, yet I will be leaving it being treated as a commodity. When I will graduate next summer, all that unique experience that got me into school will be dwarfed by the MBA title that is written right onto my forehead and which very much defines how the job market will look at me (keyword: pattern recognition). Before I know it, I could be someone’s "MBA candidate #4 out of our 13 MBA hires next summer.” Sometimes I wonder if I could land better jobs in a parallel world in which I would be Omid with 8yrs of work experience versus the 6yrs+MBA person that I will be.
A little too critical for your taste? Well, let’s talk about specific things that I am learning. One of my learning goals was to increase my risk appetite and my willingness to embrace entrepreneurship. I tried to make progress on that front during my first year, but I feel the current fall quarter has been the tipping point on this journey. In particular, there are two classes that have changed my self-perception as a future entrepreneur. One is called Startup Garage (SUG), the other is Formation of New Ventures (FoNV).
Thinking of entrepreneurship, I always considered luck to be the prevalent factor for success. What SUG has allowed me to understand though is that there is a proven process that can lead you from problem to solution. While entrepreneurship always seemed opaque to me, it now feels within reach. And in FoNW, we discuss 18 cases of founder stories which makes me leave class excited and with the urge and inspiration to start my own business. I am walking away from these classes with an increased sense of comfort with chaos.
Another upside: I am learning so much about myself. Not gonna lie, when I came to school, I wasn’t sure if and how much I would learn about myself. I felt that I had life figured out and considered myself among the more mature people in my year. But looking back on this journey thus far, I can definitely say how the first year in particular has helped me gain a whole deeper understanding of who I am, of what drives me, and how I best operate. During the past year, I was finally able to find the right words and descriptions for things about my personality/character/style that I could never describe properly and also managed to open my eyes to some of the blindspots that I had never been aware of.
I have come to believe that business school is less about finding out who you are, but more about finding out all the things that you are not. Yes there is tremendous value in figuring out who you are. But the journey to that point involves assuming different things, testing them, failing at them, and then concluding that you are not the things you thought you were. For example, while I still don’t know what I will be doing after graduation, I certainly know that I won’t be the guy who does interviews on campus and then joins an established company where he will be working as a person who could be easily replaced. As straightforward and obvious as it seems, I was actually that kind of person throughout my many years at Google. I was good at my job, but my job wasn’t unique to me. While I don’t know who I will end up being, I certainly know that I won’t be that kind of person.
These thoughts are really just scratching the surface of all the things that I am still learning. My experience as a second-year student has been significantly better and I am really loving my time at Stanford. Yes, there are many paths forward, but I am glad for all the things that this particular path has offered me so far. After all, I can’t A/B test any alternative reality, so I might as well just appreciate it to the max.