Coming to the end of my MBA at London Business School I have been reflecting on the key takeaways that I have learnt. It’s been an incredibly formative two years where I’ve had the time to learn and reflect on my strengths, weaknesses, interests and hopes for the future. Here are the top ten things that I’m taking away from my MBA.
1 – The MBA is not just about accelerating or pivoting your career
Most people undertake an MBA with the aim of accelerating their career or pivoting into a new industry or function, using the MBA as a transitory tool. Indeed, this was how I initially viewed the MBA, hoping to use it to successfully transition from a career in the military into a career in consulting. However, the MBA is so much more than that. Most importantly, the MBA is a career break that allows you to reflect on what you enjoy, want to do in life, and how you are going to go about doing that. To have the opportunity to take the time out and invest in yourself is incredibly rare, and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. I certainly didn’t need to do an MBA to secure a role in consulting. Instead, the MBA has provided a wonderful opportunity to explore topics and interests, learn a huge amount, and take the time to understand who I am as a person to a greater degree. Too much of the time we rush around from project to project, role to role, job to job. The MBA has given me the space and time for real reflection on where I want to go.
2 – Choose what you want to do and commit to it
There are a plethora of opportunities during an MBA, especially at LBS, which provides so much flexibility and customisation. There is so much to do that it’s impossible to do everything, so choose what you want to do and commit to it. Whether it’s taking up a leadership role in a club, exploring different career opportunities through internships, learning a language, immersing yourself in academic research, networking, travelling the world, taking part in competitions, or whatever else it is that you want to do, there is so much that is available to you. To save yourself the panic of feeling like you are missing lots of opportunities, choose what you want to do, prioritise it and commit to it. Embrace the fear of missing out. It is an inevitability.
3 – Structured recruiting is not the be all and end all
At a school like LBS which has a lot of MBA students who enter consulting and finance, it can feel like structured recruiting is the be all and end all. This comes round quickly in your first year, with people starting to prepare for recruiting as early as September or October in the first term for summer internship interviews that take place in January and February. Because of this, there is a sense of the train leaving the station and everyone needing to hop aboard in case they miss it. Inevitably, structured recruiting does not go the right way for lots of people, meaning that some feel like they have missed their chance. However, some of the most interesting opportunities, roles and stories that people have are the ones that they found outside of structured recruiting. Indeed, of my cohort, those who have seem to have the most exciting plans have all forged their own way, whether it be through entrepreneurship, unstructured internships, or opportunities found through networking. Do not despair if structured recruiting does not go your way – there is a huge amount out there.
4 – People and teams are the most important thing in your career
I quickly learnt in the MBA that who you are working with is by by far the most important aspect of any project. It can be a topic or cause that you are absolutely love, but if the people that you are pursuing it with are not inspiring and enjoyable to work with, you will quickly become disillusioned and detached. Conversely, working on a project, topic, or module that you have no interest in quickly becomes hugely exciting if you are collaborating with the right people. As such, find the people that you enjoy working with and make sure you keep doing so. This can also be applied to lecturers on the MBA. If you find a lecturer whose style and personality you love, take their classes, for their passion will transfer to you and the class will be far more enjoyable than a class where you find the topic interesting but the lecturer dull.
5 – Hard skills are easy to learn, soft skills take much more work
For me, the MBA was meant to be a way of gaining a broad knowledge of lots of complicated, technical skills that would be useful later in my career. However, these are (relatively) easy to learn – you don’t need an MBA to learn them when the internet will suffice. However, soft skills take a lot more work to improve and require constant practice. As such, I shifted much of my focus on the MBA away from learning technical skills towards Organisational Behaviour modules, where I could focus on how to get the best out of me, others, and the teams I work in. This has been a constant learning experience and hugely helped my leadership skills.
6 – Your peers are the best learning resource
The MBA will give you an incredibly broad yet shallow education on a vast range of topics. The number of electives that are available to you allows you to explore pretty much every area of interest related to business, everything from advanced corporate finance to the path to wisdom and happiness. However, the best learning resource is your peers, who have seen and done it all. With more than five hundred people in an MBA cohort there are people with experience in almost every walk of life, and these experiences provide a fantastic wealth of knowledge at your disposal. Using this experience and knowledge allows you to learn a huge amount and should not be passed up.
7 – Juggling family life with MBA life is possible
My wife and I had our first child halfway through the first year, which introduced another ball to juggle whilst taking the MBA. Relating back to what I said in point two, this changed my priorities and spending time with my daughter became a huge priority for me. However, balancing family life with MBA life did not detract from my MBA experience; in fact, it made it richer. It forced me to really choose what I wanted to do and what I did not and made me much more efficient with my time. Additionally, as a student with an ability to construct my own schedule and carve out blocks of time, it meant that I was lucky enough to spend a huge amount of time with my daughter over the first 18 months of her life, something which I will be forever grateful for as she won’t be that age again.
8 – Everyone has imposter syndrome, so don’t worry about it
Embarking on the MBA journey I looked around at my peers and was awed, intimidated, and overwhelmed by what they had experienced and achieved. This immediately gave me imposter syndrome as I questioned whether I was of the same calibre. After many months, however, and after lots of conversations with my peers, it became apparent that everyone felt the same way. Everyone has imposter syndrome – just learn to embrace it and believe in yourself and your abilities. If you are successful in the application process of the MBA, or indeed anything else in life, you have the qualities to succeed there, so go for it.
9 – Pay it forward
You receive a lot of help and advice in life, and this is no different when applying for or going through an MBA. People are extremely generous with their time to help you prepare for recruiting, teach you topics, give their perspective on a new business idea, and lots of other things. Often, you cannot pay this back in kind, especially to those ahead of you in their careers. Instead, pay it forward, helping those that reach out to you for help and advice. It’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling helping others, so help them as much as you can.
10 – Live your second life now
Your second life is the life you would live if you could repeat everything all over again. We only get to do this all once, so don’t have any regrets. Time moves quickly and chances disappear before you realise. Use the time to reflect on what you want to do and do it – you may not get the opportunity again. It’s too easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing on the MBA and life and feel that you should be doing something similar. Instead, prioritise what’s important to you and live your second life now.
And so here we have the top ten things that I have learnt whilst on London Business School’s MBA programme. It has been a hugely fulfilling and rewarding time which I will treasure throughout the rest of my career and life. It has been such a formative time and one that has certainly shaped my path for the future. I cannot wait to see what that will bring.
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