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There are a lot of measures of the value of an MBA and some people have been questioning if it‘s worth its salt recently.
But the dollar value of my MBA hit home when I filed my taxes this week.
I earned more this year that I’ve been in b-school than I did in almost every year of my pre-Darden working life.
That’s a combo of three months of internship salary and signing bonus, neither of which are as high as my classmates entering more lucrative fields like investment banking or consulting. So my MBA could have been worth even more …
(Side note: This means either I was paid really well this summer or really poorly before. Since I was a journalist, I’ll go with the latter. It’s another example of how pay doesn’t always equal importance. Good journalists uphold the First Amendment. In my new job, I’ll be selling cereal. It’s not quite the same.)
Lucky for me, earning my MBA has always been about more than the potential monetary payoff (something you may have figured out if you’re a frequent reader of this blog). My time at Darden has been worth it for the new skills I’ve learned, the network I’ve built, and, yes, my future husband who I met here.
And the money is a nice bonus.
“I think this may get emotional,” my professor said at the start of class.
Not what you’d expect to hear before a business school class, especially one like ours, which is built around bringing back alumni as guest speakers. They talk about some of the big managerial challenges they’ve faced and we dissect them using the case study method. We talk about hiring decisions, layoffs, marketing choices, finance strategies and ethical concerns.
But emotional? Almost never. Sometimes we talk about work-life balance and that’s about as emotional as it gets.
As I sat there looking at the investment banker in front of me, I tried to imagine how a discussion about deal making could get, well, emotional.
I was so wrong.
Instead of getting the case in advance, we read it together for the first time in class. At first it read like a typical case, talking about meetings and golf outings. Typical, that is, until the second paragraph, in which we learned that the investment banker standing in front of us had been in his office on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. On Sept. 11, 2001.
We looked up, stunned. He tried to speak and got choked up immediately. My eyes flooded with tears. Sniffing noises came from all corners of the room.
We spent the next hour and 20 minutes discussing what we would have done on that day. Left the tower or stayed inside? Encouraged our employees to leave or stay? How would we deal with the consequences?
It was nearly impossible to put aside our knowledge of what happened that day and how it changed all of us. We tried to imagine what we would do if the building next to us had a commercial airplane jutting out of it and no one knew it was a terrorist attack. People who were in New York that day — people who had loved ones in the World Trade Center that day — talked about the confusion and disbelief that prevailed.
More sniffing and red eyes.
During our entire discussion all I could think was, I would want to be on the ground. It was an almost primal desire to be on land. And it turned out, our speaker had felt the same way.
“One thing I learned — trust your gut. Nine out of 10 times, if I don’t trust it, it’s wrong,” he said. “If you have a good foundation and moral compass, trust what’s inside and follow what’s inside.”
That day, his gut feeling convinced him to leave the building and encourage four of his colleagues to go with him. It led him to take the stairs to the 70th floor. It led him to continue down the stairs even after a voice over the public address system said the crash had been contained and everyone should return to their offices.
His gut led him to safety while 66 of his colleagues died that day. He has no idea where that feeling came from and, for a long time, he felt guilty for not taking more people with him.
One widow asked him why he didn’t take her husband with him.
More tears. I was openly weeping now. I could only begin to imagine the emotional pain this man had been through, the questions he’d asked himself, the way his life had been altered. I thought of the hundreds of others who were also scarred on that day. I thought about how fortunate I was to be relatively unscathed.
“Nothing is ever the same,” he said. “Life is not fragile but it has a lot of twists and turns. People you love, you shuold tell them you love them everyday.”
Life at Darden right now is smooth. We’ve just come off more than a month of break. Classes haven’t ramped up yet and our stress over them is minimal anyway, because, hey, it’s our last semester here. And many of my SY friends have jobs, which means the major worry of SY is behind them.
So we have time to watch football, throw birthday parties, go to the park with our dogs – and write blog entries.
But I was reminded yesterday that life is decidedly NOT smooth right now for First Years.
They are in the throes of interview season, walking to school in suits and their “good” shoes, mock interviewing every chance they get and reviewing grocery store shelves, case frameworks and investment banking gobbly gook. They are sweating closed lists and second round lists and those good news/bad news emails and phone calls that end the whole process.
I was reminded by a FY who I did a mock interview with. She’s lovely and is on track to do well. But when she pulled out her notebook full of scribbled ideas, notes on previous mock interviews and prep questions, I was transported back to last year. I had an Excel spreadsheet instead of a notebook, but otherwise I was pretty much in her shoes.
I reviewed every possible interview question. I did a dozen mock interviews, sitting down with any SY, career coach or coffee shop patron who would quiz me. I sweated closed lists, big time, and I had trouble sleeping. I froze to death, teetering to school in my skirt suit and heels. It was really hard to focus on classes.
And then I got internship offers. And the whole world just looked brighter.
So, to all the business school First Years out there who are suffering through interview season, take heart. The hard work will be worth it. I promise.
And your last quarter is going to be AWESOME.