Friendly, Busy, Learning

I get a lot of “do you like HBS?” and “are you happy you went to HBS?” I don’t know.I do know that these are the three big ideas bouncing around in my mind as I end my first term.

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Friendliness is underrated.

Everyone at HBS is friendly. This is one of the reasons I wanted to come to HBS — alums seemed to have completely effortless conversations.

Before HBS, I had some “effortless” conversations. “Effortless” because I put the work in beforehand. It might have been months of talking on Twitter. Or brainstorming topics beforehand. The effort was all up front.

Being friendly on the spot is harder. Somehow I’d end up in conversations and tell someone my entire life story, but walk away knowing nothing about them. People would ask me about my weekend plans, and I would draw a blank while trying to remember theirs. I’d say something in class and people would come by during break to chat with me about it. Everyone was so friendly, it felt almost scripted.

I was still getting peoples names wrong. Did they sit at home with flashcards to memorize all of this? Was there a guide of “how to be nice in an HBS classroom?”

No. It’s just genuine. Everyone just shows up at HBS and wants to get to know you. People listen when you talk. They want you to feel comfortable. In my previous experience it was okay to admire someone’s work. At HBS, you can just admire someone as a person. The priority is getting to know people, rather than getting to know their work. You don’t need the work as a jumping off point.

I doubt I’ll ever be as warm as the people I’ve met this semester, but I am going to make more of an effort.

I worry that it is so busy here.

HBS is busy. I have no other word for it. Busy. Busy. Busy. Most of the people I know look exhausted all the time.

Many people have pointed this out to the administration. The (unsatisfactory) response: “It’s supposed to be like a bootcamp — we want you to go through the same experience together. If you don’t have time to reflect, go to fewer parties.”

I don’t go to parties. It still feels busy.

At the beginning, I was barely making it through. The goal of every day was “make it until tomorrow.” I spent my weekends recovering so I’d have the energy to make it through another week.

As I got better at the material, I could reclaim my time. I didn’t go through the formal MBA recruiting process, and I didn’t go to parties. But having my time back didn’t make me happier — it made me feel like I was doing something wrong. Everyone else was busy. I’d been busy. What happened? Was I doing it wrong?

I wasn’t afraid of missing out, but my free time made me anxious. I don’t like being busy. I’ve been busy before, and it doesn’t result in me doing my best work. Yet, after a few months of HBS, my self expectation was right back at “busy.”

If we send 900 people to school, and they all get accustomed to “busy” — I’m afraid they’re going to keep expecting busy. I don’t even like busy, and I saw it in myself. I saw this trend in the alumni profiles we were able to read as well — they stayed “busy.”

I have a sinking suspicious that part of the reason corporate America is so “busy” and that white collar workers work so many hours is because of places like HBS. We shouldn’t be teaching our leaders that “busy” is the default — and we shouldn’t be expecting “busy” of everyone else.

Learning new things is hard.

I had the advantage of starting HBS a week early to go through an intense bootcamp in Accounting and Finance. In retrospect, I would call this bootcamp “how to make T-charts, and what the three financial statements are.”

I remember the first week that it felt impossible. I thought I might never understand how to make a Statement of Cash Flows. I was the one person HBS admitted that was too stupid to be able to learn it.

I always consciously know that learning things is hard. But knowing it, and going through it again are different things. If you haven’t cried from exhaustion while learning something new recently, you might want to try it.

Now, making Discounted Cash Flows is fun, second-nature, and like an amusing puzzle. It gives me the same sense of accomplishment that I get from figuring out a flow diagram to connect everything a user in an app. I didn’t realize it was the same thing I’d been doing at the beginning until I sat down to write this.

I’m less afraid of next term, because the thing that scares me at the beginning might be the one I like the most by the end.