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MBA Diary

Life after an MBA: Adapting to the real world Add to ...

Originally from Vancouver, Linda Chew is a graduate of the two-year, full-time MBA program at Columbia University in New York and of the commerce program at Queen’s University in Kingston. Linda began her career at Deloitte LLP, where she spent four years in its Toronto and Vancouver offices. She is a chartered accountant and a CFA charterholder. She now works in tech mergers and acquisitions at an investment bank in Silicon Valley. This is her seventh blog for MBA Diary.

In what seems like ages ago, I sat under a big tent on the green lawns of Columbia University, waiting for my name to be called as a confirmation of my status as a newly-minted MBA grad. Soon after, my family and I drove 18 hours through swirling fog and rolling hills from Vancouver to Silicon Valley, where I started a new chapter of my life.

In the ensuing year and a half, my fellow MBA peers and I navigated the transition back into the work force, where we learned the necessity of finding a balance – not just the proverbial work-life balance, but a balance in being a team member versus a leader, executing versus learning, personal versus professional identity, passion versus practicality.

If there’s one thing I learned during this period, it’s recognizing and accepting that you can’t do it all. You can’t be everything to everyone, or be everywhere all the time. Though it sounds obvious, it’s also one of the hardest truths to come to terms with for any bright-eyed MBA grad.

There is certainly no shortage of talent among those I’ve interacted with since graduation. However, the ones who were the happiest and most fulfilled were those who were flexible in their thinking – in other words, they’re able to adapt not only to their environment, but adapt their own expectations as well.

A few individuals, in particular, are prime examples.

– My mentor, an energetic, quick-witted ex-chief financial officer and now entrepreneur, who talks about building companies and climbing Mount Everest in one sentence (seriously). Even though she’s the personification of someone who’s mastered the balance, what I find most impressive is her open-minded, forward-looking attitude. With her startup, she set a six-month timeline for herself to decide whether it’s a worthwhile venture. No fear of pivoting. No fear of raising or dialling back expectations.

– My MBA classmate, one of the hungriest people I know, who also happens to be a recent victim of corporate downsizing. Within days of the bad news, he was setting up meetings with industry leaders around the world to discuss an idea he had always wanted to pursue. He saw this new-found time as an opportunity – to reflect, to travel, and to visit those who can help him realize his dream. When asked how he’s able to keep his spirits high, he told me, “The world doesn’t owe me anything.” So he keeps going.

– My co-worker, who impressively balanced nine months of pregnancy with the gruelling hours of investment banking. In an industry where the culture is a cocktail of high expectations, short timelines and mixed personalities, disappointment is sometimes unavoidable. On the many late-nights-turned-early-mornings in the office, I marvelled at her ability to adjust her expectations of what she can reasonably accomplish, rather than dwell on moving goal posts.

There are also plenty of failed cases that substantiate my observation, which I won’t go into here.

Suffice to say, the most valuable takeaway from business school isn’t anything technical – perhaps it’s not even the ability to balance multiple tasks – but the willingness to adjust that balance and your own expectations when needed.

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