Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint
If you imagine that life at HBS could be busy – you may well be underestimating how busy it can really be. Before you know it, you will be flooded with cases and endless opportunities to party, travel, meet great new people, pick up new skills, interview for your summer internship, go on networking events, take part in leadership initiatives, etc etc. Time will fly, and there is never a dull moment at HBS. Most of the times you will have to choose between 4-5 competing opportunities. FOMO (stands for the infamous Fear or Missing Out) is real, but it is manageable.
Before you dive in, remind yourself that the key to make the most of this incredible place is to build a sustainable life around it. All too often, RCs who try to do everything at the same time (including myself last year) find themselves too stressed, exhausted, or ill – which really take away from this great experience. So remember that there will always be another party; there will always be another group of classmates flying to Iceland. It’s OK to pass on some good opportunities, stop to breathe or go to sleep early. You’re going to need that energy for later this year.
Take good care of yourself, REALLY
This advice may sound obvious, but it really isn’t. When I moved to Boston last year, my EC friend advised me to take sleep seriously and make sure I get enough rest every night. Well, I didn’t follow his advice, and I completely paid the price for it. By April I had already lost focus in class and begun to zone out of social events and other great opportunities. In addition, I had gained 5-6 pounds and was completely out of shape. Clearly I wasn’t feeling great – I was exhausted.
If you take nothing else from this article – take this one advice seriously. Make sure you sleep enough, eat well and workout at least 2-3 times a week. Trust me, your physical and mental well beings are the single most important factor that would influence your HBS experience.
Have a defined strategy (but allow yourself to be flexible)
This is not a must, but absolutely recommended. HBS is the perfect place to open up to new career opportunities and interests, try out new things or simply have fun. As soon as you get your first email from the MBA Event Calendar, you will be overwhelmed with new events or opportunities on a daily basis. You could easily pass the next two years experimenting, exploring and enriching yourself.
But If all you do is wander around with no specific agenda, you may end up wasting a valuable opportunity to take major steps to achieve your professional and personal goals, hone important skills and build the kind of network that would serve you in the future. And while two years seem like a lot, your RC year will really fly by.
That is why it is important to have some game plan in place. Take an hour to sit down with yourself and write down – what do I want to get from HBS? Make it clear, and rank your priorities. For me, coming into HBS my goals were (by this order): (1) start a company; (2) make good friends; (3) find love; (4) learn something in class. Throughout my RC year, whenever I felt overwhelmed or lost, I would always go back to that piece of paper and compare how I was doing against those goals. If I was spending a lot of time preparing cases, I would then remind myself that there were other things I wanted to get out of HBS. When I was dating too often, I recalled that making friends was more important to me. When most people were busy travelling for fun or applying to their summer internship, I reminded myself that I should spend more time on starting a company.
Strategies and goals can change over time. Allow yourself to be flexible – after all you are also here to try new things. But it is important to have them at the first place to remind yourself what it is that you are trying to achieve.
Focus on what YOU want, and learn to say ‘no’
We are all here to contribute to and gain from the HBS community. That’s what makes this place so special. But it is important to remind yourself that you are here, first and foremost, to do what is right for you.
Early on, many of your classmates will feel pressure to excel at school and will put in long long hours doing homework every day. Come January, many of your classmate will feel the pressure to interview and accept an internship offer with a top consulting / banking / tech firm. Toward the end of February, most classmates will feel the urge to spend over $1000 to go on the RC Ski Weekend. Remember, there is no single way to experience HBS. Whatever is good for other classmates, may or may not be right for you. Be true to what you are here to do and accomplish. The good thing is, that among your other 930 classmates, there will always be great people who want to have the same kind of experience as yours. Go out and find them – it will make it much easier to focus on what you want and say no to what you care less about.
Take (More) Risks
You may not realize this yet, but the HBS class discussion and the more generally – the section life – are some of the best learning opportunities you will ever have. In class, you will be encouraged to express your authentic, sometime critical, sometime unpopular opinion. You may sometimes be caught off guard, and have to “think on your feet” to come up with a compelling opinion, which you will then need to defend against opposing views. In other cases, you will have the opportunity to share your personal stories with the entire class, sometimes getting the entire ‘stage’ for yourself for 30 minutes. When 92 other people watch and listen to every word you say, It is easy to confirm, say what is popular and not spark any controversy. But that’s not what leaders do. Allow yourself to take more risks. As long as you are honest and respectful, people will appreciate what you have to say. Some of the best conversations I have had at HBS started after a classmate (or myself) made an unpopular, sometime controversial comment. It makes life so much more interesting, it helps everyone get to know each other much better, and it is part of the essence of the HBS experience.
Similarly, if you’re afraid of running a large conference, leading meetings, giving or receiving honest feedback or starting a company – this is the time to give it all a try. HBS is a safe environment and you will not be judged for trying. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the best way I know to experience and learn new skills.
Be authentic, and allow yourself to be vulnerable
If you ask me (and some other alumni that I have got to know), the greatest value of HBS is the people you meet here. In a 10 year time, we will probably remember only some things we learned in class. But the relationships we build today could walk with us for the rest of our lives. Some may call it ‘building a network’, but for me it is all about making real friends.
One of the greatest things I learned at HBS is that the sooner you remove any masks and simply, authentically open up – the sooner you will make meaningful relationships.
This may not seem very easy or very natural to many of us ‘type A’ personalities. We are all used to excel at school and work, and we are used to display strength and success. But believe me, nobody at HBS would ever care how good a consultant or investor or manager you were, if you don’t open up and show the real you. Playing a game or being too concerned with your image does not benefit anyone, particularly not you.
You are already in. Now it’s time to put the ‘successful, sophisticated image’ aside and just be yourself. As a matter of fact, the real you is probably what got you here at the first place.
Friendships: Choose quality over quantity
With 930 students in your class and 93 in your section, it is impossible to be friends with everyone. In fact, with all these people around, it is sometimes easy to feel lost and lonely. You could be walking down the corridor at Aldrich high-fiving everyone, but at the end of the day have very few people to call when you really need a friend. Trust me, I’ve been there.
I came into HBS wanting to get to know everyone. I spent good time going out to large social events, partying and catching dinners or breakfasts with different groups of people. And sure enough, I made lots of connections. But all too often, I found myself eating dinner on a Friday evening my myself. Until I decided to change my approach.
It may be easy to network, but good friends don’t come easily. And between these two, only by making good friends you will truly enjoy the HBS experience.
While there are different opinions about this topic, my advice is that it is better to spend a lot of time with a few people you bond with, than spend little time with lots of people.
Find those people you like and bond with, and invest time in those relationships. Your experience will be completely different.
Ask for help, and offer help
Life at HBS is fun, but at times it can (and will) be stressful. This is all part of the learning experience – coping with pressure, growing mental strength, prioritizing and managing your time effectively. Take note today, that you will most likely experience ups and downs during your RC year. Everybody does.
There is ZERO SHAME in admitting that you’re going through a personal challenging time, and in asking for help. The HBS community offers various ways to help students cope with the challenges of the RC year, and you should be absolutely comfortable using these resources. In fact, some of the most meaningful relationships I have made were born when I asked fellow students to help me through the tough times. Similarly, remember to look around you and offer your own help, or support, to those who seem to need it. If you are not sure – ask them. Make yourself available to help. There is no better feeling than helping someone who needs support, and there is no better way to make new friends.
My 2 cents.
Good luck in your journey!
After trying several industries and positions, Itamar Zur (HBS ’17) has found his passion in entrepreneurship. A former lawyer, marketer and podcast producer, he dreams to build a great company that would create substantial value in the world. This summer, he decided to take the plunge and stay on campus to launch his first startup – a whole new way to manage e-commerce package delivery, a summer he describes as a ‘defining experience’. In his free time he is a huge dog fan and an avid follower of the NBA.