I remember Admit Day last year like it was yesterday. I hadn’t told my boss at Unilever that I had even applied to business school, so I made up some horrendous excuse to take the day off. I had been at some “very important” event the night before (so important that only one year later, I’ve completely forgotten what it was), so I had to fly in on the 6 am shuttle that morning. But even my exhaustion didn’t suppress my emotions during the visit.
First, I just felt so darn proud of myself. I had done it, gotten in to the “best business school in the world!” I was glowing, beaming, and radiating confidence.
That lasted until mid-morning. After the first class was over, I was convinced I could never, ever talk in class. I immediately started strategizing about potential public speaking classes I could take over the summer. Dale Carnegie? Toastmasters? Help!
Then, I had lunch on the lawn in front of Spangler with several second years. By chance, I ended up sitting next to someone with a very similar background (marketing and advertising) who told me, point blank, that first year was the toughest year in her entire life. “It’s really really hard,” she kept repeating. The others in my little circle concurred. I got even more nervous, but kept reminding myself that if they let me in, I must be able to do the work. Right?
The day ended up being great. The campus was fantastic, the people seemed terrific (and I knew so many of them already!), and I was just thrilled to be back in a learning environment (read: out of the workforce). I went out to dinner with a big group of people, I helped organize drinks at John Harvard’s, and I even managed to sneak into the gym at the Charles Hotel for a quick afternoon workout. I was pumped.
So now, looking back wistfully, older and wiser, would I have done things differently? Do I wish I had found out a few more things then? Maybe. I wish I had known how overwhelming and all-consuming first semester would be, so I could have warned my friends and family that I wouldn’t be calling for a while. I would have taken a finance class to at least learn the “language” before immersing myself in cases. I would have spent a lot less time working in Foundations and preparing cases (definitely no public speaking course over the summer!). I would have taken the section thing more seriously. And I would have started the anti-anxiety medicine a little sooner. Kidding.
But do I regret the decision to come to HBS? Not at all. Even with the events of September 11th kicking off our school year, and even with all the stress and fears and international catastrophes, I am absolutely certain that being at HBS has taught me more than I ever hoped to learn in just one year. Not just about operations and finance and negotiations, but about people, cultures, religions, lifestyles, morals and, most surprisingly, myself.
And you know what? I made it through just fine. I survived the TOM projects and recruiting efforts and accounting exams, and managed to stay in touch with everyone, pay my bills, and even play tennis and go out on school-nights. So for next year, my primary goal is just to stop worrying about making it through and enjoying my time here. After all, it’s already halfway over.