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So Much For Balance

Before I arrived at HBS, everyone told me how tough first semester would be. The CFO at my former company, idealab!, an HBS alum, laughed menacingly as he congratulated me on my admission. “You couldn’t pay me to do my first year again,” he chuckled. “But I’d do second-year again in a second.”

At my best friend, Stacey’s, memorial service in September, her former supervisor came up to me and said, “I was ready to drop out of HBS my first semester. I was absolutely miserable. But I’m so glad I toughed it out. Just try to pull through.” She gave me her card and told me to call if I got to the brink of despair.

Even my dad, class of ’72, calmly said, “You know, I think HBS will be good for you. It’ll break you down and build you back up again.”
Did I ask to be broken down? I thought I asked for a general management education, not some sort of sick initiation to corporate America. I had no major issues with myself (thanks to years of therapy!), but was certainly looking for help in achieving my professional goals. Would my arrival at HBS be akin to Goldie Hawn’s enlisting in the army in “Private Benjamin?” Could it really be that bad?

It was. It really was. I thought I was prepared for any academic challenge after graduating from Yale with honors. Not so. First semester was an exercise in stamina. Surviving five classes plus group projects, company presentations, extracurricular activities, speakers, two to three cases a night, regular class participation, the threat of the cold call lurking around the corner, learning to use Excel, plus midterms, finals, and online quizzes was just overwhelming in its sheer magnitude. I couldn’t get to sleep before midnight, and even struggled to find time to get to the gym.

But now, ahhhhh! Second semester has arrived. And the focus has shifted to jobs – internships no less! Something I’ve had to deal with finding in the past, something more controllable, familiar and less daunting. Not that I managed to secure an internship during Hell Week, but come on, does talking to friends and colleagues about their experiences and interviewing in our industries of choice even hold a candle to sweating it out over circuit boards first semester? Not a chance.

So here’s my question. Why? Why did we have to go through that? Why couldn’t the work and activities have been more equitably distributed over the first year, even over two years, instead of crammed into one horrifying semester? What did I gain from having to convince myself not to drop out every week?

I’ve come up with several theories.
One, by forcing us to go through such an intense semester, the administration woke us all up, forced us to think and participate in class, and thereby enabled the bizarre case method to really work.
Two, by making everyone suffer, year after year, HBS makes sure that all the current students and alumni have at least one thing to bond over.
Three, getting beaten down to a pulp enables us to see the light of the omniscient HBS professors and the HBS way.

Four, somehow when we regain our confidence, we will be more disciplined, self-assured and stronger than before. (And we wonder why some think HBS survivors are arrogant!)

Or five, the administration just hates us and enjoys watching us suffer with sadomasochistic delight.

Well, in the end, who cares? We made it through! And you know, in some sick way, I’m looking forward to seeing the Class of 2004 run around stressed out, overworked and exhausted next year. After all, if I had to do it, why shouldn’t they?

February 11, 2002
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