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I wrote on my HBS application that I was looking forward to a life-altering experience. Corny stuff, I know, but yours said something similar, or had a similar theme, I’m sure. How do I know? Because I’m beginning to see that sentence less as a pandering plea to admit me and more as a self-assessment reflected all around me by my classmates.

For example, have you noticed how nearly everyone who moans about their career path is coming from an experience others want to try? The consultants want to be marketing gurus, the non-profit trailblazers want to be operations experts, the bankers want to be consultants, and so on.

Maybe the lifestyle didn’t quite fit before, or we didn’t feel challenged, but there wasn’t usually anything tragically wrong. On the bare face of it, most of us are swapping jobs because we’ve tried one great thing and feel driven to try another. We push ourselves to change in the hope of finding something better. And despite our apologetic explanations about why we’re changing, this is the group of people who least need our excuses. We understand, because we feel the same way.

I share dinner once a month with a cadre of fellow students who love to write. Although some of the luckier ones can envision a way to dovetail their writing immediately with their post-MBA lives, most of us are resigned to a shift in career track further in the future. We speak with weary voices about how difficult it will be to start our non-profit for the arts or to become a published author. However, I’d bet when we actually do it, the only weary thing around us will be others watching our efforts; we’ll thrive on the change. It helps to commiserate with each other about it, and will help even more in the future when we’re faced with the reality of it.

I can also think of several students using this time to explore more personal avenues of change. In my own life, I’ve opened myself up to a religious conversion. A few years ago I would have denied such a change was possible. Yet here I am, buying books and going to classes and questioning my fianc‚ late into the night. I admit I’m emboldened by the open minds I’ve met here from around the globe. It’s almost as if I’m hungry for what I’ll learn in the process – hungry for what I’ll learn about myself.

Perhaps that’s a fundamental string connecting those of us who surrender two prime earning years to get an HBS MBA. It’s not that we expect HBS to change our lives, as I originally meant in my essay. It’s that we sought a community of people hungry for lifelong change and the personal growth it would bring. We’ll need this community to support our almost masochistic attraction to change when we re-enter the more static, status-quo satisfied world.

February 24, 2003
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