As our first semester comes to an end, we begin our preparation to leave the HBS bubble for a few weeks in “real world”. First stop: home for the holidays. As soon as your parents pick you up from the airport and you realize that you won’t need to check my.hbs.com for at least three weeks, the panic sets in. You wonder: what is life like outside HBS? And how can you explain life here?
It’s been a long time since we’ve had prolonged conversations with civilians outside of our small existence. We know the inevitable questions that will become the hot topics of the holiday break….tell me about school, have you made new friends? Are the courses hard? What do you do to keep busy? When you are sitting down for your formal holiday dinners, what do you do when your mom carefully asks “pass the carrots, and why are you dressed as a girl in these photos?”
The art of the tactful dinner conversation revolves around knowing your audience: tailor your comments to assure mom and dad that you are positioning yourself for the future; to the ex you may run into on the street, make sure he or she knows that you are doing just fine. Mixing up to whom you say what, however, can lead to problems.
For example, DO NOT go into the details of Section Love at the dinner table. DO mention the diverse and interesting people in your Section that have added to your unique experience at HBS. DO NOT mention how much money you spend on outfits for parties like Pricilla Ball, Halloween, 80’s night, and Holidazzle. DO emphasize the money that you save by eating the subsidized food in Spangler and by dressing in jeans everyday (no more dry-cleaning!). Like in class, you are judged by the quality as well as the quantity of your comments. Here are some sample responses that can serve as a guideline:
Question from Parents: “What are classes like? Are you learning a lot?”
Bad Answer: “Let me tell you about my favorite subjects: Bottlenecks. I can basically redesign the process flow for anything in your life to make it run more smoothly. You see Mom, when you were cooking this meal for us you forgot to take into consideration the cycle times of the various courses, and with less WIP in the kitchen, you could have ensured the proper temperature of the entire meal.”
Good Answer: “My first semester was a great experience. My professors loved me, I aced the midterms, and I’m pretty sure I got 1’s in all my classes!”
Question from Grandparents: “When are you getting married?”
Bad Answer: “After reading the profiles from the Class of 1976, I decided not to get married. I’ve done the numbers Grandma, and it’s going to cost me too much to get divorced later on. Best to just stick with the MBA and not help someone get their MRS.”
Good Answer: “Grandpa, remember that Reflected Best-Self exercise I asked you to complete for me? Well, after a lot of inner-reflection, I’ve decided that marriage and family are a huge priority for me. I looking forward to finding the right person to share my life with, and HBS is a step in the right direction.”
Question from Ex-Boyfriend: “Have you met a lot of nice people at school?”
Bad Answer: “There are some really good looking guys at HBS. Here, let me know you some pictures from Pricilla Ball of some of the guys that I think are just great…don’t mind the outfits and makeup….they are really cool in normal circumstances.”
Good Answer: “Did you know that 70% of the HBS student body is male? And only 30% are married? Do the math, the odds of a date are fantastic!”
Question from Ex-Girlfriend: “Are you dating anyone at HBS? I can’t imagine what the girls must be like in business school…”
Bad Answer: “Nah, there’s no dating business school chicks…some unspoken rule about not hooking up until after first semester…so I’ve just been hitting the books hard.”
Good Answer: “I know only 30% of the population at HBS is female, but we’ve got a great looking class. You’ve seen The Apprentice, right? Plus, HBS is conveniently located near a bunch of undergraduate schools….we just drop the H-Bomb when we go out to BU bars in Allston and it works like a charm.”
I suspect for most of us, our Winter Break will find us catching up with friends and relatives that we haven’t spoken to in quite some time (excessive phone calling to the outside world is frowned upon in the bubble). Share great stories, give them a feel for your HBS experience, and remember to return the favor and ask your loved ones about what they have been doing over the last few months. It’s a great time to catch a breather and remember what it’s like not to be students. And of course, please edit the pictures before you distribute to the entire family. There are some things that Grandma doesn’t need to see!