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Transform This

Yes, HBS has also provided us with an environment in which to learn, network, and make new friends. And yes, we’ll all probably get a good job after school. But couldn’t we have done all of this without HBS?

We say that we can change the world. We can’t.

We say that we’ll be the class to redefine success. We won’t.

We say a lot of things here at HBS, but the truth is that most of it just isn’t true. Our dreams may be big and our hopes may be limitless, but in reality the world is a complicated, depressing and evil place, and there’s nothing much we can do about it. Seriously, don’t be confused by all the hot air that your fellow classmates are blowing, particularly on April 8th. We’re just a bunch of MBA students with no real power to change anything. Repeatedly telling ourselves we’re important may sound great, but it also sounds great when Lindsay Lohan says she’s sober. Words are meaningless without action and action is impossible without substance.

If an MBA is truly so feckless, then why has HBS been so successful for 100 years? Escapism. Life is and always has been one continuous series of failures punctuated by occasional spots of happiness, and HBS provides the ultimate escape for two years. The best thing about going to a school where it’s almost impossible to fail is just that – you postpone for two amazing years the ritualistic disappointment and failure that has become commonplace in our lives. This is the true value proposition of HBS, and we should celebrate this proven model of escapism more wholeheartedly.

Yes, HBS has also provided us with an environment in which to learn, network, and make new friends. And yes, we’ll all probably get a good job after school. But couldn’t we have done all of this without HBS? Absolutely. But could we have had such a rock-solid excuse to avoid doing any real work, while also escaping the oppressive melancholy of existence? No way. And that’s the beauty of HBS. Again, this is what we should be celebrating on April 8th. Everything else is just an exercise in self-justification and ego reinforcement.

The biggest myth about HBS is the perpetually lauded “transformational experience” mumbo-jumbo. Did any of you really transform in a deep and substantial way? If so, was it because of HBS, or was it because you were a Consultant or Investment banker and you finally learned what the words “daylight” and “social interaction” and “paying for meals with my own money” meant? More likely most of us have learned a bit but haven’t really changed much, but are unwilling to admit as much because we’re told so often that if we haven’t transformed and had the greatest two years of our lives then we’ve failed as human beings and must be consigned to Old Yeller’s fate. People don’t change; that’s a fact clear to anyone who’s ever seen a Lifetime Original Movie. The great, fabled HBS transformational experience is nothing more than a fabricated marketing campaign based on fictional aspirations. Unless, of course, you consider our transformation from independent sentient beings to peer-pressure influenced blind cheerleaders.

This is not meant to be a depressing essay. Okay, it is, but it’s also meant to be a call-to-action. Don’t be deluded into thinking that you can actually do something substantial, as the world is just too broken. Our parents’ generation had the greatest of aspirations in the 1960s, and what have we accomplished? War, global warming, terrorism, The Bachelor. Not a great track record. Why do we think we’ll to do any better? We probably won’t, so what’s the point of trying? Understanding this reality is the key to enjoying the few fleeting moments of joy that we truly have in life, two of which we are concentrated at HBS. Just sit back, relax, and celebrate the opportunity for escapism that HBS has given to you and 99 different classes. Then go out, make money, and invest heavily in anti-depressants.

April 22, 2008
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