I want to share the best sliver of advice I have been given in the last ten years – because it has made all the difference in the world for me. Had it not been for this advice, I would never have applied to HBS for fear of its daunting 88% rejection rate:
“Don’t be afraid of failing. If you never fail, that doesn’t mean you are successful. It might just mean you aren’t taking enough risks to really catapult up the learning curve. If you aren’t failing 50% of the time, you aren’t taking enough risks to really grow. Learn to fail graciously and gloriously.”
Now at HBS, I have a new spin to this piece of advice. I want to share a funny anecdote that arises – perhaps a bit from being green around the horns and also from some healthy over-enthusiasm. I hope that in so doing, you will feel compelled to better embrace the opportunities around you – caring less about looking silly before your peers and learning to brush aside your mishaps. I hope it will make you less self-conscious of the time you stumbled and tumbled down a snow bank landing at the feet of the College President – as a good friend of mine did when we were undergraduates. Her advice: Learn to brush off the snow, stick out your hand, and introduce yourself. What a fortuitous event this is!
Back in January, while I was on the HBS Israel IXP, our tour guide carefully laid out instructions for gradually descending into the world’s saltiest body of water (at a 33% concentration). As our bus wove its way through the hills, she voiced that it was vital we take certain precautions:
Hang onto the guardrail and walk slowly down the pathway into the water.
Always keep your head – particularly your eyes – above the surface of the water.
Do not remain in the water for longer than 10-minute intervals.
Rinse off and re-enter if necessary.
We had all conscientiously listened to these directions, seemingly tucking them away for practice on arrival.
Perhaps out of sheer excitement or instinct (the water so closely resembled that of the beach just beyond the backyard where I grew up), the moment my feet touched the sand, I ran across the expanse of shore, and dove squarely, headfirst into the water. I remember I was idly swimming about, circling like a happy dolphin, when I heard the muffled screams of onlookers (Did I mention the screams sounded muffled because I was underwater?). Curious about the source of all this commotion, I surfaced to see what had happened. It turns out that every person standing on the shore of the Dead Sea was screaming.at ME! It appears I had broken every cardinal rule of Dead Sea Entry. Ooops.
While I am not recommending you give your tour guide or IXP trip-mates heart attacks as I nearly did – I encourage you to dive headfirst into HBS. When in doubt, waver on the side of over-enthusiasm. Let your excitement take hold. Run some sensitivity analyses on yourself to test out your limits – I bet you that you will find you can accomplish much more than you ever thought possible.
Class of 2009: Your time is up (or is it just beginning?). Good luck to you as you go out and conquer the world. I will always look up to you.
Class of 2010: We only have one more year here at Harvard Business School. I implore you to embrace this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with an open mind and an open heart. I hope you will find yourself beaming despite the blunders (and being Skydecked with full force as I was).
Class of 2011: I cannot wait to meet you – to feel that special surge of electricity in the air with your arrival on campus in the fall.
Finally, thank you all for entrusting me with this wonderful opportunity. I am honored to be your EIC.
Remember: “Deep Dive into the Dead Sea.”