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Ok, So You’re Here…

Nabil MohamedIf you’re reading this then you’ve probably already heard a bunch of really cool speeches by some very important people telling you how awesome the next 2 years are going to be. And they will.
But I thought I’d take a different tack. I want to talk to you about the kind of thing that doesn’t make for a very good speech –but might prove to be useful advice. And my advice is: stick to who you are.
Harvard Business School is a place where people re-invent themselves. We’ve all been there. You get here and you’re like: “I have to be extroverted and know everybody’s names. I have to go to all the parties and put myself out there. I want to be engaging and funny and charismatic and eloquent”.

And it’s not bad to try developing yourself. But ultimately, one semester into your experience, you’ll start realizing that there are actually only a handful of things that you really want to do -and do well- and that the rest is just…noise. So there is something here to be said about focus.

In her book “Quiet”, which is now a bestseller, Harvard Law School graduate Susan Cain describes HBS as a place that believes that leadership and extroversion are strongly correlated. She then goes on to dispel that hypothesis and describes many cases where successful leaders were quiet, thoughtful, reflective and listened much more than they talked. The case method, although brilliant in many ways, is not exactly the best channel for this type of leadership…which is why HBSers who are on the calm and collected side, in the middle of all this glamour and glitz, sometimes doubt their ability to lead. Consequently, there are times when they try to push themselves to be more…well…“noisy” –for lack of a better word. So they go to a lot of events, pretending to be having the time of their lives, but really wishing that they were back at their place perhaps reading a book or enjoying the company of a few close friends. The buzzphrase for doing that is “going outside of your comfort zone”, but let’s not kid ourselves: it’s not. We all know that there’s a difference between occasionally challenging yourself and trying to change who you are.

So here are my 2 cents: don’t go stretching yourself too thin and trying to do everything, and don’t try to be something you’re not. For example, if you’re not a big party freak, don’t pretend to be one. Because one or two months into your experience, you’ll come to terms with the fact that you actually don’t really like parties, and the people who do like parties will wonder why you ever indicated that you do. Don’t feel obligated to accept any and all invitations to gatherings and events; do the things you like, however unglamorous, and let them fuel your inspiration and creativity. And finally, stand firm by your priorities and principles. In this world full of engaging people with carrying voices and impeccable eye contact, there’s something to be said about distinguishing yourself with your resilience, consistency, loyalty and hard work.
So, in the words of every clichéd romcom that’s ever existed, be yourself: you’re awesome.

September 8, 2014
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