What I Wish I’d Known This Time Last Year

Rahima Dosani
Rahima Dosani

Rahima is now an Alumni, class of ’16. MBA Student & Academic Services thought it was worthwhile to share her advice to RCs that she wrote in the fall of her EC year. We hope you find the information to be helpful.

Everyone has a different HBS experience and different learnings from their RC year, but for whatever it’s worth, this is what I wish I had known last year at this time:

Chart your own course. ECs would tell me what I should and should not pay attention to, how useless FIELD III is, how great one professor is, how silly this class is, etc. I wish I had known not to listen to any of it. People come to HBS for dramatically different reasons. Some come to really buckle down and learn a new subject matter, some come to try their hand at entrepreneurship, some come to learn management and teamwork skills, some come to get a true break from their jobs, and some come to build a network. Do whatever it is you enjoy doing and let yourself fully engage in new experiences without cynicism. Don’t let other people’s priorities influence your own. If you really enjoy the academic and classroom experience, spend time on your cases and don’t be ashamed of it. If not, don’t feel guilty.

You are your own worst critic. No one remembers a comment for more than 2 minutes after you make it. Sometimes not even that long. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and say what you are thinking, and don’t beat yourself up afterward. Your opinions matter.

I stutter and I used to be so petrified of speaking in class because I was sure people would dwell on how badly I stuttered on a word for years to come. Surprise – no one cares or even remembers if I took a few extra seconds here and there. People have a short memory. So put yourself out there with reckless abandon.

Stay in touch with your family and friends. In the craziness that is RC year, it is so easy to forget to call home and forget about your high school, college, and work friends who have been by your side for years. Don’t underestimate how nice it can feel to talk to someone who really knows you and can cut through the superficial HBS conversations. And don’t forget that they helped you get where you are today. Don’t neglect them during your two-year journey. They may not really understand what your life is like, but keeping them close will be restorative and grounding for you in so many ways.

It’s really and truly okay if you don’t like to party on Tuesday nights. Or Saturdays, for that matter. It’s okay to value sleep instead. No one will remember if you were at the 80’s party or not. You might think they will, but they really won’t.

FOMO is real, but you can manage it. Before doing anything, ask yourself: “Deep down, do I really want to do this / go to this event / attend this party? Would I rather be sleeping or going to the gym?” Listen to the answer. Then, when FOMO inevitably rears its ugly head, remind yourself that you are taking care of yourself instead of doing something you think you “should” be doing. It’s always a better choice.

Quality over quantity. You will always be able to reach out to ANYONE in your section and ask for anything, at any time down the road. You have that privilege just by sheer dint of being a part of your section. So don’t feel like you have to spend your time trying to get close to people that you know you won’t ever talk to after RC year is over. Find the two or three or four people that you really care about and invest in spending time with them. Ask yourself: “Who would I want to keep in touch with or take a trip with many years after graduation?” Those are the people you should spend most of your time with. Be friendly with everyone, but don’t exhaust yourself trying to build close friendships with 95 people. It’s not humanly possible.

Ain’t no shame in getting a 3. Your life and career will be filled with just as much meaning, fulfillment, success, and happiness as it would be if you had gotten a 2. Guaranteed.

Being authentic is always the best choice. RC year at HBS somehow relegates us all back to junior high school, where we feel a desperate need to fit in. Don’t compromise your values and principles for anyone. There are people at HBS who think you are super cool exactly the way you are. Hang out with them. Own your quirks, and don’t conform.

Life happens. People go through real stuff while at HBS. Take care of them and be there for them when you can. You might also go through real stuff while at HBS. Prioritize yourself. This place can be lonely, overwhelming, and daunting. Sleep, eat well, exercise, and don’t be afraid to get help when you need it. HBS has a plethora of amazing resources that we pay for. Use them.

Ask people how they’re doing… and really ask. Everyone always seems like they are doing great, having a blast, crushing it, partying all the time, and have loads of close friends. Usually, this isn’t the case. It’s okay to be vulnerable and admit you’re stressed or feeling lonely or isolated. Don’t be afraid to have meaningful conversation and share your real feelings with people instead of putting on a mask of “I’m great!” all the time. You’ll be surprised at how much you have in common with people and how comforting it can be.

Professors are awesome. Share with them your concerns or thoughts about participation, class content, or just life. They value connecting with you and can be an incredible source of inspiration and comfort.

On careers…

First, you absolutely will find an internship if you choose to do one. Second, do your best to not fall prey to the consulting/finance frenzy unless you’re truly passionate about those careers. It’s hard. HBS is expensive, and we all worry about finding a well-paying job after graduation to pay off those ridiculous loans. I get it. Especially because I’m really, really broke right now. But don’t let that taint your focus on what the best job would be for you and your loved ones. Lifestyle matters. Your passions matter. Listen to your gut and don’t feel pressured by what your other classmates are doing. The money will work itself out. Oh, and if all else fails, HBS has loan forgiveness…

Don’t get mad at your significant other if they aren’t fitting in. It’s hard to understand the HBS experience as an outsider, and it’s even harder to like it. An introverted wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/cat/dog may not enjoy being thrown into a bar with 100 boisterous people who all know each other already. Don’t hold it against them. Have small group events with the people that mean the most to you and let them adjust slowly.

HBS seems to cause a lot of breakups. Before you end it with someone who doesn’t get your lifestyle, just remember that this two years will come to an end. You will never again be around so many people in such an intense, all-consuming type of environment. You will go back to life with one job in one city with one small group of friends. Evaluate your relationship against that kind of reality, not HBS reality.

You do belong here. When you feel like you don’t fit in, can’t figure out FIN for the life of you, and don’t see things the same way as other people, just remember that’s the value you bring to the table. And other people are definitely feeling the same way – you’re not alone.

Take care of yourself. It’s the most important thing to your success and happiness here. You’ll be a better student, friend, employee, child, and spouse if you put your basic needs first.

HBS doesnt need to be the best two years of your life. It’s awesome if it is. But it’s totally okay if it’s not. It just needs to be worth it for you. So “do you.” Invest in what you really enjoy or want to learn. Do what you need to do to make this time here meaningful for you.