I find that a major theme of the MBA experience is the focus. This appears once when you weigh focusing on your studies vs other activities, and a second time in career and sector focus context. A big chunk of one’s attention is devoted to figuring out how focused they want to be, as opposed to being more exploratory and considering different options. I, by nature, lean further to the exploratory side but I am starting to develop an interest in learning about how the focused life looks like: to me, it seems almost mystical. I find it hard to comprehend how people that know so well what they want to do got to this place and how they deal with the enormously wide range of competing possibilities.
“MBA Studies” VS “Life”
If you were accepted to an elite MBA program, you are very used to getting good grades. Being at the top of most of the things you did in life, and specifically, academic studies is a custom to you. Naturally, devoting time to academic assignments makes sense. You’re good at it, and it will yield immediate positive results. It is easily measurable and will be rewarded in a very notable fashion.
You look up and a fast train is traveling at high speed towards you: this train is the unconceivable variety of career-related events, job and internship opportunities, sector-based sessions, sports, social events, international travel. This train calls for you to jump on board pretty much every day and more than once a day.
Each of us has our own favorite car on the train. In my personal case, the lights of Paris are the biggest temptation. I can’t get enough of it. I currently live 5 min walk from campus, which is very useful in terms of early morning class and social experience but is also an hour ride from Paris. I spend most of my weekends in the city and I feel like an idiot coming back on Sunday night. I want to get to know Paris like I know Tel Aviv, I feel I have a million different questions to ask it (Paris), I want answers. Every building is beautiful to me, every street is worth walking through. I want to see so many places that I haven’t had the opportunity to see. I know I will move to Paris next year but I’m impatient and edgy expecting it.
I think the same edginess appears in different contexts for many of my peers. Some have a very strong career path inclination, some for other things. For many, the academic part of life is in constant competition with the outer world. I also believe the ones choosing to prioritize academics, face a certain amount of FOMO that is unavoidable.
There is a great advantage to this dilemma: it makes you consider your priorities. Challenging your division of attention is a wonderful way to learn more about yourself and what is important to you. I try to welcome it and wish to embrace this dilemma.
“Going Somewhere” VS “Walking”
I recently learned a wonderful phrase that originated in French history: “Flaneur”. A Flaneur is a person (historically a man but fortunately times have changed) who wanders around Paris aimlessly (“The French History Podcast”, which oddly enough does not number all episodes. This episode is called “Navigating Paris”).
This word is absolute gold. It captures this vague idea of walking without being guided, wandering around but not trying to get anywhere. Spending time, lifting your head up, streaming thoughts. It is also a way to express disgust for one’s lack of purpose. I find this very appealing: what better way is there to find out where you want to go?
Philosophically speaking, this is even more complex: if you wonder trying to find where you want to go, then you have a purpose and then you are no longer a Flaneur. This is a nice brainteaser, but I exempt myself from solving it right now.
To return to our topic, it is important to mention that a big chunk of students here have at least a strong preference for what they want to do right after the MBA. I can’t give an estimation, but I would guess more than half. The consulting industry is the most dominant one, which makes sense considering the perfect fit between how the industry is structured and what an MBA is about. The second biggest would be finance, banking, and investments, and the third, by a wide margin, is everything else. Given you have a focus, you can easily find yourself spending 100% of your time engulfed in speaking sessions, essay competitions, networking opportunities, and social circles of that specific field. The abundance of people willing to listen creates an influx of people willing to speak. No one is exactly sure what is important, contrary to what is a waste of time, and consequently, people spend a lot of time on these events.
Perhaps the other side of this debate, the one I find myself on, the Flaneur side, the exploring side, is the one harder to define. Some of my peers are considering two industries while some consider everything but two. Some consider a few different roles in the same industry while some consider the same role in multiple sectors.
After my previous blog post, I was asked by a colleague to provide more specific examples: A good friend of mine has a finance background, and his dilemma is between remaining in the wealth management space, versus shifting to a financial position in a tech company. Another friend carried an online marketing role in a family fashion business and is now looking for a very similar role, but in a few other industries. I can’t say what is the proportion of Flaneurs, wonderers, in MBA students. This group is probably divisible to people with a conscious intention to explore and people with an easily distracted mind.
Personally, I struggle to define my profession because I never had a real job with a job description and an annual review. I certainly can’t say what I am looking for here, both in terms of role and in terms of industry. I can say with certainty that my main goal in doing the MBA is to discover some of the answers to these questions.
On a different note, please allow me to share a few spare thoughts I have on my mind.
In the past month, I’ve seen Messi and Neymar play, I’ve seen Novak Djokovic win the Paris masters tournament, visited London. I found a marvelous wood workshop and played a game of Catan for the first time since August.
I have to mention the visit to the Palais Garnier which is a historic Opera house. The beauty of it is unmatched. The idea of spending so much money, time, attention, to build such a glorious hall, with no possible use but to amuse a very small group of local rich people, blows my mind. It is a perfect example of just how unique humans are, how beautiful and stupid things could be at the same time. I recommend this experience and I put it down in writing in order to not forget: I need to actually attend a concert in this hall at some point!