Like many of you reading this article, I prefer to plan out each step of my life. Methodically marching towards each life goal, and rolling with the punches life throws at me. Oftentimes though, unforeseen events take place, and our well thought out plan gets thrown out of the window. For me, this event came in the form of a meeting with my good friend, Avilia Guardiola. Her passionate belief in my abilities cut through the doubts I had when preparing my business school application.
As an undergraduate student in 2009, I first set foot on the Harvard Business School campus for an admissions visit, and I instantly knew that there was something special about this place. The case method, current students, and focus on making a difference in the world matched well with my learning style and outlook on life. Over the next few years, I would take the Mega Bus from New York to visit the school once or twice each year for club conferences and other events. My goal was to apply when I had the strongest chance of gaining admission, and when it made the most sense professionally.
No matter how strong my application was, it never felt strong enough. I read 3rd party admissions message boards, and thought to myself, “If the astronaut who cured cancer couldn’t get in, what chance did I have?” I needed more leadership or maybe some more work experience. I felt as though I needed something to make me more competitive. During the fall of 2014, my “more” finally came: the opportunity to work in London. I hoped this would finally make me “good enough” in the eyes of the admissions teams at all of my top schools.
It was decided; London was happening! Even though I had spoken with recommenders and started drafting essays for school applications, I would put my application process on hold and relocate to London. Nothing was going to change my mind.
Enter Avilia Guardiola.
My good friend Avilia had just gotten into HBS, and when I went to her office to congratulate her, she immediately asked about my application. My elaborate plan of going to London and applying from across the pond did not impress her. In my current role I was already splitting my time between New York City and London, so in her mind, I was already getting international experience. Her impression of my application delay equated to me being insecure. She walked me out of her cubicle, pulled me into a conference room and said the following:
“Terrance. I think you’re scared. After knowing you for all these years, I think you’ve had top business school qualifications for a while now. There is no such thing as the perfect application. Stop telling yourself ‘not now’ and leave that to the professionals. Apply to HBS and see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, you still have London, and you can apply again.” [paraphrase]
This is why I love Avilia. At barely 5-feet, she looked me square in the eye and with zero prejudice, called me a chump. **Please note that I am 6’ 5”, and when clean shaven, vaguely resemble Kobe Bryant**
My pride swelled. I puffed out my chest, and said: “You know what. I’ll consider it.”
Deep down, I was nervous. I didn’t want to disappoint my mentors or mentees who believed in me. I didn’t want to let down my family and friends who knew about this goal, and most importantly, I didn’t want to fall short of my own expectations. I was using the London opportunity as an excuse to avoid potential rejection.
Thanks to Avilia, I went back and finished my application using the few weeks we had before the Round 2 deadline. I was completely surprised when things worked out in my favor.
The only more I needed was confidence, but Avilia knew this the whole time. Avilia, thank you for helping me push past my self-doubt. To those thinking about applying to HBS, I encourage you to go for it. Don’t let your own self-doubt sabotage what could be one of the best experiences of your life.