“I was at a crossroads: do I stay, or do I dare to be great?”

From an early age, Jamal Motlagh was immersed in the figurative waters of business – his father is a civil engineer who successfully launched his own firm – and in literal water itself. "I've been swimming since I was three," Jamal says. "Then my brother got me interested in water polo." Jamal competed on a high school team that won regional championships each of his four years and nationals twice.

Jamal continued to play water polo throughout college, reaching the Final Four in his junior year, but instead of going abroad to play professionally, as many of his colleagues had, he went to Microsoft as a junior sales associate. "Selling is my focus," says Jamal. "Microsoft promised me a full sales position when I reached its performance targets." Jamal reached them in just one year; meanwhile, he played water polo as an amateur until a fateful meeting with the coach of a Spanish team who had seen Jamal play and now offered him a position. "I was at a crossroads: do I stay with Microsoft, or do I dare to be great?" Jamal dared – and played a season with Molins de Rei.

Learning by not doing

Knowing that, "there were a fair amount of skills I'd need that I didn't have," Jamal decided to get an MBA. "I visited a class at HBS and was completely energized by what was happening. I wanted to raise my hand and jump in, even though I didn't really know what was going on. I believe in learning by doing, but I saw that this was a way of learning by not doing. You get a chance to build an education based on borrowed, real-life experiences." His subsequent classes reinforced his first impressions. "I love the case method," Jamal says. "Every day is a different story where the ending is unknown. You analyze data without much foresight into the outcome, and you arrive at a plan of action you're prepared to debate in class. We challenge each others' underlying beliefs and assumptions, and push back in a safe environment."

"The professors are not only great academics, but committed teachers. They're not just willing, they're excited to talk to students – whether it's chatting after class, meeting for coffee, advising clubs or serving on panels. They're always open."

Proving worthiness

In the summer, Jamal will intern with Goldman Sachs, managing wealth for high-net-worth individuals. "The job is very much based on your ability to convince people you're worthy of their trust. You're selling your integrity as a reliable, personal advisor."

Jamal plans on continuing his education after graduation, "acquiring skills and experiences with established companies, learning how to manage teams." Five to ten years out, Jamal hopes to, "realize my dream to start my own business, to push myself through good times and bad to make something amazing."