There are certain things you come to business school expecting to learn and certain ways you expect you’ll change. Over the course of my first year at HBS, I’ve learned how to prepare a balance sheet and negotiate a job offer—but I’ve also changed in more profound ways than I thought possible in a few short months. 

1. My career goals

I never expected that in such a highly driven environment like HBS I would become most attuned to finding balance in my life. As a result of my experience here, I have become more empowered to think about my career trajectory as a process rather than a destination. 

When I think about my professional path, I realize that being in an industry or performing a job role is just a piece of the puzzle. I have started to factor in many other variables like impact, personal growth, or ability to innovate. By broadening my scope, I find myself pursuing opportunities that seem more fulfilling and sustainable in the long term.   

2. My leadership style

One of the biggest surprises I’ve had at HBS is how much personal growth I have undergone. A lot of self-reflection came about from reading LEAD cases, our first year leadership course. By being exposed to difficult situations that required very different leadership approaches, I began to ask myself what would I do in such scenarios? Was I prepared to make the tough choices, to rally teams, and to push a vision forward? 

These questions, along with team activities, eventually led me to realize that the leader I wanted to be was not necessarily the same leader I actually was. A great opportunity therefore emerged for me to realize that I am a “leader in progress.” 

I found that leadership, regardless of style, is reliant on people rather than the individual. With these insights I look forward to fine-tuning my approach to leadership so that it is adaptable to the people and the context at hand, and that it always serves as the means to make others better.   

3. My ability to be present and prioritize

The two most salient things I have learned from my friends at HBS are to be present and to have a clear sense of what really matters. On the first point, it can be easy to be physically present but mentally absent minded. Before you even realize it, moments pass in a meaningless fashion. By being engaged in the present, whether it is in a conversation or in class, I have been able to make my learning experience and connections with others more memorable and meaningful. 

On the second point, it became incredibly crucial to drill down and understand what my priorities were. Business school offers myriad opportunities, and most seem incredibly enticing. In the absence of having clear priorities, this can create a lot of internal conflict. Thus, making sure that the choices and trade-offs you make align with your values is very important.

4. My acceptance of failure

At HBS I started to embrace failure. At work I didn’t have the luxury to allow myself to think about failing. Yet school fosters an environment conducive to helping you take risks and failing in a productive fashion. I discovered it really is ok to fail. A fear of failure often means we avoid taking risks, learning new things, or trying something that feels unnatural. 

Throughout my time here, I have started to appreciate the immense opportunity for growth that comes about with failure. I love the quote, “Some people see the glass half empty, others half full but there are those that know the glass can be refilled.” This struck to me as the type of perspective that is gained when you embrace failure. You are pushed to find new, and better, ways to refill the glass.