We always think we have a lot of time. Timeto study, time to make friends, time to pursue dreams. Yet time always slips by when we are least aware, leaving us with a feeling of unfinished business.
If history could repeat, we might make some different choices all over again. However, this is only because there are always too many options to choose. I am still overwhelmed with the overall incredible Oxford experience and the opportunities I was presented with during my MBA. But most importantly, I learned a few lessons about MBA which can be directly applied to real life.
Here are the seven lessons I have learnt at Oxford:
1. Studying can actually be fun
I used to think that Study of all kind is boring. While figures cannot describe a romantic autumn as beautifully as poets do, financial statements, statistics, and valuations always tell a truthful story, but not always. Besides teaching us how to build a financial model, lectures also teach us to keep a detective’s skeptical attitude when reading a company’s business story. During a game in an economics class, we tried to form cartels among different groups, only finding that verbal agreements were ineffective and you could trust no one but yourself. Betrayals could happen at any time. So much of learning from economics I today apply to my business, till date.
2. Your colleagues are fun too
People come to MBA programmes to make a change in their lives, but coming for a serious purpose does not mean that we are serious people. MBA students can indeed be very creative and funny. One day we created nicknames (for all 250 students) and marked them on our nametags in class, another day we wore red jeans to celebrate a Christmas in Finance class. We have sung songs along with our professors (yes in class, and yes, in front of a VP of one of the largest software companies in the world. ). MBAs are not dull, they just act so to appear classy and bossy 😛 Life is all about opening up. Letting your hair down and making new friends.
3. Be a Quant or a Poet
As one of my professors said, MBA students are always either good at financial models (we will call such people “Quants”) or good at writing reports or presentations (whom we will call “Poets”). If you are stuck in the middle, like me, you are far behind the “efficiency frontier” (an economic / strategic concept meaning everything on this curve offers the highest expected return) so you better work hard or rely on good luck. In life, you have take sides. Every now and again, you will have to make a decision, and then stick to it. It’s all about understanding who you are, what your strengths are and then focus on building on them.
4. Glad there is teamwork
Every cloud has a silver lining. You can always seek help somewhere in the class. A classmate good at Excel took initiative in tutoring others and another offered her own prepared notes on a Strategy course. A classmate’s reminder on a task’s deadline is always more useful than looking it up yourself in the diary. My study group members come from five different countries and have different expertise and backgrounds, creating an unbelievable synergy during discussions and group assignments. Chances are, you would need to work across a diverse team some time or another. If you are not a team player, you’d better change that now. It’s ok to ask for help. Even from people you don’t really know People are rather happy to help. Never be shy to ask.
5. Introverts have nowhere to hide
I enjoy a social life, but I do not use it to network. In a business conference, I am always the shy one avoid taking the first move to shake hands with new people. I am glad that I am forced to practice hundreds of times at the beginning of the MBA , as there is nowhere you can hide from knowing your 250 classmates. Every introduction in a new conversation makes you understand your story better, and sometimes interesting stories pop up and relationships are thereby developed. Never run and hide from your petpeeves, open up and explore.
6. The world is always larger than you thought
One of the most amazing experiences I have had in Oxford is the opportunity to meet world-class business and social leaders. At the signature event Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, I got a chance to personally have lunch with Reid Hoffman, founder of Linked In, Biz Stone, and Founder of Twitter. At Oxford Union (the world renowned university debating society), I joined talks given by Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia. I even had the chance to have a small group drink and debate on China development with Dr. Eric Li, a venture capitalist who has significant stakes in more than 30 leading companies in respective industries in China. All these things taught me one important thing. World is lot bigger and better than we ever think. We live in our shell, our comfort zone all our life. We need to just get out and do things. Good people, successful people are just like us. They are just the doers. They live their dream by doing things we just dream of doing. And this does not include marrying in a balloon or holidaying in Paris kind of a dream. This means not procrastinating, not giving up and most importantly, believing in yourself.
7. In life we search
Nelson Mendela died a few days before I thought of writing this article. As one of the greatest figures of this century, he also made an impact at our school. Our main lecture theatre is named in his honour to remind us of our responsibility to follow in his footsteps. He had come personally to inaugurate the lecture hall named after him.
He once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
A good education is a key step to changing our lives, and in changing our lives we also change others. In Oxford we learnt to build financial models, but we also learnt how to respect others, and how to make the best use of our efforts to build the world a better future. For every little dream we dream, we determine the significance of the life we lead.