Don’t Study….

…too much.  I vaguely recall someone passing on this small kernel of knowledge when I was shopping schools just over a year ago. (Has it really been over a year already?) But the advice quickly slipped through my fingers as I jumped with both feet, into the swirling vortex of new information, people and crazy schedule that was our first quarter.  There were no longer enough hours in the day for study, work, sleep, and the regular life of socializing and hobbies that I had once known and loved.  I had to study all the time just to keep my head above water.

Not only had I simply forgotten how to study efficiently but apparently I had lost the ability to sit still for hours on end with my mouth shut.  Sure, I was used to marathon meetings but those were at least interactive and you were usually free to get up and pace around restlessly when you started getting bored, tired or frustrated with everyone else’s lack of preparation.

Paying attention for the entirety of a three hour lecture was a feat that seemed to require the endurance of a professional athlete. Staying in the ring required a lot of preparation on my part which mean more of that dreaded word my piano teacher drilled into my head as a child.  “Practice, Elizabeth.  Practice!”  I clearly needed to do the reading for class and even the practice problems to stay engaged in the lectures or, like a grim memory from childhood; I feared the professor would see right through me and scream “I can tell you haven’t been practicing!” while slapping my knuckles with a ruler. So clearly, I put in the requisite hours of study needed to build up my mental endurance.

It wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t on my own however.

We started off studying on our own but we soon began studying together as well.  We found tutors, studied some more and then bonded in our misery afterwards.  Over coffee, or preferably cocktails, we would complain, brainstorming, ruminate, bull #*&% and get to know each other.   We talked about class, new business ideas, jobs, stress, vacations, kids, money, beer, stupid movies, food, dreams, nightmares, relationships….

We started becoming friends.

Whoever it was that originally told me not to study too much was right.  If I spent all my time with my nose in a book I would miss out on one of the most important things to be gained from this experience.  I underestimated how much I would get from relationship with my fellow-classmates.

At first I found them intimidating.  I would look around the room and wonder how I was going to keep up with these brilliant and successful people who were already leaders in their industries.  How did I manage to get in with this amazing group?  But then I realized how helpful they were.  People in my study group and beyond were willing to spend time explaining concepts I had trouble with and provide recommendations and advice on work related topics as well. Turns out I could help them in ways I hadn’t anticipated either. Seem, what comes around goes around.

After I got terribly sick and then left my job several months later they became incredibly supportive.  They were there for lunch, advice and referrals any time I needed them.   Now that I am beginning to look for new projects I find them incredibly inspiring.  They are full of great ideas, have diverse backgrounds, fantastic ideas and successful companies.  They are a wealth of knowledge and incredibly motivating.

The course work is important and the sole reason that many people get an MBA, but my experience would be very shallow if that is all I focused on.  You are not going to be great friends with all of your classmates but if you put yourself out there a bit you are sure to find a few that you really connect with.  And if you make a little more of an effort, you will find the other ones that will simply be supportive, inspiring, or motiving forces in your life for years to come.  I know, it sounds like pretty soft advice for a bunch of type-A MBA’s but I would really encourage you to not study too much and make time to make friends.

Since I started at Booth I have learned just how much I don’t know, but I have also increased my knowledge of finance and accounting by about 100%.  I now understand the economy, business and general current events on a much deeper level.  I consider myself a more well-rounded business leader, have expanded my network exponentially and have exciting new business and professional opportunities on the horizon.  But these things were somewhat expected.

Thanks to the same program and the people I have met as a result, I also have countless memories unrelated to class.  I have gotten stitches in a Thai hospital and danced till sunrise on multiple continents.  I have done yoga in Thailand, learned how to ski the blacks in Colorado, gotten lost in Amsterdam, studied statistics in Vegas and had a lesson on how to properly eat caviar and drink vodka. I have eaten chili crabs in Singapore, sailed in Lake Michigan, explored the New England coast and learned how to stay out till 4 and get to class by 9.  I have shared books, eaten tapas, made a lot of toasts and even lost a dear friend.

I will forget most of the facts and formulas I learn in this program.  But the people I will remember.

(Including Glen, who is greatly missed.)

Elizabeth Rogers, an Executive MBA student at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, blogs about her journey through an EMBA program for Poets&Quants. Her earlier posts:

Introducing Elizabeth, an EMBA Student at Chicago Booth

Finding Your Rhythm

School’s Out For Summer

What’s Really Harder Than The Soft Stuff

My Favorite MBA Study Tool: The iPad


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