Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.
Ah, those missed opportunities: the classes you didn’t choose, the classmates you didn’t meet, and the risks you didn’t take – the things you could’ve learned and the fun you could’ve had. Call it what it is: disappointment, regret – nostalgia, even. No matter how many achievements they collect or sacrifices they make, MBA graduates often look back wishing they’d made a different choice here-or-there.
Call it the paradox of options: the more choices you have, the more prone you are to wish you’d spent time differently. Just ask Luis E Luy, a 2023 executive MBA graduate from New York University’s Stern School.
A member of the U.S. Navy who ranked as its top supply corps officer, Luy had to carefully budget his time to meet the academic demands of a top American MBA program (and a family of five). Despite the “bandwidth constraints”, Luy wonders if he could’ve found a way to take part in more events that classmates often took for granted, such as traveling to New York City more for seminars and events. Even so, Luy admits that he didn’t exactly live under a rock as a student, however.
“I did take advantage of other great events in D.C. (e.g., cohort dinner at Elizabeth’s On L and the EMBA DC 5 Year Celebration) and am very excited about the upcoming Stern EMBA DC Boat Cruise.”
The fear of missing out – or FOMO – wasn’t the only regret for the EMBA Class of 2023. For many, business school was the first time they’d returned to class for a decade or more. In the beginning, that made school uncomfortable. Not only were they shouldering new responsibilities, but also wrestling with new disciplines that represented new languages to some. As a UC Berkeley undergrad, Alex Fite studied Industrial Engineering before growing into a senior management role in the decade after graduation. Still, academia required a major transition for Fite, who wishes that she’d asked for help earlier and more often.
“Every single time that I did get up the nerve to ask for help, people went above and beyond to support me,” explains the graduate of the University of Michigan’s Ross School. “Be that providing notes, walking me through a tough problem, or giving me great advice on how to handle working motherhood, classmates were generous with their time, experience, and kindness.”
“CHECK YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR”
The Class of 2023 didn’t just learn to be generous to others. Along with being a husband and father Ryan Wickham worked as a finance VP for a $92 million dollar industrial services firm – when he wasn’t busy earning his EMBA at Texas A&M’s Mays School. While faculty and classmates lauded Wickham for his calming executive presence, he recognized the importance of going easier on himself during the program.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t know everything,” he admits, “and I was incredibly hard on myself. I thought I had to be perfect. When I first entered the program, I felt I needed to prove myself to my team, professors, and former employer. I could have learned even more about myself and my classmates if I had been a better listener throughout the first year of the program. Go into the program with an open mind, check your ego at the door, and be ready to learn from your colleagues. Learn from their mistakes and their successes.”
What are other missed opportunities that executive MBAs lament? As part of the Best & Brightest Executive MBA nomination process, P&Q asked 2023 graduates to share their biggest regrets about business school. Here are several themes that emerged from their responses.
1) Done It Earlier: “My biggest regret is not starting this journey earlier in my career. Life can easily get in the way when you’re focused on building a career and raising a family, which is exactly what happened to me. So much time was spent taking care of those around me that I neglected myself in the process. While I won’t be diving in any time soon to add another degree under my belt, I am forever changed as it relates to learning and investing in myself.”
Amy Jantz, Baylor University (Hankamer)
2) Prioritized Exercise: “With so much going on and so much in balance, I found myself exhausted at times and going for stretches without exercising, which then led me to lose energy. In turn, this led to more stress, which led to stress eating…a vicious cycle. My best times were when, despite it being by far the busiest time in my life, I took at least a few minutes a day to get my heart rate up. It’s such a critical habit for not only physical but also mental health. It’s kind of accepted that health suffers during grad school, but I don’t think it needs to be that way, and I would have enjoyed the experience even more had I committed to this habit more fully.”
Mike Misch, Cornell University (Johnson)
3) Interacted More with Professors: “I regret not seeking out more one-on-one time with my professors to pick their brains. It’s easy to get caught up on assignments or exams, but the intellectual curiosity that business school encourages is much more valuable in my opinion. I think about many opportunities I had to seek out and further discuss our professors’ expertise outside of the classroom and wish I would have capitalized on them more.”
Sam Spencer, Duke University (Fuqua)
4) Believed I Belonged from the Start: “My biggest regret was that when I started business school, I had a bit of imposter syndrome. I had taken a non-traditional path to get there, and I was so sure that my classmates had much more to offer than I did. The reality was that the professionals who run the program were very intentional of who they admitted, and just making it in should have been enough to signal that I had a lot to contribute. Once I realized that my experience and my viewpoints were of value to my classmates, I made sure to speak up and participate regularly.”
Joshua Lewis, University of Georgia (Terry)
5) Taken a Trek: “I wouldn’t say it was a regret as much of a reflection, but I developed closer relationships with many of my classmates on an international trip that was near the end of the program. I wish I had found a way to do that earlier, as it changed the dynamic of the larger group interactions as we all had shared experiences that enhanced the closeness of the group.”
Alec DeLange, Michigan State (Broad)
6) Finished the Additional Readings: “This comment will sound super nerdy, but there were many more recommended books, articles, and research information that I couldn’t get to. The material was fascinating, and I would have liked to explore many of the recommended readings, but I couldn’t find the time. I have a stack of books ordered during my program that I hope to return to at some point. I’m not ready yet.”
Stephanie E. Green, Ohio State (Fisher)
7) Take More Risks: “I think my biggest regret was not taking more risks. I was so focused on getting good grades and building my resume that I didn’t always push myself outside of my comfort zone. I stuck to what I knew and what I was good at, rather than taking risks and trying new things. In hindsight, I think that approach limited my growth and development as a business leader. I missed opportunities to learn from failure and build new skills and perspectives.
So, my advice to current and future business school students is to take risks and embrace new challenges. Don’t be afraid to fail because that’s often where the biggest opportunities for growth and learning lie. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should be reckless or irresponsible. But don’t let fear hold you back from taking calculated risks and exploring new opportunities. You never know where they might lead.”
Sean Vasquez, USC (Marshall)
Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.