How to Stay True to Yourself in Business School
By: Brooke Wages
Brooke “Bo” Wages is an MLT MBA Prep alum currently pursuing her MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management and her MPA at Harvard Kennedy School. Bo shares tips on staying true to your convictions.
My name is Brooke Noel Wages, but you can call me Bo. When I’m not in class at MIT Sloan or Harvard Kennedy School, you will find me with my startup team at Surge Employment Solutions, where we are building pathways for formerly incarcerated people to access thriving careers. My experiences post MLT MBA Prep have been challenging and fulfilling. Many of my challenges stem from being a walking conundrum: a self-described anti-capitalist and business school student. But, I think fitting into a box is boring.
In graduate school, I’ve felt torn between grassroots movement work and corporate career paths. Operating at the nexus is uncomfortable because thoughts and assumptions are continuously tested and refined. The wisdom I’ve gleaned from other Sloanies has made a lasting impact on me, much more than the coursework and the trips. Here are three pieces of advice from humble, brilliant, and generous Sloanies that have served me well in grad school.
The copious opportunities in business school can be overwhelming. Many people have advice for navigating this feeling, but mine is simple. Meditation.
The summer before grad school I recommend regularly reflecting and envisioning your future “greater” self. How will you lead teams? …walk into a room? …listen to others? …deal with conniving people? We tend to over-index on networking and informational interviews, but self-discovery manifested my guiding principles.
Free Yourself From External Expectations
This may not be the case for everyone, but getting good grades, exceeding the expectations at my job, and generally pleasing my friends and family got me into business school. But I’ve found that the skills that get you to this level won’t be the ones that enable you to thrive there. Making people happy, getting good grades, and making a lot of money is not inherently bad. However, putting any of these first, can block you from living fully.
I came to Harvard and MIT with a mission to start a business that helps formerly incarcerated people access high-paying careers that recognize their humanity. Many times pleasing people, getting good grades, or making money was in direct conflict with the success of my startup. When I was in that terrifying situation, I chose my startup and I am better for it.
Rejecting societal expectations is a daily practice, but it has freed me to act in my own interests. I often fall into the trap of thinking that successes and failures determine my value; but I remind myself that every person’s value is inherent. It can not be earned nor taken away, no action makes you any more or less worthy.
One of my favorite quotes by Grace Jones is “If you’re out there, you’re vulnerable. People prefer to disappear in life, to repress their personality. That’s not living. It’s dying. I see them all over the place, the walking dead.”
Before grad school, I felt stifled working as an engineer in oil and gas, like I was never fully seen. I told myself grad school would be different, but to be real, I felt the same pressure. Then I realized I was the problem, not the environment. I allowed the gaze of others to influence me.
The most daring things I’ve done in grad school were in service to my startup. I opted out of traditional paid internships during the summers, and I took a leave of absence to work for my business. I left it all on the court. We had some amazing wins and positively impacted people’s lives, but the bruises, sleepless nights, and my skimpy bank account taught me the most.
Business school is a safe place to be bold to take risks and explore. I challenge each of you to do just that. At MIT Sloan, I had the time to pursue my passion, build great relationships, and travel to some amazing places. I can not express how rich and beautiful my time at Sloan has been thus far, but if you reach out to me I will definitely try to do it justice.
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