How do we make it more acceptable to say that business school is challenging? There are times when it isn’t the two year vacation we expected, and that’s okay. Recruiting stress and academic stress are real, but they should not be trivialized in a world where performance is king. It is not bad to be super-involved, high-achieving, and career-focused individuals. It is dangerous when we dehumanize our purpose and overlook the good each of us has to offer.
At Booth, there are investment bankers, entrepreneurs, veterans, lawyers, teachers, consultants and more. These are the career personas we see. But, what about the actual people inside these stereotypical professions? Do we know who they are? Beyond careers, there are personal stereotypes we consciously or unintentionally assign to each individual through gender roles, academic performance, workplace expectations, or domestic environments. By doing so, we put additional pressure on an already high stakes business school journey. This pressure is why I wear a mask, partly by choice and partly by demand.
Many assume that as a former collegiate athlete I’m competitive, self-interested, and inaccessible. They assume that because I’m at Booth I’m analytical and Type-A. What they don’t know is that as a D1 athlete I opted out of “athletic housing” and made community involvement a priority to break down the “jock” stigmas. And though I’m at Booth, analysis doesn’t come as naturally to me as to others, so I work tirelessly to compete with the pedigree. Moreover, I must suppress my anxiety or need for support to continue checking the box that reads “MBAs are capable” and fend off the social consequences of falling short.
Masking the anxiety is hard. The advantage is the freedom to take risks and to fail privately. The disadvantage is that we might really be struggling. Alternatively, the hidden side of us may have many unique experiences that can enrich our lives, and the Booth community. This enrichment may be discounted or never take place because nobody wants to be vulnerable.
However, there is strength in vulnerability and there is power in community-building when we support one another during challenging times. But we can’t support each other if individuals always wear “the mask” that everything is fine, even when it really isn’t. Similarly, there is power in personal relationship building and sharing with each other a different side of who we are so we learn to manage stress in different challenging environments.
Open up. Attend Booth Stories, talk about your feelings, host dinners, and engage in deep conversations. Don’t show the professional you, show the real you that will make people know you at a deeper level and remember you, and make real friends. I want to tell you that I am a youth mentor, that I like to sing, that I burned my face when I was a toddler, and that I helped start a bible study at Booth. But I want you to engage in an open conversation with me so that we discover these things about us. PEOPLE ARE AWESOME, BUT GET TO KNOW THEM WELL...
Author Victor Ojeleye is a native Kansan, a sneaker aficionado and antique car hobbyist.