Finding an MBA path / The Poetry of Wislawa Szymborska

September 16, 2008

School is finally in full swing: this seems to be the theme of the last week. We’ve all weathered the first econ problem set, considered the ins and outs of the Carlyle Group’s proposed investment in the Chinese construction company Xugong, drawn more probability and decision trees than we know what to do with, and spent a fair amount of time working in our core groups to determine what intrinsic and unique qualities we each have which will help facilitate our eventual roles as, in the words of SOM’s mission, “leaders for business and society”. But oddly, through all of this concrete class time and coursework, group meetings and late nights at the computer finishing one last problem, it has been easy to lose sight a little bit of the ultimate goal of all of “this.” Last night, while having dinner with a few new SOM friends, one turned to the other and asked, “What are your drivers? Why are you at business school?” For all of the application-era soul searching, for all of the essays detailing five-year, ten-year, life-long plans, even given the 192 times I’ve had to tell my own story over the last 3 weeks (193 if you count practicing in the mirror pre-orientation), the answer is less obvious than ever. Whereas “go to SOM, learn about business, become proficient in casing, get an internship in non-profit consulting, learn more about business, get a full-time position doing non-profit consulting for up to 5 years, then officially change the world” was a great narrative to focus around for my applications, and has even been a great story to tell my classmates (a truly desired story, for those classmates who might feel like I was trying to pull one over on them…), the breadth of options that have been placed in front of me over the last few weeks have placed that initial idea into a much broader perspective; one that doesn’t necessarily have a neat answer. But, I will say that for all of the new confusion I do feel a little more ready to meet this new issue every day I’m here. The motivation of my classmates, the stories that they have to tell about the amazing things that they’ve already done, and the encouragement of the staff, faculty, and even more so from the second year students are enough to make the task of choosing a path, or a few paths even, an exciting rather than a daunting one. The same friend who asked this newly-difficult question was also kind enough to lend me a book well outside of the typical business curriculum: view within a grain of sand, by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska. Somehow finding time to read a few poems here and there, in-between articles about the neuroscience of leadership and the second bounce that accompanies every major business trend, two passages have stuck in my head for the last few days: We’re extremely fortunate not to know precisely the kind of world we live in. (from We’re Extremely Fortunate) *** Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through. (from Love at First Sight) It seems somehow both typical and amusing that after working so hard to take my undergraduate degree in poetry and make the skills I learned applicable to the act of business that I would return to poetry as a means of understanding the act of business school. Many of us in the incoming class are going through an amazing period of transformation. However, as Szymborska’s verse indicates, there can be tremendous value to not knowing “precisely” the world around us. In my reading, that allows us the ability to shape the world to be something different from what it already is; to move past a first reading. At the same time, as the second passage above indicates, we are always in a moment that includes those who have come before us. The act of answering one of the most important questions on many of our minds here at SOM, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”, is something that a long series of amazing people who were here before us have successfully answered over the last few decades. With or without the insights of Polish poets, I’m sure that all of us in the class of 2010 will find an answer to it soon enough. For more information on Wislawa Szymborska, check out the following links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wis%C5%82awa_Szymborska

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1996/

http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/web/arts_culture/literature/poetry/szymborska/poems/link.shtml

Categories

About the author

Neil Alger