Lessons from Stanford

by | Jan 20, 2018 | 0 comments


Two years in Stanford’s MBA program flew by, but the life lessons stuck with me. After graduating in 2017, I captured ten of my most memorable and relatable lessons to share with my network. Here’s the list of topics, with the first lesson below (to get the full series, opt-in here:

  • Lesson #1: Know yourself. Be honest. Tell your story.
  • Lesson #2: Take risks – but plan for contingencies.
  • Lesson #3: Diversity – it’s not just a buzzword.
  • Lesson #4: Networks are powerful.
  • Lesson #5: Sometimes, learning hurts.
  • Lesson #6: Bad news doesn’t get better with time.
  • Lesson #7: Clean models, messy hands.
  • Lesson #8: Everyone has gremlins.
  • Lesson #9: There is never enough time.
  • Lesson #10: Life is an experiment – iterate!


Ready? Let’s dig into Lesson #1!

Know yourself. Be honest. Tell your story.

My first lesson from Stanford came before I was even accepted to the MBA program.

It was July 2014, and I’d just opened the application for the first time. It was long. It was detailed. And it was challenging. Not necessarily because the questions were hard, but because to truly answer them, you needed to understand and articulate who you are.

For example, one of the essay topics was “What matters most to you and why?”

This wasn’t a trick question, but wasn’t trivial, either. It required a lot of self-reflection. Who was I? What did I want from life? Why did I want to go to Stanford? How did all these pieces of the puzzle fit together?

While every interaction and blank to be filled was an opportunity to make an impression, there was a choice to be made: Did I want them to admit the real me? Or some perfect, imaginary version of me?

The answer was easy. After years of trying to conform to military life, I was aching to be accepted for the real me – a bold, fun-loving idealist with a hint of rebellion. Why waste hours of introspection saying anything different? Plus, this line from the applications page helped convince me this was the right choice:

“The strongest applications we see are those in which your thoughts and voice remain intact. The Stanford MBA experience relies on authenticity among students. To understand how you will contribute to and benefit from the University community, we need to know who you are, not simply what you have done. Your experiences, beliefs, passions, dreams, and ambitions will help form the Stanford community.”

In my case, this also meant facing some glaring deficiencies in my application head on. My standardized test scores were abysmal and there was no getting around it. But you know what? You get to tell your story. While I certainly would have benefitted from more test prep, I’d chosen to do other things. Why not just explain why and what I’d done with my time instead? I can’t say whether this helped or hurt me, but I still got accepted in the end!

These lessons from the application came in handy right after graduation. Even though I wasn’t looking for a job, recruiters started reaching out to me. One opportunity seemed particularly appealing. After an initial phone interview, it was clear that they were looking for someone with classic consultant training. There were two problems:

  1. I didn’t have it.
  2. That that’s not where my natural strengths lie, or even where I would provide value to their company.

I had a decision to make. I could pretend to be this person, or I could tell the recruiter my concerns. Surprising, he found my candor really refreshing. Not only did they not write me off as a candidate, they were more intrigued! [I ended up launching Take Back Work instead, but it felt so good to be completely transparent during the whole process.]

So here it is in a nutshell:

Know yourself. Be honest. Tell your story.

Whether you are looking for a new job, transitioning from the military, or even seeking a companion, taking this approach gives people a chance to chose the real you. And when you make the choice to be authentic, you attract the opportunities and people that are best suited to your awesome, unique self!

Want more? Don’t forget to subscribe to the rest of the series!

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