Post-MBA, “Potential” is a 4 letter word

“In the professional world of leadership, ambition and potential are the most excessive commodities.” 
― Unknown

Post-undergrad, ‘potential’ and ‘work ethic’ took you places. Post-MBA, it’s a 4 letter word that kiiinda means you’re just not that good at any one thing – but you could be! (but you’re not yet).

Most MBAs leave school bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to face the world head on as a newly minted officially ‘prepared for business’ and ‘ready to change the game’ (in whatever form that takes for each individual) alumnus.

Doing a full time MBA is a lot like going back to college. Except, you’re older, you’re less insecure, you’ve got actual money to spend, you know how to hold your liquor (hopefully), and after the first semester or so, you’ve realized that (shhhhh) grades really don’t matter – the experience does. So when you’re done with your two years, you’ve had some sleep (clutch if you’ve been banking pre Bschool), you’ve taken a break from being an adult and you’re re-energized to go back out there and move up, move fast and use everything you learned to have that dream job/life/passionate (or big money) career you went there to cultivate.

But unless you’re very lucky, or super focused, eventually you discover that outside of school, life becomes…well, normal life again. No matter how excited you are about your new career/role/opportunity/chance to show em what you got…at some point, – no matter how great the job is, the monotony of real life work settles in and Friday afternoons become a cherished moment in time once again.

And you begin to understand that you’re not going to move a whole lot quicker up the ladder than other folks. Fast-tracked maybe, but the Zuckerberg/Jobs/(insert-nerd-to-riches, fame-and-status-in-5-years-or-less name here) story will most likely not be your own.

surprised much?

Yes, you’re smart, you’ve got potential, you’re a hard worker, etc. But experience is what companies begin to pay up for post-MBA. And experience takes time. And you can’t leapfrog experience by being smart, capable, a quick learner, etc. You simply have to DO, be exposed to multiple different instances, situations, political circumstances, changing industry landscapes to gain experience.

That takes time. No matter how fancy your B-school degree is, you’ve got to put in the time, in whatever industry you choose. And your first job out can be a trial, even the next one or two – you’ve got leeway to discover that mix of your passion/skills/value add. But eventually, you have to be an expert in SOMEthing. Potential is only cute until you’re asking to be hired as an expert in something (which starts to happen about 3+ years out). Then people want results. Past experience. A focus. A tangible skill.

For a generation without job security, hopping from job to job is normal, and being anywhere longer than 2-3 years feels like an eternity. But eventually, you have to pick a lane and get good at something. Deciding where to put your stake in the ground is scary (at least for me) – what if you can’t pull it back up again and you’re stuck along one path afterwards?

Am I a marketer? A strategist? A financial analyst? A mix of one, two or all three? Can one be a marketer if they don’t live and breathe digital and social media platforms? Or a strategist who doesn’t churn out waterfall charts and harvey ball-laden decks with my eyes closed? Or a financial analyst without relishing the thought of building LBO models from scratch (like any banker today builds any models from a blank sheet anymore anyways. Ha!)

If I pick one and double down, do I pigeon hole myself? If I try to be all three, do I appear too broad and inexperienced in anything? What if I want to learn something else? At what point does it become too late to say…become an ‘operations’ person? When is the cutoff for the ability to ‘career-switch’?


It’s been a while since I last posted here (I can’t believe it’s been almost a year!), mostly because at some point, while trying to figure out the answer to the above question, I decided to leave it all and remove myself from those (at the time, seemingly unsolvable massive) decisions and travel for a bit.

Maybe…this trip was indeed an escape. From the gravity of every day life decisions.

I’d like to think it wasn’t. I’d like to think it was a leap into the unknown, to discover which aspects of my life decisions truly matter most to me. A deliberate stepping off the hamster wheel of self-expectations and cultural mores or…a nimble sidestep off the path of self-imposed constraints I’ve woven for myself given the networks and career circumstances I’ve been fortunate enough to have over the years.

Only time will tell – I’m hoping I’ll have a better handle on how to best answer those questions when it’s all said and done. If nothing else, hopefully I’ll have learned something by the time I return!