Threading the Needle

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A wise person once told me, “truth is temporal.” Evolution, at times gradual and at times abrupt, defines the arcs of our lives. Natural selection favors species that maximize fitness, the balancing point between fit with current conditions and ability to adapt to new ones. No such calculating logic guides your life or mine. As humans, we are all driven by a vague intent to be content in our daily lives while simultaneously growing in ways both envisioned and unexpected. As individuals, we vary in our preferences for lives defined by constancy versus change, some of us thriving in the comfort of stability and others in the excitement of uncertainty. And as Wharton students, each of us explicitly chose to embark on a two-year odyssey of personal transformation. This, I’ve increasingly realized over my first six months as an MBA student, is wonderfully tricky, non-linear business; it necessitates walking a careful line between reinvention and fidelity to time-tested personal truths.

 

To adapt Heraclitus, we are rivers that cannot be stepped in twice. Everything that we observe or experience — every image that we see, emotion that we endure, awareness that we develop — becomes a part of us, carried on from that point forward. The beliefs and sentiments we hold today are the discarded assumptions of tomorrow, replaced by new perspectives and convictions. Love is gained and lost, friendships whither and are rekindled, professional aspirations take root and then shift. The winds of change constantly whip up the sands of the present in a whirling dervish featuring who we are and who we might become.

 

Open-mindedness and the willingness to challenge the beliefs and assumptions one brought to school seems to me integral to realizing the full potential of the MBA experience. Wharton is a dense vista of new experiences and multi-faceted exploration. Accordingly, it pushes us to reflect, consciously or not, on our beliefs, sentiments, convictions, relationships, and interests. Which are core to who we are and beyond reproach? Which personal assumptions, however long-standing, should we revisit and stress test?

 

I consider Wharton a tight-knit melting pot of a community. On the one hand, this fosters a deep connectedness across the diverse MBA population, affording limitless possibility. On the other, it breeds subtle but powerful currents and eddies that embroil each of us. Out of the collective ether are propagated particular attitudes, mindsets, and perspectives that are destined to assume the mantle of mainstream social and professional norms. The content of this social conditioning is perhaps unique to Wharton, but the form is native to all tight-knit groups. Each of us has the ability to discern individuality versus groupthink and disentangle purposeful from reactionary decision-making. But in the flow of things the boundaries start to blur. Pre-term, theme parties, dodge ball, finals, treks, and recruiting meld together in a vortex that is inconceivably rapid and compact. Taken all together, the daunting challenge of Wharton is to thread the needle and embrace personal transformation that is at once satisfyingly substantive and also authentic, idiosyncratic, and true to oneself.

 

It may be trite and obvious, but I suppose that it is this iterative process of trying on different skins and walking in new directions that offers the hope of clarity into and fortification of our inner compasses and the establishment of bedrock convictions. If we can successfully navigate the sirens and rocky shoals of Wharton – evading widely coveted professional opportunities that aren’t truly the right fit for us and social temptations that aren’t really what we seek — we may be lucky enough to emerge with the realization that time passes and truth is temporal, but the dance between present and future is more graceful than it ever was before. I’d be awfully grateful to Wharton for that.

 

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