MBA and Beyond

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Had I been asked what I anticipated my MBA experience would be like two years ago, I’d have answered that it is all about finding a new job. Now upon graduation, I know that it was more about taking a step back from my career-oriented life and reflecting myself in various dimensions.

I have to admit that my MBA wasn’t easy for me. I’ve entered a totally different world, not just regionally and culturally, but a world in which I had no encounter with career-wise since I worked as a journalist prior to Wharton. The sudden shift from a qualitative world to a quantitative one was a big challenge. I was one of the few students that struggled through basic accounting and finance courses, awed at the “magical” excel models that my teammates have formulated, and was constantly stressed out by not being able to contribute to classes as much as I’d like to. But regardless of how we all took that experience, you and I, we all stand here today, having successfully reached the end of the journey. Congrats!

I know. Even as we graduate today, there’s an uncomfortable “iffy” feelings deep down inside all of us. Nothing’s clear, and nothing’s certain for our futures yet. The striking thing about the MBA experience is its vagueness. It’s not like law school or med school where you know exactly what you’re aiming for and know exactly what you’ll be after you graduate. Most of us have not landed a “life-long job” where we’re secured for the rest of our lives. Although I’m sure most of us are thrilled at the idea of challenges, adventures, and ambiguity – (naively) thinking “Not knowing what’s to come, isn’t that what life is all about?” – it would still be nice to have some feelings of security. But we’re thrown into blurry futures and are somehow frightened by the uncertainty this “expensive” degree has imposed upon us. It’s agonizing to hear the same question our families and friends always throw at us: “So do you know what you want to do now?”

It’s also difficult to explain to the outsiders about what exactly an MBA is and the values it brings, other than the seemingly higher salaries. We’ve been talking about “long-term dreams,” “leadership,” “insights,” “networks,” “synergies,” and all kinds of ambiguous takeaways over the two years. What have we learned and how will that impact our futures? How do we answer the question all prospective MBAs are curious about: “Was my MBA worth it?”

During the two years I was at Wharton, many things changed in the outside world. Back in South Korea, my home country, the former president was officially impeached after months of political turmoil. The same happened in Brazil. Our unpredictable neighbor, North Korea, is threatening the world and speeding up its nuclear programs. President Trump was elected and is dramatically changing the US approach to many global issues. The UK decided to leave the European Union. Things are changing rapidly and in unpredictable ways. Things are converging and diverging at the same time, but at different speeds. The gap is widening between winners and losers in every corner of the world. Technology is outpacing not just education, but basically all aspects of society. All these changes are far too massive to ignore. From where we stand today, I say that it is time that we look back at ourselves and contemplate on what kind of leadership we should pursue.

Going back to the question “Was MBA worth it?” – I think the value of this degree is to be judged by how we make use of it. If we were to judge the value on how much salary we’ve increased for ourselves, how much we’ve enhanced the brand value of our resumes, and how much fun we had, it is without a doubt that the two years of MBA was “very” worthwhile. But come on, there must be more than that.

Coming from the media side, I have a rough idea of how MBAs are depicted in the society. Those with an MBA are known as aggressive business people, who care a lot about money, and extremely passionate about founding a startup or being an executive in a prestigious firm. They tend to think that success in career equals success in life. They are “private” people, leaving all the philanthropical and good stuff to the public sector.

But I propose that we, as the WG’17, to extend the value of MBA beyond that. We should take this higher education degree and use it not only for ourselves, but to give back to our families, friends, and communities. With efficiency, power to execute, and teamwork as our major strengths, we should find ways to contribute to standing up for the right values and striving to make positive changes around us. Our goals should go beyond printing fancy business cards to pass out to people. I’m not trying to say that we should all go into public sector or nonprofit firms. My point is that we should focus not only on the financial and economic values of our actions but on social and public values as well. Even when we’re crunching numbers or analyzing data, we should think beyond the numbers and consider the impact it has on society and the world. By doing so we will be able to “think big, start small,” and after 5 years, 10 years, or maybe 20 years, (hopefully) we could look back and proudly say “yeah, my MBA was worth it.”

Anyways, I can’t doubt that I had two best years of my life here including the second year that I’ve worked with a wonderful team of Wharton Journal executives: Shilpi, Sho, and Jeff. It makes me sad that it’s all over. This is not the end, but a start of another fresh page in our lives. Cheers to that. I say goodbye to all of you and Wharton with the lyrics from one of my favorite songs, “Queen of My Heart:” I’ll always look back, as I walk away, the memories will last for eternity.

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