The MBA Identity Crisis Lives!

I just read a terrific article about an MBA candidate at Georgetown, who is wrestling with something other than what investment banking or management consulting firm she wants to work for when she graduates. She’s wrestling with learning who she really is as a person. Her story is fascinating. Check it out at BusinessWeek. It’s called Learning to Be Myself

Here’s a quote from a corporate recruiter, who is noted in the article, and which I want to use as a launching pad for this post: “Rachael, I don’t know you all that well yet, but I know you are not being yourself. You have 10 weeks here. Be yourself. We have to feel like we know who you are in order to consider you for full time.”

What a great admonition from a recruiter! In my experience, most may say this, but don’t really know what they’re asking; what they do care about is fit, but from another angle – from the perspective of your values and whether your values and the company’s will mesh. A reasonable need, but not enough to ensure the kind of fit that matters when it comes to contribution and long term performance.

The problem doesn’t lie with recruiters, however; it starts with the recruits, in this case, the MBA candidates themselves. I’ve lectured at several schools,
including Wharton and UCLA’s Anderson School. Topic? Identity. Understanding who you are and your value-creating potential. It’s a subject no one teaches, but everyone needs, if they’re going to turn an MBA into a meaningful career.

At the close of my session at Wharton, two years ago – there were about 120 people in the 3 hour session – several people came up to me and admitted that they really had no idea what they were going to do with their degree. And, yes,
they valued the chance to begin to dig into discovering who they really were, beyond the labels they carried and the expectations of parents, friends – and recruiters.

At one point we were talking about trust: who you can really trust to want what you have to give, by way
of your special capacities as an individual. The talk was lively. I just listened. Then, a young man in the back of the room raised his hand and said, “I don’t even trust myself right now.” The room got stone cold for a moment. Then, several students turned to him, addressed him and wanted to somehow help him. A number of others laughed, knowingly: they knew what he had had the courage to say also applied to them.

Whenever I address MBA candidates on the subject of identity and its impact on their careers and lives, generally, a cloud seems to lift in the room. People exhale. Reality sets in. Permission is granted to be human. And I leave people with an
entirely new frame of reference from which to assess what paths they should take and which ones they should avoid.

I’ve written two books on this subject, The Identity Code and Identity Is Destiny. They are the foundation of my lectures and my deeply held belief that if you understand your uniqueness and the potential it contains, you will create more value for everyone, including yourself.

Rachel is a fortunate woman. She seems to have an inner light and courage that has enabled her to go down the road of learning to be herself. More MBA candidates could use a dose of help along this line – not when they’re being recruited, but in the course of career counseling during the program.

When I open the lecture, my standard line is: Who wants to be in investment banking? Usually lots of hands go up. Then, Who wants to be in management consulting, and more hands go up. Who wants to be in marketing: more hands. Pause. Then, finally, who wants to be happy? And, invariably, all hands go up. The message is pretty clear:If you connect who you are with what you do, your chances of being happy go up a lot.

Personally, I think it would be pretty innovative for a business school to decide to make this outcome part of their process. Not only would it benefit their own reputations; it would benefit prospective employers looking to hire people who want to be with them, for all the right reasons.

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