It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon

I recently ran the Nationwide ½ marathon in Columbus this past weekend and it struck me how similar a marathon (or ½ a marathon in my case) is to the MBA experience.   There are countless similarities and lessons, but there are five that stand out to me immediately.


1.       There’s no substitute for hard work…

This is probably the most obvious, yet it’s the one that we overlook the most.  Many of us in the MBA program have to prioritize our time and meet endless obligations like: class, studies, clubs, info sessions, networking, interviewing, and the list could go on and on.  In our desire to get a job, we may neglect the reading in order to research a company coming to campus.  Everyone realizes that, as students, we still have (or want to have) lives outside the classroom.  BUT, there’s no substitute for putting the time in.  Just like training for a marathon, if you neglect it or push it back on the priorities list, you will feel it later on!  This is one I particularly struggle with, in my running and in my studies.

2.       Know your pace!

If you were the Type A – President of your class, 4.0 GPA, joined every club that was offered – then you will really need to figure out what you want in Grad School.  You may thrive on doing as many activities as humanly possible, and maybe you can do that!  But for those mere mortals out there, we aren’t Olympic runners and we aren’t able to participate in everything that we want to.  So, know your pace.  In my running, I can sustain a 12 minute mile for 13 miles, but if I tried to run an 8 minute mile pace, I would flame out within the first 5 miles.  The same is true for your school endeavors.  If you want the most out of an MBA education, be selective and commit to the activities that truly interest you, not necessarily the ones that will enhance your resume the most.  If you try to do everything, you will be miserable.

3.       Just keep running…

There will be times when you regret the decisions that you make.  For me, this was at mile 7.  I had run fine up until this point, but that’s when my muscles really started to experience the pain from my lack of training.  In class, there are times that you will fall behind.  It’s inevitable if you are going to football games, visiting with friends, and meticulously scoping out job opportunities.  The trick is to keep going!  Don’t get discouraged because you weren’t able to get your Data Analysis homework done.  At some points along the journey, you may have to take it easy, maybe even walk.  That’s OK!  But always keep moving forward.  Never quit, even when you’ve not as prepared as you should have been. 

4.       The power of community.

One of the best attributes of a marathon is the support that the community gives for the event.  While running, you may see signs like this: “I know you’re a random stranger, but I’m so proud of you!” or “Stop reading this sign, keep running!” or “Kick Asphalt!”  It’s amazing to see people come out of their homes to cheer runners on.  Children will be on the curb soliciting high fives.  It’s just fun.  In the same way that the community supports running, Fisher’s community supports its students.  One of the things that drew me to Fisher was that staff, professors, donors, and peers alike truly want you to succeed.  Although we are all trying to get jobs, the program is small and intimate enough for our priorities to be focused on supporting one another, rather than stepping on one another.  This is probably the best thing about Fisher!

5.       Have fun!

No matter what, have fun!  You are obviously a highly qualified individual if you’re considering Fisher, and you obviously want to invest in yourself.  Though that’s all well and good, remember that you will only be here two years.  You will make some amazing friendships that will last a lifetime, but you have to first make those friendships!  That means you may have to skip a reading in order to go out to dinner with someone.  Do it!  This time is valuable in so many ways, but I would argue the most important way is in developing your network.  Show the other Fisher students that you’re more than simply focused on your studies or the job afterwards.  You should hang out at the tailgate, join a club, or perform community service, maybe even help out with (or run) a marathon.  You won’t regret it. 

Regardless of your ambitions, remember that the time spent in the program is not a sprint, though at times it certainly feels that way.  It is a marathon, unfolding even after you’ve left the program.  So, prepare and compete, but never forget to enjoy every moment. 

Not at the kid’s table anymore…

Whenever any holiday presented an excuse for my family to get together for a meal and festivities, it seemed like I was always on the outside looking in.  I usually sat at the “kid’s table” with my twin brothers and younger cousins.  Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of fun to be had playing “Jinx” and preventing my younger brothers from speaking (or receiving a physical repercussion, usually a Charlie horse), but it just didn’t seem as fulfilling as what I heard in the other room where all of the adults ate.  There was hearty laughter and a good view of whatever football game happened to be on T.V.  Something was missing and I was determined to graduate to the adult table. 

Just as I felt my holidays were lacking , I’ve realized my previous college experience felt lacking as well.  During my undergrad, there were very few notable speakers or personal connections to be had from people who had accomplished great things in the business world.  Although I will say I had different priorities in undergrad (as many do), I was still longing for that maturity and respect of the “adult table.”  One of the reasons why I decided to come to Fisher was the amazing networking experiences and real-time interactions with senior level managers.  Throughout our two week orientation, my class was exposed to two CEOs (Craig Morrison of Momentive and George Barrett of Cardinal Health).  It was surreal to be speaking with people who have the responsibility of billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs under their guidance.  And I was sitting a matter of feet away from these guys! 

The third day classes started, I graduated to the “adult” table.  I decided to sign up for a Cullman Executive Luncheon featuring Mac McCullough, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for U.S. Bancorp.  It was a group of ten of us eating around a board table, not unlike a holiday meal at the exclusive adult table that had eluded me in the past.  But this time, I was allowed to be active in the conversation.  And it was great!  Lectures and case studies are fantastic at Fisher, but nothing compares to the uninterrupted quality time that an executive gives you to simply pick his brain.  For anyone who grew up at the kid’s table, longing to be with the grown-ups, Fisher is the place to finally take that step.  And it doesn’t hurt that the lunch is free.