1:30 PM CST, Saturday, June 4, 2016 – I’m sitting at gate K10 in Terminal 3 of Chicago O’Hare International Airport as American Airlines flight 1333 boards at this very gate for Philadelphia. It’s a surreal moment, one in which I do a double-take. Did I go on auto-pilot and book my hometown instead of San Francisco? Am I at the right gate? The answers are no and yes, as I realize it is a mere coincidence that my flight follows out of the same gate as the one to Philly.
Still, I’m sitting here finished finals and a day removed from completing my first year in business school. Everyone warns how quick it goes, and I even remember looking around at various points during the year to think beyond the moment. Regardless, I’m legitimately in awe of all that has happened within a year.
Most importantly, I proposed three weeks ago to the most selfless, caring, witty, beautiful, loving person I know. Call it a relationship upgrade from girlfriend to fiancé, but the truth is we have been inseparable since we met only a handful of months before I left for business school. It must be crazy looking in from the outside, understanding how much such a career and academic commitment an MBA program like Kellogg can demand from students. With not much of a runway to test out a new relationship in the same town and plenty to consider around geographic uncertainty, no one would balk at either of us if cold feet came into the picture last fall. Instead, it was a foregone conclusion to both of us that these two years managing distance would be worthwhile.
Professionally, I begin Monday with a healthcare startup that is helping people engage with their own health. It is a realization of my own passion ever since I did the same two years ago for myself. I will get the full-on startup experience, in the Bay Area where there’s a resident dog in the office and I can run to work each day. It’s also the follow-through from writing, both here and in my admission essays, about how much I want to affect personal engagement in healthcare. I get to do what excites me, and I get to do so with a really fun team.
Academically, I now have hit the halfway mark with a number of takeaways, across a spectrum of hard and soft skills. While there’s plenty I have learned in a quantifiable manner, much of the program is more about how to think. Kellogg does a great job of mixing the case method, experiential learnings, tales from the trenches and our own insights to provide a very tangible and well-rounded course load.
All told, what has been most impactful in and out of the classroom this year has been the relationships I’ve formed. There are really amazing people I can call good friends of mine. A bulk of them I met on the trip overseas to start this experience. Many others I’ve met through shared interests and classes. And our adventures have been memorable. I’m inspired by so many of my peers and am happy to have another year with them. It is bittersweet though to say goodbye to so many awesome second year graduating students who paved the way for my class. I’ll always be thankful for the calls at random hours to get advice, chats to learn how they thought about their career paths and even just following in the footsteps of individuals I see as natural leaders.
The past two years have produced immeasurable growth in my life. It started with my health, shifted to my career, moved into the personal and now has come full circle. I have to pinch myself from time to time. A year and a half ago I had rolled the dice professionally and personally. I sometimes liken my business school applications to a dog chasing his tail. I didn’t actually know what I’d do if I succeeded. I had to prove to myself I could make it. I knew what I’d like to do, but I also didn’t know if I was confident enough to chase that dream.
This is where Diana blushes. I said it to her father and I really mean it. If not for her, I don’t know that I’m interning at a healthcare startup this summer. Sure, I talked a good game, and by the time we had met I had already decided to move to Chicago. In fact, upon receiving the offer of admission eighteen months ago, I figured I’d need to be single if I was going to have any shot at staying true to my pursuits that brought me to Kellogg in the first place. Instead, I guess you could say I’m a case study in God laughing at the plans we make.
What I realized is that there’s something to be said for all the comforts of knowing you’re coming home to a great salary and a well-structured opportunity. It’s reassuring to know you have a network of friends and colleagues there to support you. It’s hard to uproot and be confident it’s the right choice. Had I not met Diana, I think it would have been very challenging to recruit for the right opportunity in a place thousands of miles away from home.
Instead, she’s my rock and my reminder that I can take a road less traveled. She says follow your bliss, something her mother told her father in his own career. I can go to San Francisco because I know we’re aligned, we’re each other’s other half, and we have each other’s back. I can go out on a limb, be bold and take shot at something that I have been itching to do, as we’re a team start to finish. Absent my other half, I probably would have been more cautious.
At times, I have caught myself letting the pendulum swing too far the other way as well. While I staved off a more traditional recruiting path, I find myself falling into the validation that comes with groupthink around location. If we end up in San Francisco it will be because it is right for us, not because it’s the sexiest or hippest place to be. Striking that balance is tough, but when you completely trust one another it’s worth it.
That’s pretty sappy, I know, but it’s true. And I get to marry her in fifteen months. This summer will be a great chance for us to explore San Francisco as we write our own story together. It will be a transformative time professionally, too.
I can’t pretend to know what my job title, my employer or my location will be, come graduation next year, but I do know a few things. I’ll have developed lasting friendships, learned a thing or two, developed new skills, accelerated my own career path and grown as a person. A year from now graduation will be a few weeks away, the wedding in a few months.
But today, for this one moment, I can pause and realize the dream I told everyone I wanted to pursue is happening now. The next three months will be pretty special, and like the last twelve, I imagine they’ll go by in a blink.