22 December 2022

Non si volta chi a stella è fisso

Author: Valeria Rolando - International Part Time MBA student

I’d like to start this article from the bottom. The first weekend of my International Part-Time MBA has just finished, and I have a strange feeling — is this the right place?

I would have expected a classic lesson with notions and formulas, but it was far from that. As Simon Sinek would say in “Start with Why”, we focused on our WHYs, who we are, why we were there and what were the reasons behind our choice to undertake this challenging twenty-month journey.

I would be lying if I said that answering those questions was easy!

Diving deep into the drivers of my choices has been quite hard and there is no simple motivation behind my choice to enroll in an MBA. We were encouraged to express on a whiteboard, in front of everybody, our career goals, our strengths and our obstacles. My outcome was something that I have never been able to express before.

Giving some boundaries, all those external forces, ideas and possibilities helped me to clearly define for the first time what I want and what I have to do in the immediate future. This gave me the awareness of having a long way to go but also the certainty of being in the right place.

The famous first step, mentioned by Professor Daniel Trabucchi, has been taken.

Since we were young, we have been led to believe that there is always an opportunity behind everyone’s success. This vision scares me. I don’t think it’s enough to be in the right place at the right time — in my opinion, The Opportunity looks more like a train than a taxi driver that is coming to pick you up and waits for you; this train won’t stop, you’ll have to run fast enough to catch it.

But how can you start running, how can you keep improving your knowledge, your mental flexibility and your ability to cope with things outside the scope of the work you do every day?

My answer to this question has been an MBA.

At first, people around me kept asking “Why do you want to play basketball? You’re too short!” and then, once they’d understood, they would say “You’re crazy, haven’t you already studied enough?”; everyone was trying to change my mind. With this quote by Leonardo Da Vinci in my head “Non si volta chi a stella è fisso” (The person staring at a star does not turn around) I silenced those voices, and I signed up.

This was the first conscious and totally voluntary choice of my life. Studying has always given me security, the certainty of contributing to my future. Doing well in school has always been a duty, choosing to go to university a predefined path. Applying to Engineering was a calculated choice. I balanced the trade-offs of various alternatives using an unconscious “discounted cash flow method” to estimate their value and then I enrolled. I soon realized that I probably should have opted for Business and Economics, but I was impatient to start working and, rolling up my sleeves, I made the most of this experience. After my graduation, I still didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do or of the company I wanted to work for, and I decided to go into consulting. I have always wanted to do something meaningful and impactful, and I thought that kind of job, alongside its never-ending learning curve, was the best option for me. And I’m still convinced by my choice, but it was not enough.

At the beginning I felt thrilled. I could finally apply my studies to contribute to the achievement of the project objectives, but, at the same time, I could not help but wonder what my colleagues were doing and how we were helping to improve our clients’ bottom lines. I was struggling to find the link between what my team was doing and what I had studied instead. While studying companies like Apple, P&G, and IBM during the Strategy course, no-one had ever mentioned that small team of consultants and a thousand other external teams working day after day on their tasks. What was I doing, then? How did I contribute to that +10% of my customers’ sales?

Those questions have often led me to see my path as an eternal chasing towards what I did not know.

Realizing this, I felt lost, like a boat at the mercy of the currents, and it scared me. On the one hand, there was the comfort zone, my job, a solid boat that would never sink. On the other hand, there were many beautiful lands: could I really abandon myself to the currents and see where they would take me a few years from now?

At 27, I think the simplest thing is to silence these questions by choking them between friends, activities to do, hobbies and work. But this awareness remains there, in a corner, ready to pop up when you least expect it. Accepting these thoughts and deciding to listen to them was difficult enough — then another question followed: how and what could I do?

To silence these “worries” I took refuge, as always, among books; I used to study every night after work, once opening a book on marketing (this then helped me to get into my current job), another on psychology and once again on business organization.

But this was still not enough. In which direction was I going? Was I really developing the right set of skills? And what about my soft skills?

It takes a lot of courage to admit that you need to change something about your life and commit yourself to a 2-year MBA, but also a lot of effort to silence your inner voices of doubts and to convince people around you, your employer, your family and your friends.

I never thought I could enroll in an MBA. Putting my working life on hold when it still has a lot to give me seemed out of the question. But then, perfectly targeted by an Instagram algorithm, the Graduate School of Management of Politecnico di Milano appeared to me. As soon as I saw the brochure, I felt conquered: part-time lessons, an international class and experiences and the possibility to choose one’s specialization during the second year. It seemed perfect to me.

If there were still any doubts that I had made the right choice, this first weekend of lessons made them disappear.

It’s just the beginning, but I already feel part of something bigger. I feel the excitement of when you are in the car, and you know that in a few hours you will see the sea and I find myself looking forward to the next weekend when I will have a lesson. I have very high expectations for this journey and according to the path of those who preceded me, I am sure they will not be unfounded.

22 December 2022

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