1. Focus on HBS for today vs. tomorrow
In other words, how much priority should one place on enjoying time at HBS now, versus focusing on the benefits that HBS can provide for the long run. This is a basic "live for today versus invest in the future" balance that one has to make no matter where one is in life; the effects of such decisions though are highly amplified at a fast paced place like HBS, and are therefore much more apparent.
How much should one partake in the incredible environment that is HBS, versus how much time should one spend doing the leg work to set up a successful career later? Although it may be easy to be judgmental from an outside point of view, the answer is far from simple. Some examples:
- The most visible socializing example is night life. A few students are out at bars every night, sleep 4 hours a night, and put relatively little time into their classes. It's easy to see this as one extreme. Some students don't go out at all and are home full time with family. Most students are naturally in between, though a very large number are out late more often than not. It's difficult to relate the social life at a place like HBS. I get at least 25 emails a day inviting me for or discussing a social event that will occur within the next day or two - 7 days a week. There are large and extravagant parties put on by different clubs and groups nearly every night. The people are fun, interesting, engaging, and the venues can be equally compelling. So it's very easy to find one pulled into these events. Since they are nearly continuous, it takes a very deliberate decision on how much time one wants to devote to social activities. On top of that, nobody wants to feel left out... that FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) you always hear about. Personally, I'm very comfortable with my balance, but some students are still figuring out their limits by trial and error.... and will probably have to re-balance their lifestyle pretty soon. It's still early in the semester.
- Other social aspects include team sports. So far I've engaged in soccer, squash, basketball, flag football, and rugby. Since there is an event nearly event day, one has to be somewhat deliberate in his allocation of time to this too.
- Weekend retreats. Want to go away on the weekend to a park in Vermont? A hotel-casino in Las Vegas? How about Oktoberfest in Germany? Odds are that any given weekend, you will have an option to go somewhere with some group, club, or sectionmates.
- "Small group dinners" are also formally and informally run all the time. These are great ways to meet other students in your class and get to know people outside of your natural circles, or perhaps to deepen your relationship with those you already know.
- Industry presentations - Seminars and panels put on by HBS to help students learn about different industries and functions in preparation for recruiting.
- Recruiting events - Which can be anything from formal company presentations, to sponsored club activities, to informal career events.
- Career team events and career counseling - Formally sponsored by HBS.
- Job searching - Both formal (through HBS) and informal (through personal network).
- Learning opportunities at greater Harvard. A common source of interest is the Kennedy School of Government. Nearly every week there is a foreign head of state or a major leader within the US giving talks and meeting people. How easy is it to pass up on that?
- Staying on top of US and global economic news and markets... industry trends, and general world news.
Another tension is really a reflection of the first:
2. Is the classroom environment a professional one or a social one?
Ask 10 HBS student that question and you will probably get 10 different answers. The variability is a direct reflection of the various outlooks of the student class. The tension is reflected very subtly within the sections.
Since each section is together every day (and many nights), a very tight cohesion is formed. As a consequence, a section personality definitely emerges. Some sections are more about business, while some sections are more about play. Some sections form cliques very easily, while some sections put maximum effort to be inclusive. We are only a month into the full school year, so these personalities are still in their toddler stages, but if one steps back to observe, one can see it evolving day to day. In a way it's an interesting study of group dynamics. Since the sections are an essentially random group of 95 personalities, the group variance can't really be explained by a variance in the individual personalities. Rather, the sections often adopt the personalities of a few people within them who are instrumental in shaping the thoughts and actions of others. Sometimes overtly, and sometimes more discretely, it's really a microcosm of how trend setters (I deliberately avoid the term "leader" here) influence the rest of the public.
So how is this manifested? Some sections apparently think it's funny that if you are hung over in the morning, you wear a crimson hat with the Harvard "H" on it to let everyone know you are hung over. Is this funny? I just can't imagine my section adopting that norm... not after the 4 weeks of effort we've put into achieving a good balance of fun and taste.
What about dress? One person in a section somehow persuaded his section that they should wear ties on Friday. Regardless of what one's opinion is about that, I find it fascinating that one person can so easily persuade such a large group of supposed A-type personalities to do something they would otherwise not dream of doing. I only found out about this when I saw somebody walking down the hallways with a nice tie and button up shirt, jean shorts, and flip flops. Apparently that student was making a statement. What that statement is I'm not sure... maybe I'm too uptight. But as sections figure out whether their classroom environment is professional or social, people like that do have a big impact on more impressionable students.
In summary, I hope I don't sound like I don't know how to have fun with things. I'm out with my section quite often and quite late. I guess I just like to keep professional things professional, and social things social. With so many cultures and backgrounds represented here, it's a bit dangerous to blur the line in any extreme way. It can be uncomfortable to go through such a deliberate decision process, as one may not like the results, and hence some people may rather just not think about it. On the grander scale, what one hopes to achieve at HBS, and where he falls in the spectrum of "live for today versus tomorrow" is probably a decision worth analyzing, and continuously refining.