Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Reactions to a Do-Gooder MBA

Others: So why are you leaving San Francisco?

Me: I'm going back to school to get my master's.

Others: Oh, in what?

Me: I'm heading east for an MBA.

Others: ...ok...

Me: The plan is to do non-profit management! I'm still ME!!!!

Others: ...phew!

And so the conversations have gone over the past few months.  It's been quite amusing (though somewhat awkward) when people give me the stink eye. An MBA is not exactly an "acceptable" or common degree among "my people" (educators, San Franciscans, etc.), so it's no surprise that I go into ramble mode to back-track and explain myself.  

It's been an interesting process - explaining my reasons and my goals to people.  Basically, I find myself forced to recap the process by which I came to believe I needed MBA in 5 minutes. In essence, I compress my 5 months of research, reflection, and learning  into a palatable and bite-sized chunk to help others experience the same "aha!" transformation that I have.  

People in San Francisco, especially those that make up my friend group and colleagues, are liberal do-gooders.  An MBA is perceived as quite the opposite type of degree.  As a result, people's reactions waver from confusion to fear. My response is to alleviate people's fears that I've become The Man.  But I am in many ways perpetuating the stereotype that an MBA is a single-purpose degree and that I am an exception.  By holding myself apart as a "special case" in the MBA world because of my plan to continue to work in education, to do good, I have silenced the ever-growing do-gooder aspect of the MBA degree.  Sure, the key for me is to do good, and do it well, but I believe an MBA can serve all of us, and in recent years hopes to serve all of us, in doing work that is socially responsible. 

Over the past 6 months I have wrestled with the questions of my own perceptions of MBA, particularly lately as I find myself observed through the prism of other people's scrutiny and doubt. Is it so bad to get an MBA to do the more typical work of financiers and consultants and hedge fund managers? I don't believe it's inherently wrong to do these things, but there's definitely a "prove-to-me-that-you're-good" mentality that I have.  It's not surprising that this kind of skepticism comes to mind: it's the same reaction that people have toward me. We liberal types are so judgmental. 

As I prepare for my journey at school, I know that I need to remind myself that many people getting an MBA have a social impact desire and that there are many paths to achieving good.  And I am easily falling into the mindset that only at Yale does this happen.  In fact, we (but mostly I!) need to be talking about an MBA as a degree for society and to look at those who use an MBA for purely selfish reasons as the exception. 

And don't get me wrong - I don't think that the people who pursue their selfish goals are inherently wrong, it's just that the perception of an MBA is sorely outdated.  I believe we can nurture a new perception, a more vivid and accurate perception, if we draw attention to the diverse interests and goals of MBA students.  And that's what's so great about the MBA degree - it's such a versatile and transferable degree. We can be pilots, chefs, CEOs, teachers, and zookeepers both before and after our degree!

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