Falling Short, Gracefully

April 14, 2008

I recently celebrated the one year anniversary of my decision to come to Darden, and it caused me to take a moment to pause and reflect on that decision. This anniversary coincided with the race for many things at Darden this year: the race to devise my bidding strategy for second year courses, the race to position myself in the clubs and leadership positions I want, and the race for financial aid. It is this last race that was particularly significant last week, when I discovered that I had fallen short in my bid to earn a prestigious and generous fellowship at the Darden School.

I fell short a year ago, as well. I had applied to only a very few select schools. My time during the application process was very short in supply, owing to the fact that I was still deployed to Ar Ramadi with my Army unit, and had other priorities to consider. Darden, by any definition, was a reach school for me. I first discovered the school while reading through a book I ordered from Amazon while doing my research in Iraq. My subsequent research turned up a plethora of solid feedback and testimonials. However, there was one school that was ranked higher to which I applied. This school is in the top three of most polls, and it is located in my home state, which was appealing.

I thought I knew what I wanted… or at least I had convinced myself I did while I completed the essays. Either investment banking or general management (the polarization of those two fields should indicate that I really had little clue at the time what my final plans are). Everything I read and everyone I talked to indicated that I should be sure that I have a cogent plan moving forward, and that I needed to communicate that to the schools during the admissions process. During my Darden interview (over the phone from Ramadi), I told the interviewer that I thought general management would be my focus, but that I would leave open the possibility that something would catch my attention, and my passions, and that I would like to have the opportunity to run with it. She assured me that this was fine at Darden. I told the same qualifying statement to my interviewer at the competing school a few weeks later, and it was not nearly so well received. And I didn’t get in.

I was already esctatic to have been admitted to Darden, and I was emotionally past the fallout by the time I received the decision. The first mailings from Darden had arrived, and there was little that could lift my spirits more while sitting on a cot in a bombed out building on Forward Operating Base Ramadi than reading about Charlottesville, the case method, the alumni network, and everything else Darden. I decided to give myself fully to the Darden experience, and that has since proven to be one of the wisest decisions I ever made. In fact, and this may just be a bit of Virginia-sweetened sour grapes, I have a distinct impression that I am happier here than I ever would have been at that other school, which will, in fact, remain nameless.

So, I missed the fellowship, granted by a very generous alum. But four of my classmates did receive the award, and are all friends of mine, and I can think of no one more deserving. I grew a great deal from the experience of applying. The self reflection and personal inventory of plans and passions were well worth the effort and the emotional risk. I was honored to have been considered among the finalists, and I know that I can put forth this effort toward a myriad of other merit scholarships offered for Darden students in their second year (point of fact, I am already enjoying significant financial aid, as do most Darden students, which is important enough that I cannot understate its value to the school and the community at large) and be successful.

At Darden, I have been able to find my way to the career that interests me most. It turned out to be consulting for the short run, and probably private equity for the medium run. The long run, well, is just speculation at this point, but at some point I would like to start my own business. I am very glad that I came to a school where I was allowed to figure that out along the way, without necessarily having to commit myself too early to something that I might turn out to hate later. I would not have made a good investment banker.

And so it is with everything in life: it’s not about the falls, it’s about how you pick yourself up after, and how you move on. That’s what says the most about you, and that’ s what’s made all the difference for me thus far.

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2 Responses to “Falling Short, Gracefully”

  1. Hi Mike –

    As you may have seen last week, you’ve been nominated for Clear Admit’s 2007-2008 Best of Blogging Awards. Congratulations! You can find the nominee announcement post on our blog if you’d like a bit more information.

    By design, the BoB results are based largely on the input of the nominees themselves, so we’d love to have your opinion as we compile the ranking. To receive a ballot, simply contact us at bob@clearadmit.com with your email address.

    We look forward to hearing from you!

  2. mikey,
    good on ya for being so reflective and humble. as always, you continue to impress me with your wisdom and joy de vivre. to coin an expression from l.o. (OB, to the uninitiated), you are one of those tempered radicals who can really affect organizational change with your demeanor, integrity, and actions. i am excited to follow your progress this summer and beyond as you make a positive difference wherever you go. if you were a politician, i’d vote for you. but you are not, so as a politician i instead ask that you vote for me 😉
    i won’t let you down, just as i know you won’t let the world down.

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