There is this point in time: right before the program commences and just after you have been issued your visa, or made your housing deposit, or whatever the last item on your to-do list of pre-INSEAD preparation may be. It is like the scene at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan – troops lined up on the landing ships, the air tense with anticipation for what will surely be a fierce battle; odds are the man next to you will never make it home. I exaggerate of course, but the point remains that there might be this lull in the frenetic energy that has surrounded you up to that point. It could be as short as a week, or as much as a few months, and it can be a little disorienting. A train with a head full of steam suddenly running out of track. That’s a whole lot of force that needs to be transferred somewhere.
Accordingly, you might find yourself channeling that pre-MBA drive towards preparing for an exemption exam, brushing up your Exit language, or reaching out to other incoming classmates. All great ways to spend the time. I would propose one more.
I spent a lot of time looking at resources geared towards MBAs on the eve of their matriculation. To say there is a lot available is insufficient. Consider how much material exists for prospective MBAs promising to guide you to the perfect application, and now realize that an equal measure of material exists for admitted MBA’s as primers for their forthcoming program. Fancy language coupled with colorful anecdotes imparting life-lessons and business ‘table-setting’ guidelines; simplistic equations, personal inventory surveys, and categorization exercises aimed at providing you with a quantitative baseline for a qualitative assessment; the kind of stuff that seeks to get under the proverbial hood and tune the engine. A lot of it worked for me. Some of it didn’t. We are all intellectually engaged in different ways, and so there is no one-size-fits-all resource. I like to be thorough so I engaged a lot of it. It was around the third book and tenth website that it struck me: as much fun as I was having, they were all ultimately trying to achieve the same thing. I sought out the through-line – the common thread among the various tapestries of introspection and soul-searching. They’d managed to have me spill all my parts and pieces on the floor. Now what were they attempting to do with them?
Which brings me to my point, and the fundamental question I think they were pushing me to answer without explicitly asking. And I pose this as a challenge to all incoming INSEAD candidates: what matters to you? Truly, innately, and without question, what is the thing that matters to you, the fiber from which you are constructed? It can be summed up in a word, a phrase, or an entire sentence. It can be several competing things, though I would encourage you to rank them. Hold a mirror up to your unmasked, vulnerable self and consider the query. Once you have that part figured out, start thinking about why, which admittedly is a question you should take your lifetime to answer.
At this point you should be on your way to campus, which is perfect timing because INSEAD will take care of the ‘how’ part. Through tireless effort and unwavering dedication, you will be rewarded with the tools required to make what matters to you also a means of serving society.