A stunning first impression was not the same thing as love at first sight. But surely it was an invitation to consider the matter. “ – Lois McMaster Bujold, American author

 

My first impressions of my INSEAD MBA course, as I hurtle towards the end of P1 after fifty days and nights with barely a moment to think, is of a whirlwind. A stunning, life changing, life-affirming whirlwind, a relentless storm of opportunity and challenge, taking place as if life is a dream viewed on fast forward.

 

As a former concert pianist, albeit one who has combined an initial career in music with both consulting and social enterprise entrepreneurship, much of my background is somewhat unusual, even within the amazing diversity of the Insead mba class. I therefore attempted to prepare for the mba class proper, taking the business foundations course in Fontainebleau in December, attending the Finance Trek in London and a short fun trip in Milan with a number of classmates before the journey began more formally immediately once January came round. Useful though these preparations were, and I’m very grateful to the several people who gave their time so generously to help me get ready, nevertheless little could prepare me for the pace of life once courses began. Courses. Classes. Assignments. Group meetings. Exams (already! Mid-terms to help us course-correct if necessary). Interviews (already! Internship decisions come around very quickly for the December class). Preparation for all the above. It’s relentless.

 

But, the intensity of the experience here is by no means a bad thing. We are here primarily to learn, and learning on “fast forward” comes at a rapid rate indeed.

 

I am still only barely a few weeks in to my journey, but, based on those first few weeks, my tips for thriving in the whirlwind would be:

 

– Prioritise. You simply can’t advantage of every opportunity here. So choose, and choose wisely.  Which courses need the most time commitment, according to what you may learn?  Which job interviews, whilst fascinating, are ultimately not going to lead to the next step in your career, and preparing for them would be merely a distraction?  Which of the many social events available represent appropriate balance between work and play?

 

– Make and take the time to reflect. Ghandi’s oft-quoted “I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours rather than one” says it all, of course.

 

– A supportive group can help. The diversity in the class overall is reflected in the diversity of the your group. My group mates exemplify this: they come from BCG, Goldman Sachs, EY and L’Oreal – all blue chip, but all bringing something quite different to the table. All here for different reasons, but all with much to offer.

 

– Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The academic course is well-structured: the pace may be fast, but attention has clearly been paid to how to identify what needs most work, and how to do it. Tutorials assist in a focused way. But the insead community extends well beyond the classroom, and many people here are willing to help a fellow soul in need of a little support, advice or guidance. Friends, family and a supportive partner, if you have one, can be invaluable. Make time for them and remember to show your appreciation, since whatever time you do make is unlikely to be extensive.

 

– Stay true to yourself. Remember who you are and why you are here. The learning opportunity here is both a whirlwind and a dream opportunity come true.