I remember before coming to INSEAD one of the things I was wondering was “So exactly how smart are my classmates going to be? How will I compare to them? Will I feel like they are all geniuses and they get on one second what I do after a few days?”
That thought didn’t bother me for long, until I started talking to a few alumni who said they found it quite overwhelming. What they said was that they were used to being the smartest kid in class wherever they went, and suddenly at INSEAD, they got to meet people who think on a completely different level than they do. And if you’re not prepared – that can be a bit overwhelming, and can easily drag you to comparisons and leaving your ego slightly bruised.
But then, after another conversation with an MBA, I heard a completely different answer, one that I appreciate much more. When I asked him what he thinks is the greatest asset he got from his MBA, he didn’t even think and immediately said “that’s easy. I will never feel uncomfortable next to someone else for the rest of my life.” When I asked him to elaborate, his reasoning was that he was in awe by his classmates, and especially a few years later when he saw where they all ended up. He decided to take the comparison to a positive place: if they are that good – it means I am too, and if I feel I am worse at math than the person sitting next to me – it means there must be something else that I am doing right and that person can learn from me.
If you ask me, I agree. The MBA at INSEAD is filled with super talented and extremely intelligent individuals, and by comparing you could only do yourself harm. This is of course relevant outside the MBA as well for situations in which you find yourself in a place where you think you do not belong. Instead, whenever you are surrounded by a bunch of such people, try and remind yourself you are there for a reason, and if you feel all the others are a level ahead of you – great! It means you are at that level too. See how you can learn from them and in what areas they can learn from you.