Upside of uncomfortable

Booth is all about pushing the limits of your comfort zone. You’re encouraged to take risks. To branch out—sometimes way out—from what you know. The school has your back all the way.

Before Booth, whenever I was asked “Who are you?” I’d say, “I’m a marketer, I’ve been working for over 5 years and happy to count many global brands as my clients.”

However, it was during my MBA application process I encountered a follow-up question that pressed past my comfort zone. The question of all questions—the one that sparks trepidation among many who are embarking on their business school journey.

“But really, Who are you?”

Tip: Get used to it.

Introducing yourself will become second nature at Booth. You’ll do it a lot – whether you’re meeting recruiters, professors, peers, or grads from other UChicago schools. For me, it was hard to answer who “I” was.  Not really hard per se, it was…. uncomfortable. You see, for me my work was a safe, easy way to qualify what I did for a majority of the time I was awake. There were clear markers of success and of the work’s relative importance in the world (curing cancer v. marketing for instance). Plus, work and career are easy topics to discuss with someone you’ve just met.

But it’s not easy to open up about guilty pleasures like Fuller House. Or that I tried to start a business but it didn’t take off. Or about my obsession with dance, because there are many phenomenal dancers in this world and I don’t count myself among them.

It’s uncomfortable because while others can feign enthusiasm about work, nobody can fake a real connection or empathy. Answering “who we are” requires us to be vulnerable, to open up despite a strong chance of being rejected or of not connecting with the person across the table. Pressure much?

But, as I said before, at Booth you can push the limits of your comfort zone, and I love being in a place that encourages our self-awareness and development. I’ve “gotten uncomfortable” in many ways since I arrived…

At the LEAD retreat (our first weekend at Booth), I stood up in front of the entire first-year class and 30-odd second-year LEAD facilitators—all of whom I barely knew—and performed with a Second City improv group. My heart was beating wildly the whole time, and I was pretty sure no one would think I was funny. But I took a chance, and everyone in the room laughed really hard. Totally worth it!

I worked on a construction-related project, an industry I knew nothing about. I applied for and was accepted to Venture Capital Lab, without a background in finance. I choreographed a romantic Bollywood musical for Follies, managing a group of 25 dancers, which tested my project management and stress-management skills equally.

There were times I took risks, tried new things, and failed, too. I applied for leadership positions and didn’t get them. I recruited with companies where I’d done every prep possible and didn’t even make it to second round. But throughout the process, the school supported me. It offered me other opportunities to lead or recruit, provided resources to improve my skills, and it was here that I found the friends who cheered me up when I was down.

Many of you may be thinking about which aspects of your personal lives to reveal in your essays. Many might want to play it safe with run-of-the-mill anecdotes. I know I did. But are you really thinking about coming to the #1 academic incubator, a haven for entrepreneurship and venture capital, a program where risk-taking is encouraged, to play it safe?

My advice: Dig deep, get extremely uncomfortable with yourself. Ask, what were your failures? What memories made your cheeks flush? When were you embarrassed? When did you throw caution to the wind? Also be sure to recognize what you’ve done really well so far and congratulate yourself on it. When did you start something not having a clue of how to do it, and then knock it out of the park?

Not only will it help you understand who you are and how to present those unique aspects about yourself, it will make it easier for others to genuinely connect with and remember you.

Who you are is welcome at Booth, and the school is here to help push the limits of who you can be.

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