Getting Your MBA and Running a Marathon

As I begin the start of my second semester as an MBA, I find more and more similarities between getting my MBA and running a marathon. Here are a few of the ways in which they compare – hopefully this list will help you plan appropriately and prepare you for your journey as an MBA, running your first marathon, or both!

1. Don’t let people tell you no. Yes, it’s daunting. You may not think you have all the tools in your toolbox. But do a careful assessment of where you stand and then go for it. People definitely rolled their eyes when I first told them I was going to run Boston in 2011. Some of my classmates were told that switching from a background in marketing to a career in finance wasn’t going to be possible. Yes, it’s going to be challenging. If you’re smart enough to be considering an MBA, you know this already. Don’t let people persuade you to follow an easier path if this is something you want to do. You’ll find the support you need from various sources once you’re in the program.

2. Rely on your peers when you feel like you can’t make it. Running hundreds of miles over the course of four months and then 26.2 miles in one day isn’t always easy. Neither is a case study for Accounting. Some days in training and grad school are better than others. Finding a couple people or a small group with the same goals and objectives early on is incredibly important. This will make your experience so much easier.In the same way that you can count on people to meet you at 6 AM to fit in 12 miles before work, you’ll be able to count on your groups at school to work with you through the night to get that final presentation done and submitted on time. If you’re worried about prepping for that big interview, you’ve got multiple people in career services to prep you as well as professors, alumni, and peers to get you ready. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need and provide that same support to others in turn.

3. Take some breaks. There will always be something more you can be doing. Sometimes you need to just let that go and take some time off. As any athlete knows, rest days are just as important as any day spent in the gym. You need to give your body time to recover, build muscle, and get stronger. Similarly, if you want to be as productive as possible during school, you need to spend some amount of time doing something other than schoolwork. Whether that’s going to yoga, grabbing a coffee with mom, or building robots, make time to do it.

4. Be humble. If you’ve been in the working world for a few years, chances are you’ve run into that person who won’t stop touting her degree yet doesn’t know how to send an email. Don’t be that person—be humble. My uncle, who has run the Boston Marathon multiple times, once asked me “How can you tell if someone has run a marathon?” I asked how. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They’ll tell you.” I always say my most humbling running experience was wearing my Boston Marathon race jacket to the North Face Endurance Challenge Trail races. As I was finishing a six mile trail run out of breath and trailing my teammates, other runners were finishing a 50-mile run they had begun that morning at 4 AM. In the dark. With headlamps. Carrying all their own food. Fifty miles through knee deep water, over rocks and up some 40 degree inclines made my twenty-six miles on a nice paved road with water stops every mile look like a small-town 5k. These people were serious athletes, but you could tell they weren’t doing it for the recognition. They were doing it because they wanted to push themselves, to go further or faster than they had before.

I just came back from a field study course, Tech Trek, where we met with Peter Bell, General Partner at Highland Capital. He gave us sage advice to not let our degrees get in our way if we choose to move out to Silicon Valley. I’m paraphrasing, but Peter said something like, “Out here people don’t care whether you have an MBA. It doesn’t matter if you have an advanced degree or not—those are just words on paper.  Many hugely successful people out here don’t have degrees. What matters is whether you can do anything with the knowledge you have.” Put your nose down and don’t think that you’re above anything. Always know that there is someone out there who is better at your thing than you are. Keep working to improve and help others along the way.

5. It’s completely and 100% worth it. While I’m not there yet, everyone I’ve spoken with has said that getting their MBA has absolutely been worth it. I know from experience that the feeling of accomplishment you have while crossing the finish line that first time is unlike anything else. The blood, sweat, and tears (literally, in one case) fade into the past. You know you’ve achieved something personally that only a small percentage of the population has done. Yes, you can look back on either one of these experience—an MBA Program or a marathon—and just say you got a degree or you finished a race. They’re definitely accomplishments in and of themselves. The real value, however, comes in taking what you learned from the experience and putting it to use. In the same way finishing a marathon has inspired me to push myself, I know getting my MBA will help me open doors and reach goals I had previously thought impossible.