Wharts and All: Blogging the Full-Time MBA Program at the Wharton School

Monday, January 24, 2005

Tabula Rasa: B-School Students Remake Themselves

How many times in life are we given an opportunity to start with a blank slate, to completely remake ourselves in the image of who we want to be? Rarely. It happens when we go to college. It happens (to a lesser extent) when we start a new job. It also happens when we embark on a new graduate education program, especially one as geared towards helping career switchers find new and exciting work.

Here are a couple of quotes that summarize the idea:

"It's a unique moment in life when you can create your new destiny," [a college administor] says. "Nobody's going to say, 'You're ridiculous, you're not that way.' Everyone's going to believe and accept it."

"'It's a time when you can say anything you want about yourself and nobody knows if you're telling the truth or not,' [a student] says. 'That's where the ethical part comes into it. I think you have to be true to yourself.'"

(Source: Christian Science Monitor, "Frosh find ways to remake themselves" August 2003)

To what extent to business school students take advantage of this opportunity to reinvent not just our careers, but our physical and social selves? How successful are we at these reinventions? Two anecdotes:

I have one friend who regularly wails about her academic underperformance as an undergraduate. She graduated with a 2.9 GPA and it was only that high because she was able to take introductory language classes in her native tongue. She'll be attending Stanford this fall and says she intends to rock the academics because it's important to her sense of self-worth to see herself as academically superior. I don't think I've ever seen her wearing glasses, but she just purchased a pair that screams "I study hard." She's also planning to grow out her party-girl hair highlights and she made a New Year's resolution to stop using her breasts quite so much to get what she wants. (This resolution is observed more in the breach, much to my pleasure.)

I know of some students at Columbia Business School who are sometimes referred to as "The Heathers." In the movie, The Heathers are a four-girl group (three named Heather, one named Veronica) of ultra-popular, uber-cliqueish High School bitches who are in love with their own desirability and superiority. At Columbia Business School, the Heathers don't play croquet, but they do manage to carry themselves with all of the hoity-toity bitchiness you'd expect from cardigan-wearing, gum-smacking, teenage princesses. But judging by the sniggering that goes on behind their backs, these women have failed to reinvent themselves in the likeness of the popular sorority sisters they never were.

Some of us are so desparate for a new image that we'll do it by scalpel, if necessary. How many business school students use the convenient break before the official start of school to purchase for themselves new noses, chins, and breasts? I know a male student at HBS who's had a gastric bypass. I doubt he's the only one. I know two women my age who've already had liposuction. One's already got her MBA, the other is thinking of applying for the class of 2008.

I don't mean to judge these reinventors (except perhaps when the reformulated version of the person is worse than the old version of the person), but rather to simply note it as a phenomenon.

At the commencement ceremonies this fall, look to your left. Look to your right. One of these people is method acting and will soon become the character he or she is pretending to be.


Blogger Hawkeye said...

interesting you used the word "Tabula Rasa". Also interesting was the topic you handled.

I have studied in 11 schools in 9 different cities from kindergarten to high school and then studied undergrad in a whole new environment and moved to US for grad school.

I believe I can write a research thesis on pros and cons of re-inventing oneself. I hope to write on this in my blog someday ( did talk about them breifly in my essays).

1/24/2005 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger bskewl said...

I'm definitely interested in reading what you have to write on this subject. Try to remember to let me know once you've done that... because I don't want to miss it.

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