Confessions of a (Potential) Business School Candidate

I am thinking of going to business school. And I have been surprised by the reactions I have received each time I have shared this aspiration. In other words, I have gotten one reaction: surprise.

Now, there is one very reasonable explanation for this, which is that I had not expressed interest in an MBA until recently, and so people naturally did not expect it of me. Instead, they thought I would get an MFA in creative writing, or maybe pursue a masters in social work, both of which are options in which I have previously expressed interest.

But it struck me, too, that there may have been an element of skepticism because I am a woman. Now, I want to be clear right off the bat that I could well be wrong. I am mostly basing this on my reading of others’ reactions, and lord knows, I could be wrong in my interpretation. But the fact is that I have felt the need to explain myself, to qualify my desire to pursue an MBA.

“I want to work as a social entrepreneur,” I find myself saying. “I would like to find the intersection between what the world needs and what I love to do, and then I want to do that work in a sustainable way.” In other words, the only reason that I am thinking of business school is that I want to help people more sustainably. But I still want to help people.

Why not non-profit? I am asked.

And then I find myself explaining that I have been frustrated in the past with the dynamic in the non-profit world where organizations are always low on, and in search of, more funding. To Me, this doesn’t seem sustainable and I believe that there must be another way.

In short, it seems to me that I feel weird about going to business school if I cannot prove to myself and others that I have an altruistic motive for doing so. It doesn’t feel comfortable to assert that I want to go to business school in order to be more financially independent and support myself through my own efforts, rise to a management role in some form some day, hone my leadership skills, and be as empowered, assertive, and vocal a participant in the world as I can. And I wonder if that’s because I am a girl.

Again, I want to emphasize that this may well have more to do with my internal reaction to the question of grad school; I am not blaming those around me for being sexist just because they are surprised that I want to go to business school. But why, as an educated, ambitious, and energetic young person, should I feel the need to justify this choice and ambition? In fact, I am the one who is ceaselessly questioning this potential move. It’s like a broken record: Why not non-profit? Am I being selfish? Will I be able to help the world in any way? Am I going to be corrupted by ambition and end up caring only about money, prestige, and status, alone in an oversized house with an underused pool, three cars in the driveway, and only a flatscreen for company?  

And on and on.

It is as if all of the stereotypes of selling out or “going corporate” play out in bold colors in my mind’s eye until I am mesmerized, stupified, and anxious.

I think it is because, as a woman, I on some level feel that I need to put the needs of others before my own needs. And being ambitious in any way is “bad” and “unladylike.” This is what produces the discomfort when the question of grad school comes up. When people are surprised by my response, I feel sheepish, and I feel the need to explain myself. Don’t worry! I seem to be saying. I’m still the same old me! I still want to help people! I’m still kind and compassionate and a good listener!

So. In sum. I want to go to business school. And I also want to feel comfortable expressing this goal to other people, regardless of their reaction. I still have a ways to go in getting there, but, if my past few grad school conversations are any indicator , I’ll be having plenty of opportunities to practice in the coming days. Has anyone else received similar reactions to their goals or dreams?

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