This blog post is a synthesis of our reflective talks throughout our year at HEC Paris. While we are sure that HEC Paris does provide excellent teaching quality and excels in bringing some of the very best students to campus, we believe that there are several lessons that we, and our peers, must learn in order to be ‘sustainably successful’.
This blog is an honest account of an environment and, in some way, a generation.
So, is it really worth it?
When we chose to undertake our master’s studies at HEC Paris, it was clear that it imposed on us significantly more uncertainty compared to studying in the comfortable setting of Copenhagen. Few Danes take the leap to study abroad and only a fraction of those choose to do so in France, both because of the relative quality of education in Denmark and the convenience and affordability of Danish education. Therefore, most students feel that studying a complete master’s degree abroad is not only demanding, but also a risky endeavour.
But looking back, as it is always easier to understand things retrospectively, it is apparent that the decision was not risky. With the brand endorsement of HEC Paris, our downside was small. Of course, there is always the chance that you do not end up exactly where you hoped after studying. But you can be sure that HEC Paris will expose you to all the opportunities out there. And with HEC Paris on your resume, the odds are stacked in your favour.
The stress/growth trade-off
When we accepted our offer from HEC Paris, we both understood that it would be an intense year given the university’s reputation of academic excellence and heavy workload (a one-year MSc at HEC Paris is 90 ECTS points), coupled with settling into a new way of living with new social arenas. However, for some things you cannot fully prepare. No doubt, we have both had our ups and downs at campus in the outskirts of Paris. No doubt, we have both had extended periods of cramming. No doubt, we have both had to listen to each other’s whining. But, we have also both come to the conclusion that intense pressure is not necessarily an issue. The key is how you deal with it.
During our discussions, sometimes in a rather bittersweet tone, we have a habit of saying that “in the long-run we are all dead”. Rest assured, we do not mean that in a negative manner whatsoever. What we mean is that pressure is good, but not if you do not see the bigger picture. With the risk of sounding like a worn cliché: at this point in our lives, we have so little to lose and so much to gain from embracing uncertainty.
Whether under exam pressure or recruiting pressure, we have both had to tell each other at some point that “the sun also rises tomorrow”. And this perfectly sums up one of the more intangible learnings of living the HEC experience. Enjoy the process, take some risks, get some rejections and one day you will see that it hasn’t hurt you, but in fact just accelerated your growth and learning.
What most ambitious youngsters won’t tell you
As soon as you emerge into campus life at HEC Paris or any other elite business school, it is easy to forget the multitude of existences that live completely different lives. Therefore, it is prudent to nurture your relationships outside the business world. Both from Jutland, the trips home often serve as a reminder that the world is much more than business, PowerPoint slides and Excel sheets. One of the best pieces of advice is probably to keep outsiders close to add perspective to your life. That goes not only for business students or professionals, but for any kind of profession.
Why is that important? Remember, even if you become part of the most elite groups, the people in these groups are just that, people, with varying ambitions. Find comfort in the fact that most achievers are driven by fear and some even by lack of confidence. That is something most overachievers won’t tell you. They should.
So, instead of getting stuck in a world of the arguably petty worries of a select group, you should keep some perspective on what real challenges look like. After acknowledging this, the journey becomes all the more enjoyable. You also get a different view on your peers. After all, happiness is just something we manufacture ourselves.
Confession of the business students
From our experiences at elite institutions (Copenhagen Business School, University of Southern California, National University of Singapore, London School of Economics and HEC Paris) the best business students typically possess extremely strong technical skills. However, what we have perceived is that the education system has its trade-offs. Somewhere along the way it is easy for a group of people to get stuck on the same track, pursuing the same things. This is a shame because most of tomorrow’s great things are the things that people can’t even imagine today.
Remember, success has multiple dimensions; it has to come on your own terms for it to be sustainable.