Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Ride the Waves" (and other advice I would give to my 2010 self)

Yesterday I was recorded with a group of my classmates, discussing our opinions on "best practices" for incoming first year students.  It got me thinking, now that I am almost at the end of my Darden experience, "What would I have told myself before starting here?"

Dear 2010 Self,

If you're reading this, congratulations.  You are about to embark on two of the most exciting years of your life.  You also have been a part of the first ever successful time travel experiment, as I am writing this letter to you from just before 2012 graduation, and the time capsule I placed this letter in survived the long journey back to two years prior.  Amazing what technology can do these days.

Since, clearly, I have grown far wiser now than when I was a young pup like yourself, I thought I should take the opportunity to provide you some helpful advice.  No specifics here, because I am afraid of melting away from old photographs like Marty McFly, but some general tips to make your time at Darden as great as it can be:
  • Manage the Process.  You're about to begin orientation, during which you will repeatedly hear the phrase "Trust the Process" beaten into your heads, but I don't think this phrase is quite accurate.  Darden is designed for you to succeed and to grow, but you need to be an active participant in everything that this school throws at you.  Figure out what is most important to you and gun for those top priorities – these could be school, career, or personally-oriented.
  • Beware of judging yourself relative to others.  You're a special snowflake, you're unique but just like everyone else at this school.  So be humble.  Allow yourself to learn from your peers.  But also have a confidence in the classroom that you can teach others too.  Don't let awards, job offers, or other competitions get in the way of your feeling of self-worth.  You're now a big fish in a pond of trophy bass.  If your classmates win something you were striving for, congratulate them.  They earned it.  And what goes around, comes around.

  • Make some time to go hiking in the mountains

  • Take a chance.  Step out of your comfort zone.  Maybe you want to try a new activity.  Maybe you want to get to know a classmate on a more personal level.  Go for it.  Fight any constraints holding you back.  They are all mental.
  • Business school can be transformative.  I know you're a cynic, and you don't believe this right now, but it's true.  If you allow it, you can experience far more personal growth in two short years than you can possibly imagine.  So tackle all opportunities to grow.
  • Bias yourself towards saying "yes".  You will eventually see Dean Bruner write a blog post about this, but I wanted you to be a step ahead of the game.  The art of saying "no" is quite valuable in business school and you will need to learn that too, but if you're on the fence about whether to commit to something, lean towards saying "yes".  This can open the door to many special experiences.

  • Good friends can be made while eating crepes

  • It's not the breadth of connections that you develop at business school which is most important.  It's the depth.  Remember the rule of 150, the number of stable social relationships that you can maintain at any one time.  Your entering Darden class will have 339 students.  And you will need to reserve space for family and old friends that you plan to keep close contact with while you are in school.  In other words, you can't truly get to know everyone here.  So figure out who your special friends are at Darden and make a conscious effort to cultivate those relationships.  You will miss people if you don't, the time flies by too quickly.
  • But take the opportunities to broaden your horizons.  Travel.  Get to know your international classmates.  You may never again have the opportunities to immerse yourself in so many different cultures than when you are here.

  • Darden soccer is fun!

  • Find a regular way to preserve your sanity.  Darden can be highly stressful, especially when you're recruiting.  Don't forget to leave some time for yourself.  Maybe you need to jog.  Maybe you play soccer on weekends.  Maybe you grab lunch with your classmates.  Maybe you escape to DC.  Whatever works for you, find a way to unwind every day.
  • You might not find yourself where you expect to be in two years.  You might find yourself somewhere very different.  Be prepared and open to the unexpected.
  • Real-life companies don't always know what they are doing, either.  Be confident in your viewpoints.  Voice your opinions.  Don't be afraid of "failure" – this is a learning opportunity in disguise.
  • Ride the Waves.  The downs will mean as much to you as the ups when you're looking back on these two years.  You will get through the downs and come through stronger.  There is something to be said for the phrase "Trust the Process".  Cherish every experience.
  • Finally, take some time to prepare a good 80's costume for the 100 Case Party.  Trust me.  You don't want to miss out on this...

Enjoy the journey,

Jonathan Harris
April 2012


  1. Great post, dude. I've meant to write one like this for a while now; I think you've just spurned me on. Stay tuned this week.

  2. Very Inspirational! Thanks!!!!!