Learning from Yao Ming: How to Be Unique While Still Fitting In

Yao MingYao Ming, arguably China’s most popular athlete, was recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Ming was able to turn his massive size and refined skills into an outstanding career. Even more importantly, however, was that his cultural awareness and personality enabled him to be a global ambassador connecting the East and the West.

An icon transcending his sport, Ming became a bridge of understanding across cultures – treading the balance between sharing his culture with others, while also fitting into a different culture almost seamlessly. As you start brainstorming essay topics for your target business schools, you will surely come across two important tips:

  1. Show what makes you unique
  2. Demonstrate fit

At first glance, these points may seem contradictory to each other, but Yao Ming’s example demonstrates a perfect balance between the two:

Represent Yourself
You want to represent yourself proudly in your admissions essays, demonstrating pride in your culture and in your work. As such, do not use “weak words” or play down where you came from or what you do – you want to show the Admissions Committee that you will bring something fascinating to their school that you can share with your classmates. This doesn’t imply feeling superior to your peers, but rather, having a comfortable sense of self and knowing that you are at par even if you are different.

Adjusting to a new culture and to a new team as a young man in his early 20’s, Yao showed admirable composure and diplomacy to be respectful of both the more communal Chinese culture and the more individual-oriented American culture. This allowed him to represent himself well, while still being able to adjust to his new environment.

Collaborate With Others
Demonstrating an open-mindedness and ability to engage across cultures will show your ability to collaborate with others towards group goals, as well as the ability to share your experiences and knowledge. Thus, highlighting how you have worked with diverse teams towards meaningful goals – or at the very least, how you have held an open-minded attitude – can assure the Admissions Committee that you will be able to contribute to your classes in business school. Showing that you are aware that diversity is an opportunity for you to learn from others and further develop yourself will also be helpful in being convincing the Admissions Committee that you will be able to benefit from your MBA experience.

Learning these lessons from the talented giant, Yao Ming, may not necessarily lead to a huge endorsement deal with Apple, but it could help you get into your dream MBA program, and make the most of of your time there once you are admitted.

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Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD. You can read more articles by him here