Are your doubts about business school and thoughts of impending failure creeping in? Well, the good news is that this can work in your favor, according to best-selling author and Wharton’s top rated teacher, Adam Grant. In his book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant shares one approach of those challenging the status quo: defensive pessimism.
The good news is that negative thoughts can be channeled positively. Feeling worried and imagining all the things that can go wrong with future plans can actually help you approach potential challenges with defensive pessimism.
In the case of your MBA applications, an effective way to use this anxiousness is by diligently covering all your bases – taking care to go through the list of tasks you need to accomplish and finding the right steps to take before officially submitting your application. Converting a realistic assessment of your candidacy into actionable plans can help turn your anxiety into motivation and focus.
In my nine years of working with clients who have diverse backgrounds and personalities, I have helped applicants who have varying levels of available time and effort to put into their business school applications. Time and again, those who made the most progress were the ones who could motivate themselves, reflect honestly, and take the following incremental steps towards their MBA goals:
Have Appropriate Fear
Professional sports coaches often talk about having “appropriate fear,” or the need for a team to respect their opponents and guard against complacency. Similarly, in the case of your own MBA applications, being conscious of timelines and honestly assessing how much time each application step takes will help keep you on track towards your end goal. This will also allow you to you remain engaged with the tasks on hand, and not feel like you can magically finish them perfectly in one sitting.
Another tip from Grant is to procrastinate strategically through actions such as taking a break in the middle of the brainstorming or writing process. I agree with this and have seen the benefits of clients first writing down initial ideas (even just bullet points) for their MBA application essays, and then letting their thoughts marinate while they take a break.
Coming back to an essay later on helps applicants reflect on what they have just written and better relate ideas with their underlying values and future goals, or even come up with better examples to use. The key is to take the break in the middle of the task (and not for too long) and to not use it as an excuse to delay getting started!
Much of the stress from MBA applications comes from criticisms, whether from family, friends, or from your likely worst critic, yourself.
How you handle these criticisms will be the difference between defensive pessimism and harmful pessimism. You can let doubts about your worthiness as a candidate paralyze you, or be in total denial of critique regarding your profile and miss out on dealing with obvious blind spots. Alternatively, you can honestly appraise your perceived weaknesses and take the opportunity to address them with thoughtful reflections and powerful examples.
Use the steps above to help turn your business school worries into powerful motivation to keep you on track toward application success.
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