I think writing about work-life balance in a business school blog can feel like a little bit of an oxymoron: MBA’s are ambitious, motivated, driven, and balance can be challenging to strike. It can be particularly hard when trying to cram academics, networking, internship search, new friends, and a whole bunch of extracurricular activities into 24 hours. Oh, and I suppose one should also try and get some sleep occasionally.
I think what I learned quickly in my first year was that my time was the most limited and precious resource I had, and I’d be smart to put it towards the things that mattered most. This for me meant learning to prioritize. There are always several interesting things going on at the same time: a networking event, an employer spotlight, a TA session, friends meeting up for drinks. Having to choose just one is challenging, but with so many asks on my time, I often have to ask myself, whether my choice would help me grow, make me happier, align with my values, or help me reach my goals. The answer isn’t always the same: sometimes it is foregoing the party to study for an exam, and sometimes it is going out to celebrate and relishing the accomplishment of an aced interview. That’s why this balance thing is tricky.
Another thing on my journey towards balance has been making self-care a regular part of my life because I need to show up as my best self for my teams and to stay sharp to tackle challenging projects. What this looks like for me is always aiming for 8 hours of sleep. Sometimes that means finishing homework assignments at 5 am. But I know I’d be more productive then than at the end of an already long, demanding day. Self-care for me also means regular exercise: I know I have more energy if I start my day with a run. I did Crossfit during my first year and have taken up aerial hoop in second year. I think sleep and exercise are also what has kept me healthier both physically and mentally through my MBA career.
I think recognizing my limitations and setting realistic expectations have also been critical in working to achieve balance in in my life. This applies to anything, from committing to realistic timelines when I promise to do research on a project, not taking on a club task that I don’t think I can complete on time, and making sure my partner knows whether I am able to pick up groceries on my way home. This is probably the most challenging part of creating balance for me, as my natural propensity is to say yes to everything. But I’ve learned that I’d rather under promise and overdeliver than to have to choose between sleep and integrity of delivering on a word given thoughtlessly.
In short, creating a work-life balance as an MBA student is challenging. But balance is, by definition, the counteraction of weights or tensions, so it’s only natural that you get particularly good at finding it when you feel pulled in different directions.
Nari Malkhasyan is a 2nd year Social Impact MBA student with a background in the apparel industry, and a passion for the outdoors, aerial circus, kombucha, and her 2 cats. She’s trying to hike her way through the Presidential Range in NH before she moves to the West Coast after graduation.