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Monday, April 26, 2010

Don't Let your MBA Suck the Soul Out of you Hobbies

The latest issue of my Wharton alumni magazine arrived a week ago. As usual, I looked at the class news sections to see who wrote about their new job using nonsensical corporate buzz, investor relations pitch, and rationalizations. For example, "I am starting my own long-term, early stage mezzanine fund with a focus on transforming legacy systems in emerging economies to dynamic, nimble, green-based cloud systems. I work 18 hours a day and drink my own urine because I don't have time to drink and go to the bathroom but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything!"

After that enjoyable perusal, I saw an article about Lei Wang's attempt to become the 10th person in the galaxy to climb the highest peak on each continent and ski both Poles. Wang's background makes the story even more incredible. I also knew Wang, was a classmate of hers, and saw Luna in concert with her (another example of her sense of adventure). I like her but hate her climbing philosophy. I hate the sin but love the sinner or in more modern parlance, I won't hate the playa, just the game. I ain't no playa hata but I am going to criticize her quotes in the article. This does not mean I am critical of Wang herself and everything that she has done.

This is part of the larger issue of MBA's who take the fun out of any hobby. They are not content to have a leisure activity but need to be the best at the leisure activity and establish metrics to dominate that leisure activity. These metrics are pursued with the intensity of a quarterly earning reports where it is not enough to meet analyst expectations. No, the ideal MBA will attempt to kill themselves with exertion to meet those metrics or even better, or achieve the holy grail of exceeding them. An MBA will not just take up knitting and maybe make a scarf and hat or two. An MBA must knit a wardrobe for a small village while starting a side knitting business that will be taken public.

Wang is guilty of this (but I'm not being a playa hata it's for illustrative purposes of a larger problem). I had previously read she wanted to initially accomplish her goal by the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. That's because MBA's don't just like to accomplish incredible goals in their lifetimes but they like to finish them early. The Wharton magazine article talks about Wang battling hypothermia, food poisoning, and fire breathing dragons with big swords in an effort to summit. This is actually a bigger issue of climbers making bad decisions to reach the summit rather than try another day. Or, the desire for MBA's to push their bodies to the absolute limits for their hobbies. There is no distinction in effort between jobs, relationships, or hobbies. If an MBA became a monk, they would pray and chant harder than anyone else in order to achieve enlightenment by year end in order to achieve first mover advantage in their cloister.

I've been climbing for about the same time as Wang. Last summer, I backpacked to the beautiful Lake of the Angels in the Olympic Penninsula to climb Mt Stone, a modest 6,612 foot peak. I tweaked my ham string during the hike and decided not to climb. Instead I enjoyed the lake, goats, and hiked to the top of a ridge to enjoy the views. The mountain will always be there, I'll have the vacation days, and I can climb it when I wouldn't risk my safety. I preferred to climb the 10,778 foot Mt Baker for a glacier experience rather than the 14,411 foot Mt Rainier. The reason is that the glacier travel experience on Baker is similar to Rainier without having to gain 5,000 feet of elevation for the approach. The "prestige" of climbing Rainier is not worth it for me. I take climbing classes, I take opportunities to improve my skills, and I enjoy climbing as a hobby. It's not about achievement for me.

Future MBA's, remember this when you first experience the powerful force of hundreds of MBA's together in a small building. Placing all those type A personalities in one room violates a law of physics since energy gets created in greater quantities than the mass that produces it. Or something like that. Channel that competitive spirit into appropriate places like your job, career, or philanthropy. If you like to jog, you don't have to run an iron man marathon. If you like to write, you don't need to publish a best seller in 5 languages. If you like to snort cocaine, you don't need to inhale a small Colombian jungle.
Don't let the MBA competitive spirit consume your soul by taking over your hobbies.
And Lei, congratulations, on your climbs.


Amit said...

I’m really impressed with your article. Cool in looks informative in Material

GeekMBA360 said...

I completely agree. I wish your article is a required reading for future and present MBAs. MBA folks need to chill, and learn to relax.

IvyEyes Editing said...

Great post and couldn't agree more.

"...establish metrics to dominate that leisure activity."

Hysterical, sad, and absolutely true.

Small typo in the title, fyi! :)

Ivy Eyes Editing

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