I gave a talk yesterday to a class of soon-to-graduate MBA students at CU Boulder yesterday. It was their last class in the course that had been filled with a bunch of interesting VC and entrepreneurial guest lecturers. We did Q&A for several hours, covered a lot of ground, and had plenty of fun (or at least I did.) At the end, the professor asked if I had any final words of advice to the room full of MBA’s who were about to graduate. I thought for a moment and then said an abbreviated version of the following.
Imagine that you are 45 and are looking back on your last 15-20 years. Is your work, and life, full of meaning?
Don’t worry about money right now. You can always get a job that pays you plenty of money. Don’t worry about your resume. Don’t worry about “am I positioning myself the right way for something five years from now.” I know way too many 45 year olds who have plenty of money, have done all the right career things, yet are unhappy with where they are in life, where they live, and what they do. Don’t be that guy or gal.
Start by choosing the place you want to make a life. If it’s Boulder, figure out how to stay here. If it’s New York, there’s an easy United flight that gets you there in under four hours – take it the day after you graduate. San Francisco? That flight is only two hours long. Just go and figure it out when you get there. Don’t talk about “I’m going to live there some day” – go get in the middle of wherever it is that you want to build a life. Oh, and Boise is a pretty cool place, as is Austin, Seattle, Miami, DC, and at least 95 other cities in the United States.
Next, choose a domain that you want to dedicate your life to. If you’ve dreamed of being an investment banker or consultant to Fortune 1000 companies since you were 10, then Goldman Sachs or McKinsey is looking for you. If you want to be an entrepreneur, working at an investment bank or consulting firm for a while is pointless. Be an entrepreneur starting now. Pick that domain that turns you on the most – start at a high level (e.g. software, Internet, clean tech) but then pick a thing that you really care about and a set of problems you want to solve. If you aren’t technical, go find a technical co-founder right now – there are hundreds of them on this campus. Get your ass out of your chair and just get started.
Finally, make sure you are living your life. You are young and hopefully have plenty of time on this planet. But don’t wait because you never know when the lights are going to go out.
Ok – that’s more cogent than what I probably said in real time, but it’s what I meant. And I think it applies to anyone about to graduate with an MBA. When I graduated from MIT Sloan with an SM (they didn’t have MBA’s back in 1988) I was already following three of these – I hadn’t focused on where I wanted to live until 1995 when Amy and I moved to Boulder. But when I look back, I didn’t care about money (and subsequently made plenty of it), I focused all of my energy on building a software company (which evolved into helping create software / Internet companies), and I lived my life every single moment – the ups, the downs, the dark depressed days, and the euphoric moments.
Go do something important right now, whatever that is for you. The world needs it and your chances of living a meaningful, happy, and fulfilling life will increase dramatically.