A Personal Retrospect: Looking Back On University Life Five Years On

Exactly five years have passed since I received my last academic degree. In July 2010, I graduated from Paris with an MBA in Strategic Management. I remember boarding a plane bound for Beirut just a few days afterward, my face flush with excitement and my mind filled with notions of new adventures.

I was finally free. Free from the shackles of institutionalized education. Free from the mundane and often irrelevant homework assignments. Free from an unbending and rigorous schedule.


Photo courtesy of https://www.cpcc.edu/


Everyone tells you that college is the best time of your life. In so many ways, it’s true, but you get so bogged down with tedious projects and stressful exams, the experience hardly feels like pure bliss. One thing’s certain: college marks the last phase before you cross over into genuine adulthood, when you have to own up to your actions, account for your productivity, and toil in order to get paid and ultimately survive.

The enviable thing about my MBA is that it straddled academics with real-world experience. The year alternated between course work and corporate work. I acted as junior consultant at a major nuclear energy company, and, just as the employee next to me, there were hard and fast deliverables.

That immersion into corporate life fostered a smooth transition to the so-called “real world” I’d been incessantly warned of throughout my schooling. It prepared me for what lay ahead, even if this rite of passage had unfolded in France and would prove to be starkly different from my next environment, Lebanon.

Presently I am the deputy head of strategy at an alpha bank in Beirut. Many of my readers may be surprised to learn this. Surely you didn’t think I was a full-time foodie! Far from it. The restaurant reviews stem from a passion for culinary flair and good writing, but that’s it (for now, at least). By day, I slave over the global footprint of the bank, financial reports, and competitive positioning. I follow the Lebanese diaspora, seeking new grounds that are investment-grade where we could viably serve our people’s banking needs.

Is this what I envisioned for myself back in college? Honestly, I was never one of those kids blessed with a concrete image of what I wanted to do or be when I “grew up.” I excelled in nearly every subject area, which can be a boon or bane depending on how you look at it.

I’ll never forget the disappointment manifest on the face of my freshman honors humanities professor when she learned I’d opted for engineering. “You have a natural gift with words. You could have a wonderful career as a writer,” she exhorted. Alas, would writing pay the bills?

Physics and mathematics gave me an unnatural high, and their union crystallized my decision to study mechanical engineering. Admittedly, I never worked in my domain (I don’t count a three-month internship as full-fledged employment), having pursued an MBA immediately after my technical master's.

Yet I have no remorse for those six years of self-inflicted slavery. I am 100% confident I wouldn’t be in the seat I am today had it not been for that exacting path. After the rigors of engineering, everything becomes child’s play.

I’m lucky enough to have a job whose core is thinking creatively and independently. As a problem solver, I have considerable flexibility with my missions, their definition, scope and solutions. Often my only hindrance is myself and the limits of my knowledge. But by the same token, that means I can grow my competence through self-learning.

Do I miss my college years? In more ways than one. For starters, college was the ultimate champion of “input equals output.” You put in the time struggling and striving, but at least your outcome would (ideally) be commensurate.

In the corporate realm, you have to accept the fact that not everyone shares your drive or motivation, and many will thwart your ability to progress. Beyond that, much of what you create will be sucked into a black hole and never see the light of day again. There are new problems to grapple with on a daily basis, so you can’t get hung up on the devils of yesterday.  

Most importantly, if you don’t nurture a high level of passion and enthusiasm for what you do, you’re bound to fail miserably and fall into an abyss of despair. In school, we had college to look forward to. In college, there was grad school. In grad school, the real world awaited us. Now that we belong to the real world, our sense of expectation begins to wane because an object or endpoint is not readily clear. What’s next? Well, therein lies the mystery.


Graduation from the Collège des Ingénieurs in Paris, 2010


Five years have passed since that hot summer day when I stood tall and poised in a beautifully-renovated Haussmann edifice as I clutched my long-coveted diploma. I was on the cusp of limitless potential, and the world seemed easily conquerable. No one could convince me otherwise.

Half a decade later, my potential is constantly put to the test, and I’m pushed outside my comfort zone time and time again. But the insatiable go-getter in me keeps tugging at my coattails, and I know deep down there’s so much left to be exploited. I want to do more, cover vaster ground and reach beyond myself. I want to continue to dream big and achieve big. I want to forever be the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed kid whose hopes cannot be dashed.

Because there's nothing worse than wasted potential. And time is my greatest liability. 


Comments

  1. Seems like we're at the age of reevaluation and reflection. I've been thinking a lot about what's happened in the last years and what's to come. Cheers to new chapters!

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    Replies
    1. We're no longer the 'younguns'! :/ I find myself telling college kids, "When I was your age..."

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