Stanford MBA Essay A | What Matters Most to You

Final Draft – Stanford Essay A

There’s no typical Stanford Essay A. A good Essay A always reveals something uniquely personal about who the applicant is or how he/she views the world. This former client drew on a challenge early in her life as a source of strength in all she does today. This former client has consented to the publication of his/her MBA application material.

Stanford MBA Essay A:

What matters most to you, and why?

I was overweight for many of my teenage years, which in turn left me feeling unhappy and self-conscious about my body. I see now that low self-esteem caused me to lack any real desire to push the boundaries of my comfort zone either physically or emotionally. At the age of 18, my unhappiness finally spurred in me the desire and motivation to transform my physical well-being and, by extension, my life. Hard work marked the beginning of a physical transformation but it was not until I crossed the finish line of the London marathon, at the age of 23, that I realized my mind-set had also fundamentally changed.

When Amnesty International offered me a place in the marathon – a feat that as an overweight teenager I’d considered almost insurmountable – I saw it as an opportunity to consolidate my new habits and also give back to the community through fundraising. I had no doubt that the transition from novice jogger to marathon runner would mean enduring a great deal of physical and mental pain, but I was determined to prove to my younger self that I could do it. The experience marks a period of my life that I am immensely proud of. In total it took over four hours of blood, sweat, pain and relentless optimism on race day, not to mention five months of commitment and sacrifice, to reach my goal. Although the marathon may seem like just another long-distance run for some, to me it represents the pinnacle of a personal struggle with self-image. As an overweight teenager, I would never have believed I’d have the strength to commit myself to this mental challenge, let alone complete it.

The experience made me realize that, as people, we use our inner experiences to form mental models, which in turn shape our subjective experience in the wider world. The mental construct we have of ourselves informs our interactions with others. In short, our perception of the world starts with the way we see ourselves. Each of us has unique set of circumstances in life, yet we are defined not by the circumstances per se but instead by how we choose to approach them. Doing so with a positive attitude is what matters most to me.

In proving to myself that I could surmount what I saw as the hard limits of possibility, I’ve gained the confidence to tackle other obstacles and challenges. Self-confidence has overflowed into my personal and professional life by giving me the courage to pursue my passions, launch my own nonprofit, and take on my next race: an Olympic triathlon. I now look boldly to my future endeavors in the knowledge that I have the tools to apply my ‘mind over matter’ mentality to all aspects of my life.

The transition from a management consulting role at Bain to founding my own non-profit, has meant adapting from a highly matrixed environment to one of autonomy and total accountability. Succeeding in this endeavour has been my most significant professional accomplishment.

At Bain, a hierarchical and process-driven environment, I thrived as part of a team of twenty colleagues. The emphasis on collaboration fostered a deep sense of belonging and enabled me to build strong communication skills. Open door policies allowed me to freely access guidance from superiors. When I left Bain to focus on my start-up, that safety net vanished and I found myself accelerated into a leadership position. As I built NONPROFIT’s team of four people, I became acutely aware that I was no longer on the receiving end of management validation and mentorship. The onus and accountability of decision-making is now entirely on me as I make dozens of judgments every day in an autonomous environment.

Although it was initially a culture shock, I’ve learnt to deal with my newfound responsibility and leadership role by becoming more resourceful and introspective, and by building my own support network. I’ve realized the value of self-reflection and how it empowers me to be a smarter leader; being self-aware has helped me understand what I have yet to learn and what to prioritize to run the business more successfully. I’ve learnt to tackle unfamiliar problems by breaking them down into approachable goals, engaging in training and consulting mentors – thereby equipping myself with the knowledge and confidence to make better decisions. Realizing that many entrepreneurs experience a sense of isolation when starting a business, I’ve established a network of ten female entrepreneurs as a forum through which to share experiences of ubiquitous challenges.

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