Friday, January 29, 2016

Everything I Needed to Get through My MBA, I Learned from Yoga

Jordan Leopold
By Jordan Leopold, MBA'16

I started mentoring a group of first year students through the leadership academy as a part of my growth and development as I continue on my MBA journey. Last week in one of my coaching meetings, I caught myself saying, “Take inventory of yourself and what you need and let go of what you don’t”.  I realized that I was reciting the words of my yoga instructor from the particularly steamy class I had taken the night before. Later on when reflecting back, I came to the realization that so much of what got me through the first year of my MBA, I learned on a 71”x 24” rubber mat.

I have been practicing yoga now for about three years and I am still terrible at it.  As a former college athlete, I do not take kindly to being bad at things. Despite my lack of headstands, splits or generally any cool trick, I have gained so much from developing a consistent practice and have carried those lessons off my mat and into the halls of the Kelley School of Business.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

Lesson 1 - Leave Your Ego at the Door

Did I mention I’m really bad at yoga?  When learning more advanced poses, there is a high risk of toppling over in a grand fashion time after time.  But one of those times when you flail yourself up into one of the seemingly impossible positions, you won’t fall and all of those other times when you crumpled into a sweaty heap will be forgotten.  Kelley is very much the same experience.  I failed a lot in my first year.  I bombed exams.  I bombed interviews. I applied for many jobs I didn’t get. However, I also took first prize in a national case competition and scored internship offers from my dream companies.  At Kelley, we are encouraged to take risks and not all of those risks work out. But the way this community celebrates our successes and lifts us up from our disappointments makes it that much easier to jump again.

Lesson 2 - Keep your eyes on your own mat

This was one of the hardest lessons for me to learn both in yoga and in business school.  In yoga class, I invariably end up next to the bendy dancer who seems to be incapable of sweating.  I could spend all class glancing over at her to see what crazy position she had gotten herself into but that wouldn’t serve me.  If I allowed myself to be intimidated by other yogis, I would never show up to class and what good would that do me?  Same goes for business school.  Being at Kelley, I am constantly surrounded by amazingly smart people. We are all on our own MBA journeys together but we are all moving at our own pace.  It’s great to have a benchmark but you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to keep up with everyone else.  It’s important to know yourself and be able to let go of those things that aren’t serving you as you work towards your goals.

Lesson 3- It’s brave to ask for help

Help in yoga comes in a lot of different forms. You can use props like a strap or block to help you get into certain poses. Another form of help is to retreat into a static, resting pose in the middle of class while everyone else continues to move and flow. It took me a long time to get used to incorporating these tools into my practice. I wanted to look like a strong, solid yogi who could hold the pose without “cheating” but didn’t realize that I was compromising my form and ultimately risking injury by pushing myself beyond my limits. As I’ve started to practice more, I have embraced these assisting tools and it has had the most profound impact on my yoga experience. At Kelley, we have unlimited resources at our disposal. You will run into problems as you navigate through business school and I wish I had spent more time getting to know every single person in GCS, the different resources in the MBA office and the faculty members and bravely asking for help and support as I moved through my first year. These amazing people want to help you achieve your goals and love to celebrate your successes. Your Kelley classmates are also an amazing support system. Despite being in a competitive environment, I am always humbled by my classmates and their wiliness and desire to go the extra mile for me.  Kelley is a reciprocal environment.  I am constantly learning from my classmates and I work just as hard to help them through this process as well.

Lesson 4- Shavasana- Rest is good

It’s also important to force yourself to take a step back from the program every now and again and check in with yourself.  I learned so much in my first year but as I look back, the biggest impact Kelley has had on me was my own personal growth. Sometimes I got caught up in the rat race but allowing myself to take a moment, a night, a weekend for myself helped me re-center and focus on why I went back to school to get my MBA in the first place: to become not only a better marketer but also a better leader and person.  Kelley is a unique community and having the courage to ask others for help will immeasurably improve your MBA experience.

The lessons above are just a few of many that I’ve taken away from my yoga practice that have gotten me through the last year.  Honestly, I may always be terrible at yoga.  However, I will continue to show up because although I might not be reaping the benefits of my work in the studio, yoga has given me the confidence and the poise to perform in class, in team environments and in the interview room. That makes every bead of sweat and face plant worth it.


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