Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mind the 2nd-year excitement gap

I was talking to some friends this morning about what I perceive to be an excitement gap going into the fifth quarter (and possibly stretching back to the start of the 4th quarter). One of them labeled it "senioritis," which I was surprised to hear, because I always assumed that was based more on the length of time you spend in school (4 years in high school and college versus 2 years in a FT MBA program). Now that I've processed it a bit, I think that's actually the perfect description and that it has nothing to do with the length of school and everything to do with how actively you manage your goals/experience going into the last year.

When you first start school, you don't have to do much to remain excited/motivated/engaged. First off, it is the realization of your initial goal of getting into a target school, and that is pretty awesome. So that helps get you going. Furthermore, you are bombarded with a lot of new experiences, and everything is so exciting because it's so new. I remember this sensation during the first quarter at Kellogg when I was thinking
Oh Em Gee, I'm living in a new state. I'm going to Kellogg. I can't believe how many emails I'm getting. I can't believe how many cool speakers are coming to school. My classmates are so awesome. It feels great to be back in school. etc, etc. 
But perhaps most importantly, you have two clear, immediate, and difficult challenges/goals hanging right in front of you:
  1. Graduate
  2. Get an internship/job
Those goals are enough to keep you motivated and cranking at 100MPH on classes, extracurriculars, and socializing.  Honestly, if it weren't for the thought/pressure of wanting to secure a FT offer over the summer, I don't know how I would have made it through the 3rd quarter.

As you progress through the MBA program, all the stuff that was new becomes "just the norm," and those goals move from being uncertain to imminent (or frustrating/draining as can be the case with recruiting). They no longer seem like insurmountable mountains waiting to be overcome; instead, they become ant hills that you can practically trip over. When that happens, I think it is much easier to get hit with a serious case of "senioritis," unless you take an active role in managing your goals and shaping your experience for the remainder of the program.

I think this is why I was still burning out last quarter, although the workload was a lot less than the one prior. I had secured a job, the possibility of not graduating was no longer really a threat, and I hadn't really stopped to think about what I wanted to get out of the rest of my time here. Instead, I was passively using the same first-year strategy, which was perfectly suitable under those circumstances but now woefully inadequate.

This quarter already feels much, much different, and I think it started with my decision to only take 3 classes focused on Marketing so that I could pick up more expertise in this area. I didn't realize at the time, that I was inadvertently getting at the three main drivers of motivation presented in the book Drive:
  1. Autonomy - Since I'm not drowning in assignments, I have far more control over how I spend my time. Coincidentally, lack of autonomy was my main complaint about the internship experience, though I am certain that won't be an issue when I return for FT.
  2. Mastery - I am focusing on building a deeper knowledge of Marketing
  3. Purpose - In addition to a couple of side projects that also encompass these 3 attributes, I am now pursuing a broader purpose of becoming a good marketer, which I think will be really useful in the future
The book is excellent, and I highly recommend it. Here is a neat Youtube video based on a talk the author gave on one of the concepts.



I'm curious what are the implications, if any, for alumni engagement once "senioritis" takes hold, if it isn't addressed.



UPDATE: It's amazing how often I run into the same ideas across different sources. I was watching this TED video by Barry Schwartz, and he went into one of the topics in Drive: that incentives and punishments (sticks and carrots) actually demoralize and demotivate professionals (starts at about 13 minutes into the video).

3 comments:

  1. Love that Cognitive Media drawing video. Pretty awesome!

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  2. I feel that the idea is to extract excitement and energy from doing normal things everyday. By normal, I am referring to the exciting things that become routine work in due course of time. The trick is to find fun and joy in small little things everyday that could help us explore and discover ourselves. What do you feel?

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  3. Yep. I see that as the goal of actively managing your activities. Ideally, you only do things that keep you excited and energetic, even if they seem normal.

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