The Easiest Decision is Paradoxical
One of the most talked-about themes when you begin the intense 10-month MBA programme at INSEAD is the strong decision-making capacities it demands of its candidates. There simply isn’t enough time to do everything you’re drawn toward, and effective choices regarding time allocation become increasingly crucial. This challenge and the lessons you learn from it are invaluable; I plan to expand on them in a future blog post.
An unexpected experience prompted me to think about this topic from a distinct angle. Less than three weeks into starting the programme, my entire focus rapidly switched from classes, social events and weekend trips to basic bodily functions - I contracted a severe case of the flu. I was suddenly incapacitated and had scarcely enough energy to send a few necessary messages to the administration, my study group and housemates. I had thrown up seven times in one night and abruptly developed a high fever, chest cold, tonsillitis and sinusitis.
Realising how dependent I was on others was both humbling and disorienting.
But seeing the actions of some of my classmates drove home a simple lesson for me -
making others feel seen and heard when they’re weak, vulnerable or at a low point is one of the most powerful gifts we can give.
I’ve found the majority of people at INSEAD to be friendly and approachable. But we’re all so immensely busy that most of us can realistically only see those in our path of action. Taking a mental detour from our laundry list of plans and obligations to offer attention to anything disconnected from them doesn’t come easily; even a person who’s tripped and fallen - metaphorically - right in front of you can be an incident your brain filters out because there is an appointment to get to or a task to fulfill.
The programme has built in some key elements to develop social sensitivity. But naturally, the situations crafted for this purpose will be far more constructed and structured than events in “real life”.
The deeds and offers to help when I was helpless are acts I’ll remember more vividly and eternally than any other positive interactions I’ve had here.
This is quite strange, since none of us are making such a large personal investment to fall ill and learn lessons from it; we came here to grow from the social environment and academic frameworks that are hard to replicate elsewhere. But underneath every umbrella of a prestigious institution is simply a collection of fallible and emotional humans. I suppose this means the words or acts that often have the most impact, positive or negative, are surprisingly small and quotidian.
Besides being a fallible, emotional human with a recent experience that moved me, I haven’t earned any authority to expound the reasons people should make an effort to be kind. The business world, including INSEAD, already shares lessons from books like Give and Take by Adam Grant.
Yet, I felt compelled to motivate others to carry out mundane acts of kindness at an elementary level. It seems bizarre to associate spending 30 minutes to bring someone food with career success. This video from Headspace offers an inspiring rationale for these simple acts.
Perhaps the most obvious way to remember the importance of kindness is to think about which actions by others from years past you recall most easily. Making decisions about how to spend our time is tricky. But the decision to spend some of it being selfless seems to ironically be one of the easiest choices to make.