My Journey to INSEAD: About Success & Perfectionism and How Dangerous These Can Sometimes Be

Alexandra Magdei

I am writing this post following a long period of reflection. When evaluating someone's "success"people tend to see only the tip of the iceberg.

In this article, my objective is to uncover the bottom of the iceberg and share my personal experience.

My journey began in July 2019, when I was doing my internship in Paris and started preparing for the GMAT exam. I was very motivated to pursue my Master's degree at a top European Business School and knew that a high GMAT score was imperative to gain the sought-after admission. For six months, I devoted my evenings to studying for this exam and sat for the examination for the first time before Christmas 2019 when I finished my internship. I was devastated when I saw a disappointing 610 popping out on the screen and cancelled my score.

I had approximately three weeks left before my semester at ESSEC would start and decided to dedicate the Christmas break to preparing for attempt #2. While visiting my parents back in Moldova for two weeks, I spent almost my entire vacation on GMAT preparation. My goal was to complete a new verbal course that would bring me closer to my 700-objective. I flew back to Paris in January 2020 and started attending classes.

The academic curriculum was intense and students were given time in advance to learn how to code. Focused on applications, I didn’t dedicate too much time to upskilling myself in Python and R and once I started, it was already too late. By the end of January, after one month of bootcamp-intensive preparation, I took the GMAT for the second time and got a decent score.

But the stress didn’t stop there. I had four different applications to fill out and tens of essays to write in less than three weeks.

Additionally, I had a couple of university group assignments piling up and my anxiety was slowly getting out of control. Every day I would wake up at 6am to get ready for school and would take the train from Paris to Cergy. There, I would attend classes and spend time working on assignments. Late in the evening, I would arrive home, skip dinner and work on perfecting my slides and my essays until 2am.

As my brain could not function properly at night, I took guarana pills to enhance my concentration and cognitive abilities. These further disrupted my sleep pattern and it became a vicious circle: exhaustion, lack of concentration, guarana and/or caffeine, lack of sleep. I submitted my applications by end of February and thought it was the end of it.

But it was not. Juggling courses worth 44 ECTS instead of only 30 ECTS that ESSEC required, a 60-page dissertation and projects that I was involved in was no easy task. And the stress levels that I was going through were mounting and slowly taking their toll on my health. When the lockdown hit Paris in March, I was already not doing well. During the week that everyone took to adjust to the new normal, I programmed myself to work full-time to finish my research paper. "This would help me free some time and focus on more important things", I believed. And so I did.

Yet I was not happy about the work that I had done and this discontent caused additional anxiety. I would have trouble falling asleep and I would start waking up at 3am in the middle of the night with my heart racing after nightmares about failing university and not being admitted to masters.

Ultimately, I received my admission offers in the beginning of April 2020 and accepted INSEAD.

At the same time, I started having panic attacks and finally found the courage to see a doctor. He prescribed me a small dose of antidepressants and tranquillisers to put me to sleep. While this remedy helped me go to bed and sleep continuously for seven hours, I had trouble focusing and thinking. Worried about the aggravating state she saw me in, my mom reached out to half of her friends to find a way to fly me home immediately. When my parents greeted me at the airport, they were scared to see my sleep-deprived, skinny poker face. The medication was working and blocking any emotion whatsoever. I was lethargic.

I was going through a severe burnout. The following two months have felt like running a marathon with a broken leg. I attended classes virtually but was feeling very weak. During those times I spent 80% of the time in bed receiving infusions and additional medication to get back to my normal energy levels. I would like to thank the ESSEC administration for their empathy and for all the accommodations they have done to make sure I graduated within the expected time frame.

By the time I defended my dissertation I realised I would not have the strength to continue my studies. I wanted so badly to be part of the MIM pioneering class of INSEAD ... but I desperately needed a pause. So I deferred my admission for 2021. Thank you, dear admissions committee for granting me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

The moral of the story is two-fold:

  • Success comes at a cost and perseverance is key in achieving your objectives.
  • Never underestimate the importance of rest because fatigue cumulates and eventually explodes. Perfectionism is not a quality and is not worth it if it afflicts your mental health.