Success is Mutual

I’m an incoming 19D based in Fontainebleau. I previously worked at Deloitte, and before that, I spent several years in Africa building maternity wards for unwed teenagers with my bare hands. In my spare time I’m an astronaut, and I scored 820 on my GMAT. Bono funded my blockchain startup. I open doors for people who open doors. I defecate rainbows.

Joining the incoming INSEAD class’ Facebook page was intimidating, and introductions like these were consistent with the school’s reputation of attracting very accomplished people. I aimed to surround myself with better people than I met in my last job, and the cross-section of students I’ve met thus far do not disappoint.

In my section alone, off the top of my head, there is a surgeon, two venture capitalists, a Doctor of Chemical Engineering working on her fourth degree, an entrepreneur/professional singer, a sales manager who helped evacuate thousands of people from burning buildings in his spare time, two happily married couples, and a long list of others who previously worked for highly selective consultancies or investment firms that rejected me at least once.

My classmates’ accomplishments are deep, and I don’t have that level of success in anything. Beyond that, these accomplishments are diverse, and I feared that simply being different was not enough to differentiate myself.

My Facebook introduction was less thorough:

I’m Kevin from Cleveland! I’m an incoming 19D based in Fontainebleau. I’m relatively unimpressive.

I did not expect the ensuing inundation of comments and private messages that were not only supportive, but also empathetic. I gathered that many other students felt the same way but did not have the questionable judgment to point this out themselves. This moment, as well as several others during welcome week, indicated to me that perhaps I can contribute my fair share to this community. Perhaps the very qualities that used to get me in trouble (outspokenness, emotional vulnerability, “gratuitous honesty”) could actually be successfully leveraged if coupled with skills I can improve at INSEAD (leadership, conviction, technical competence).

They say what you get out of INSEAD is directly proportionate to what you put in, and while that’s an egregious cliché, my fear of not possessing the requisite input has since been assuaged.

My professional history is fantastically unorthodox, albeit not particularly glamorous, and my scattered experience may make it more challenging for me to find work compared to my peers, but I’ve learned not to undervalue everything I’ve learned in the past six years.

For the sake of brevity, let me put it this way: I’ve failed so much that I’m not afraid to take risks anymore, and I learned how to learn from my failures.

That’s the expertise I’m bringing to this community.

I have only been at INSEAD for two months, but I am already in love with this place. We could have gone to Wharton to become fancy pants executives or Columbia to become Wall Street investment bankers or Harvard to become insufferable, but we came to INSEAD because we have a strong sense of obligation toward our communities, whether local or global. This school is not cut-throat. It’s supportive. It’s based on reciprocity.

You’re allowed to fail here. Acceptance is a given. Vulnerability is rewarded. Success is mutual.

INSEAD has been cranking out business leaders for decades, and it’s because they know how to create the foundation of a strong community. If we bring our full selves to build on top of the resources we’ve been provided, we can all defecate rainbows for the rest of our lives.