Saturday, August 23, 2008

First Day of School

Yesterday, Liz and I were chatting about the start of business school. First we talked about the financial issues, time management, what I was looking forward to, what I should prepare myself for, and so forth. And then, she gave me some real advice.

"You should fill your study group with people who are the opposite of you. Look for people whose strengths are your weaknesses," she said, lying back on the bed and thinking. "And remember to listen a lot."

Listening has not always been my top skill. I can be very competitive, and dominate conversations, and while I know listening is important, it takes a lot to push myself to stop talking sometimes.

Today, in the classroom for the first time, I really listened. I listened to what the other women in the classroom said about our case study, about how they thought a situation should be handled, about what they hoped to gain from the business school experience. I listened to the professors who led different parts of the day's agenda. I listened to the Career Services, Student Services and eLearning offices at our working lunch. I listened to the conversations of everyone around me during breaks.

Listening in the Simmons classroom is entirely different from listening in most other settings I've studied or worked inside. There's a truly intangible component to an all-women's classroom, an atmosphere that takes away a lot of my competitive drive. I explained this to Liz tonight, after class.

"When I'm usually in a classroom, the guys always talk the most, and sound the most confident--they dominate. And I never want to be left out of the conversation, so their behavior makes me that much more aggressive. I want to demonstrate that I know as much as they do--or more. I want to be seen as just as smart as they are. But in a room without men, I don't have to hold myself up to that kind of competitive standard. I can just be myself, and listen to what's going on, without worrying about how many times I've spoken, or competing with the loudest guy in the room."

There's a relief that I feel in this classroom that I've never felt before. Almost instantaneously, I feel very committed to the program, the professors, the staff, but especially my fellow students. There is a sense of community in this program that is stronger than I've ever experienced in a classroom setting.

Before I left tonight, I thanked Liz for all her help in supporting me, first the application to business school, and now as I'm starting the coursework. She grinned at me.

"You're going to be very, very successful," she said.

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