Author: cmcquarters

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in the Application Process

Calah McQuarters, MBA'23 headshot

Calah McQuarters, MBA’23

“Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”

Recently, a prospective student asked how my application process for Heller was. I chuckled to myself and responded, “dramatic”.

I quickly let her know this was not because of anything Heller had done. Every student and admissions director I spoke to during my application process was kind and engaging (shout-out to the admissions office!). But that left the question, why was it so dramatic?

Well, the short answer is: me. However, the longer answer speaks to something I believe we all feel at some point in our lives, especially when trying something new. 

Prior to attending Heller, I worked in my hometown, helping to open a museum about the Historic Greenwood District and 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre (if you haven’t heard of this before, take some time today to learn about it!). Prior to that, I was in school, double majoring in Afro-American Studies and Political Science.

I tell you this to show how far my interests were from anything related to business! But when I decided to pursue an MBA, I did so with the same enthusiasm and vigor I had when pursuing my love of history and politics. Starting September 2021, I signed up for any and all virtual MBA fairs, signed up to take the GMAT, and got to work.

About a month later, all my work had stalled or stopped. I dreaded going to MBA fairs, just to be told I should think about not pursuing an MBA until I knew exactly what I wanted to do post-graduation. I got anxious every time I thought about studying for the GMAT. I felt so unmotivated. And as I reflect on that time now, I can see I was really just afraid. Afraid of not knowing, afraid of failing, and afraid of rejection. 

I don’t know about you, but oftentimes when I am trying something new in life, I tend to come down with a serious case of amnesia. I forget about all the accomplishments, skills, and lessons learned I have acquired over the years. Impostor syndrome starts to creep in, and sometimes it wins. But if I could go back and talk to myself during my one too many crying sessions, I would shake myself and say “REMEMBER!”

And that’s what I say to you now. The process of applying to anything, let alone a master’s program, can be daunting, but remember. Remember that everything on your resume was not an accident or chance (maybe a little grace in my case), but it was your talent meeting your hard work. The words your recommenders have to say about you are not lies, but reflections of the value you’ve brought to each room you’ve entered. And maybe you lack some experience and you just barely scraped together three recommendation letters, that’s okay! Remember your why and start planning for the memories you will create. 

Please don’t let the application process for you be as dramatic as it was for me! Breathe, take your time, and remember. (You should especially remember that the second application deadline for most programs is March 1st for domestic students, and the final application deadline for international students is February 1st :P)

Brief Reflections on my First Semester at Heller

Calah McQuarters, MBA'23 headshot

Calah McQuarters, MBA’23

This past Wednesday I submitted my last paper to complete my first semester of graduate school around 11:30 pm (yes, I procrastinated). After pressing “submit”, an overwhelming feeling of nausea came over me. Partially because I was second guessing if I listed all of my sources in the bibliography, but partially because while I had been clawing my way to the finish line of the semester since Thanksgiving, I didn’t expect it to come so soon. I hear more and more these days how it feels like time is always flying. Hours are turning into minutes and minutes to seconds. As I sit 4 months removed from when I first arrived in Waltham, I can certainly say it feels like I just got here yesterday. But now that readings and assignments are on pause until the new year, I want to take time to reflect on my learning experience during my first semester at Heller.

When I first began thinking about going to school for an MBA, my excitement was matched by my fear. Not having come from a business background, I didn’t know if I had the expertise needed to know the material I was going to school to study for. Turns out, I was right. Of course I didn’t! In my first class of the semester, Financial Reporting and Analysis, I arrived early, sat in the front, and listened earnestly to the professor, understanding 99% of what she was explaining. I left feeling on top of the world, ready to breeze through my time at Heller. Fast forward to my second class, Economic Analysis for Managers, I repeated the same process. I arrived early, sat in the front, and listened earnestly to the professor. Except this time, I promise she was speaking an entirely different language. By no fault of her own, no matter how many times she explained the material, the neuro pathways in my brain refused to allow the new information in front of me to sink in. I left that class, called my mother, and said plainly, “I think I’m dumb”, laughing but really wanting to cry. Over the next hour, my mother and I broke down that statement and I came to the realization that I in fact wasn’t dumb, I just didn’t know this new thing I never studied before. Now, you might be reading this thinking, “duh Calah! Of course you’re not going to know what you’ve never learned before”. But honestly, somewhere in the time between being accepted into graduate school and actually starting graduate school, I created this unrealistic expectation of knowing all I needed to know before I learned it. This semester reminded me that it is okay not to know everything (it’s actually unrealistic). Instead of obsessing over what I didn’t know in the beginning, I chose to be intentional and diligent about learning over time so I could be a little wiser in the end. I read, studied, worked with classmates, and talked to professors to ensure I was gaining all I could. It’s funny to remember that call, especially now that I understand the time value of money (look at me using econ terms 😉 ). But I am grateful for the patience and grace I offered myself then and in many more moments along this semester. To anyone thinking about applying to something you’ve never done or learned before, do it! The process may be scary and there will likely be moments you feel a little dumb, but what you learn and gain in the end is always so worth it! It has been for me. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a couple of lines to acknowledge a source of so much laughter and happiness during my first semester: my cohort. I am grateful for the experiences shared, heartfelt moments had, friendships formed, and events planned (shoutout to the Boston Commons crew) thus far. And I am so excited to continue to grow together and make more memories over the next year. 

One semester down, three more to go. 

Calah’s Experience Shipping Off to Boston

Calah McQuarters, MBA'23 headshot

Calah McQuarters, MBA’23

At the time I was accepted to Heller, I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was born and raised in Tulsa but moved in 2017 to attend my undergraduate university in Washington DC. In March 2020, like many people around the world, the coronavirus pandemic brought me back home from college to finish my junior and senior year on zoom. While I enjoyed living with my parents again and taking advantage of free groceries, post-graduation I was eager to figure out what the next season of life looked like away from home. First, I made a plan: work for one year, then start grad school. The end. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study, where I wanted to live, or how I was going to get there, but I knew my plan and I was determined to see it through. So, when I received my acceptance letter from Heller on April 1st, two questions were answered. I knew I would be studying for a Social Impact MBA, and I knew I would be moving my life to Boston, Massachusetts. However, those two answered questions raised so many more. Where was I going to live? How do I even find an apartment? What do I need? Why are utilities not included and so expensive?!

And thus began the tumultuous, emotional, exciting, and draining journey towards August 12th, the day I arrived in Massachusetts to sign my first ever lease on an apartment. I will sprinkle words of advice as I detail this journey, but please remember this experience is different for everyone. I have heard the transition for some was seamless, while for others it was less than pleasant to say the least. 

I began looking for an apartment in the greater Boston area in February. Now, if you’re following along, you will remember I didn’t get accepted to Heller until April 1st, but I knew if I was to be accepted, I would need to be ahead of the curve. Having said that, I was definitely a little too far ahead. Any place I called, emailed, or messaged on Apartments.com said the same thing: “We’re looking for tenants to move in around June 1.” I wasn’t planning on moving until late July at the earliest, so this quickly dashed my dreams of finding an apartment fast and checking that off my to do list. (1) Start looking for an apartment a couple months in advance, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t find something immediately. Good things come in time! 

As I said before, I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a nice 2 bed 1 bath apartment (my exact criteria) cost no more than $1100 max (utilities included!). Armed with this knowledge, I began my search for an apartment with the same general expectations. My bubble was quickly busted. Not only did I need to adjust expectations for rent and utilities, but also for other necessities I had been taking for granted in the warmth of my parents’ home, such as groceries, gas, or fun activities (those are important!). (2) When looking into a graduate program, also look at expenses related to living in surrounding areas and take note of what adjustments you need to plan for in advance (eg. will you need to travel by car or is public transportation available). 

Fortunately for me, I convinced my sister to come along for the ride of graduate school with me, so I had already found my roommate. Check! However, in our excitement, dreaming of our new life together not far off in the distance, we may have dreamed a little too big and not quite practically enough. We spent entirely too much time at Target, Walmart, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Ross, and Burlington in the month before moving to Massachusetts. Our list of “needs” very clearly and quickly expanded to a list of wants and that is how we ended up with a key bowl that now holds potatoes. (3) When thinking about what you will need after moving, stick to your needs! There are lots of opportunities to purchase your wants when you get to where you’re going. Targets are everywhere. This will also make the process of packing and unpacking so much less stressful. Also, take advantage of second hand if that’s your thing. I can definitely thank Facebook Marketplace for my couch and coffee table. 

August 10th, my sister and I began our three-day journey across 1,500 miles in a 10-foot U-Haul towing a car headed towards a new experience. This journey, much like our overall journey, was full of fun memories, hangry moments, exhaustion, and lots of coffee. And it was worth every second. Living, working, and studying in the Boston area has been a dream come true. The people are nice (mostly). The food is good (mostly). There is always something to explore (after getting through traffic). And life overall is good (and sometimes stressful). (4) Whatever your experience, make sure you take moments to pause and reflect on all that you have learned to make it to now. Don’t be discouraged. The moment is coming when life overall will be good (and still probably a little stressful).

Letter to My Future Self: Calah McQuarters

Calah McQuarters, MBA'23 headshot

Calah McQuarters, MBA’23

Dear Future Calah,

Stop, breathe in, and take a moment to fully live in this amazing moment. You did it! You endured, persevered, conquered, learned, fell down and got back up. Now you’re at the finish line a little wiser, a lot stronger, and at least half ready for whatever this new season will bring. I am very proud of you. 

You made it graduation, so you passed all your classes (hopefully with all A’s). But hopefully that’s not all you’ve done. I hope you really learned from your classes and professors and maintained the skills you gained along your MBA journey. I hope you developed real relationships with your peers that will last for the long haul. After all, your cohort is truly a group of world changers. I hope you took advantage of every guest speaker, working group meeting, and free food opportunity you had capacity for. And most of all, I hope you took time to leave Heller just a little bit better for the dreamers coming after you. 

Calah McQuarters, M.B.A., we did not see this coming when we were young, dreaming up our life. But that’s what happens when you accept the plan for you that’s so much bigger than just you. However, this degree and title means nothing if you haven’t grown internally as much as you have added to your resume externally. So here are some personal ways I hope you’ve grown. I hope you learned to have patience and grace for yourself and those around you. I hope you let go of the perfectionist inside you and learned to live in the beauty of imperfection that is this world. Knowing us, we’re still working on that one. I hope you have learned to be okay with the unknown and to find excitement in discovering more about you and your unconventional path. 

Now, all this growth and accomplishment hasn’t come without hard work, but I know you have put in the work! You have probably read more pages of material in the past 16 months than you had in the 23 years before starting the program. You have also likely learned the hard way how to manage your time between classes, work, extracurriculars, and moments of self care. Hopefully, you didn’t bite off more than you could chew, but again, knowing us, you probably did, more than once. Lastly, you have no doubt used your voice and your action to be the change you want others to experience as future Heller students. 

So what’s next? Are you staying in the Boston area or going off to start a new adventure elsewhere? Are you starting your career in consulting or going back to nonprofit work? Whatever you do and wherever you go, I hope you hold on to the learner in you. I hope you don’t let the questions and unknowns overwhelm your excitement and curiosity. I hope you take time to celebrate this noteworthy moment in your life and I hope you remember, this is just the beginning! “Don’t be afraid of work that has no end.” That’s your motto, so let’s get to work!

Love.

Current Calah

Hello, Heller! Calah McQuarters’ Acceptance Story

Calah McQuarters, MBA'23 headshot

Calah McQuarters, MBA’23

My sister knew I had been accepted to Heller before I did. It was Friday, April 1st (what a horrible April Fool’s Day joke this could have been), exactly one month after I had pressed submit on my first grad school application (they really meant 4-6 weeks!). After ending a long week at work, I was chatting with my sister about what she wanted to do for the evening when I decided to go through my email and delete the many promotional emails I had received that day (a daily occurrence). In the midst of talking, scrolling, and deleting, I saw an email from “The Heller School”. Now as a prospective student and applicant, I received MANY emails from the Heller School so initially I didn’t think much of it, but after seeing “Application Update” on the subject line, I got quiet and my heart started racing. 

In the months leading up to Friday, April 1st, there were many days filled with questions, uncertainty, a few tears (okay, a lot of tears), and all around dread through the admissions process. As a person that didn’t come from a business background and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, I encountered many moments of imposter syndrome, self doubt, and discouragement from administrators in other MBA programs. However, Heller was the one school that was different. When I expressed my inexperience and slight disdain for traditional business programs, Heller students encouraged me. When I expressed uncertainty due to my age and limited work experience, Heller students reassured me. And when I expressed my desire to find a program that would equip me with the necessary skills to change current systems, not further enable them, professors, administrators, and students all let me know Heller was exactly where I needed to be. 

My sister, noticing my silence and change in facial expression, asked what was wrong. I told her I got an email about my application. I ran down the hall to grab my laptop and after returning, we sat down on the couch together very slowly, both of us freaking out. I said a quick prayer while logging in and paused for just a moment before clicking on my status update. When I did click and the page switched over, my brain stopped working. I was looking at the screen and my eyes were racing around the page, but I could not make out any words. It was like I literally forgot how to read! So how did I know I was accepted? My sister screamed and if I remember correctly, she may have punched me.

After a few minutes, my brain rebooted itself and I was finally able to read for myself that I had been accepted as a Social Impact MBA candidate at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. In addition to excitement and relief, I felt peace. I knew without a doubt that the journey that led me to that moment was worth it all and it was just the beginning. 

Now, it was time to find a place to live in one of the biggest cities in the US, in a crazy market, in a pandemic, but that’s another story 4for another time…!

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