Even before I had started at business school, I received an email outlining an assignment that was to be completed in the first weeks of school.  It involved a lot of coordination and work to complete, yet helped me learn about when I perform at my best.  The course was Careers, taught by Amy Wrzesniewski, which helped students think about their careers and their professional goals.

I had to solicit feedback about when I was at my best from 10 people who were close to me and could give me very direct feedback.  It was purposefully different from the typical corporate feedback that I was used to working at PwC and Microsoft which focused on areas for improvement.  By canvassing your network to look at where you were at your best, the goal was to focus on those areas and put energy into them.  Instead of the typical “Dan did a great job and should look to improve by doing X, Y, and Z”, it was refreshing to hear how others perceived my accomplishments and saw how I added value to a team.  While we didn’t focus on the question of which feedback is best, I thought it raised an interesting question: should you focus on improving in areas in which you’re weak, or seek out opportunities that align nicely with your personal strengths.  While that’s still a question that’s up for debate, it was an incredibly helpful exercise and reading people’s feedback helped me hone in on opportunities where I could add value to a team.

One part of the course was to reach out and interview successful people in a field you’re interested in to learn about what they did that made them successful.  I picked someone I had no connection to – Rob Go – and I was surprised how easily it was to connect with him and how readily he shared his experiences with me.  Rob is a venture capitalist in Boston and I wanted to hear about how he decided he wanted to pursue venture capital.  It was very valuable to hear where I added value in the first assignment, and then speak with successful people in a field I was interested in.

The two assignments were very helpful for me because I was able to recognize and spot opportunities I would enjoy and professionally thrive, and also hear from someone very successful how they made it to their current position and how they perceived their journey.  Before reaching out to others to hear about their experiences, I think it’s incredibly valuable to understand what you’re looking for and where you can add the most value.