By Alexandra Strick
During the Fall 2020 Semester, The Oppy will be publishing submissions from members of the Stern community about how the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted their experience in and out of the program. This issue, we approached incoming students to learn why they chose to pursue an MBA knowing the pandemic would fundamentally change their entry in the Stern community. If you wish to write about your own experience, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following entry comes from Langone student Alexandra Strick.
In February 2020, I thought I was at the height of my career. I had a number of international business trips booked, had formed strong relationships with important clients, and was set to bring in significantly more money than I had the year before. March was supposed to be a big month for me: I was organizing an in-person event that would feature high profile clients, and was set to spend a week networking at a conference in Cartagena, Colombia.
2020 was going to be my year.
In the second week of March when Mayor DeBlasio said New Yorkers should avoid the subway if possible, I began walking to and from work thinking I had outsmarted the pandemic. I carried that New York Tough mindset with me, and wore the fact that I was one of only a handful of people to show up at the office as a badge of bravery.
When my office officially closed, I had a relatively smooth transition to working from home. I was overseeing the Latin American business development for a business media company, and while the pandemic hadn’t yet reached that region the way it had in North America and Europe, my clients had already gone into home office mode to prepare. It seemed like all was under control.
After one week of working in my shoebox apartment, I left Manhattan for my parents’ place in Westchester. I immediately felt as though I had been transported into a Samuel Becket play. I was trapped in the same monotonous routine, with the same people, unable to leave the house. It was a full house at the time. My dad, a dentist, was unable to work, as was my mom who manages his dental practice. Two of my younger brothers, who were finishing their senior year of college, were stuck back home as well.
After the first week of being home passed, I started to accept the severity of the pandemic. My company enacted significant furlough schemes and reduced salaries, while I watched all the big sales I had lined up all fall through as my clients all implemented spending freezes. There I was, stuck in my childhood home feeling 16 years old again, wearing clothes from high school, eating rations of frozen veggies, so far removed from my Manhattan life.
To keep my sanity, I began hand writing letters to friends or anyone else willing to share their address with me. Eventually I was churning out 5 letters a day. To my surprise, people actually wrote back, though every letter I received was almost exactly the same – the pandemic, covid, end of the world, life sucks – the same key phrases I heard every minute of the day at work, on the news, while talking with friends. It frustrated me how easily people gave up hope. As a student of history, it felt foolish of me to accept the world was over after learning about mankind overcoming plague, war, and other myriad disasters so many times.
The more the general population seemed to give up, the more I was determined to make this the year when I turned my life around. I took advantage of all of my free time to pause and think – something I usually never had time to do – and really considered where I was in life. The pandemic was a wake up call, and the catalyst I needed to change my professional trajectory. Working at the bottom of the totem pole of a giant multinational company where I had little say in the direction of the firm didn’t interest me anymore. I wanted more control over my life and situation. I wanted to create something of my own to grow and take pride in. I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur – and to be able to put myself on that track I needed to go to business school.
And I wasn’t going to let a global crisis get in my way.
Business School had always been on my mind, but was something I was afraid to share with people. Admittedly, I had always dreamed about being a Sternie. Having graduated from NYU as an undergrad in 2013, I was jealous of the secret Stern club. How they had class in the most prominent building on West 4th street with their own plaza, how they had their own email address, and what seemed like a secret language. I would not have traded my undergrad experience of studying Art History and Italian for the world, but I also realized that if I wanted a future in business, I needed a more formal background. I found myself on the NYU Stern website and noticed they were accepting rolling admissions until May 15th, and there was a GRE/GMAT waiver for NYU undergrads. Everything felt like it was falling into place. I sat at my parents’ kitchen table – the same table where I had sat and applied to NYU for the first time in 2008 – and announced to my family that I was applying to Stern.
Back in March, I wasn’t sure how long the pandemic would last, but I figured it would have an end date. I ultimately decided I needed to make changes now, and I couldn’t wait for the pandemic to end. A return to normalcy seemed a million years away, but I didn’t need one to start this chapter. I had already accepted that this was the new normal, and I was going to have to be adaptive to it. If the world was virtual, I knew I had to accept it and find a way to make the best out of this new virtual world.
The day I received my acceptance was a turning point. It gave me the push to take risks, and start mapping out the career path I wanted, the career path I had previously been too nervous to consider pursuing. The Stern name gave me a newfound confidence to finally build something of my own, and gave me the courage to begin a dialogue with a client of mine in Brazil whose work and company I admired. That led to me leaving my safe and secure job, to venture off on my own, and become the founding partner of the international arm of a leading Brazilian Legal Marketing firm.
My first semester is barely underway, but simply knowing I am a part of this community has already had a material impact on my life. The pandemic has been a struggle for us all, and I’m sure remote classes are not what most of us had in mind when we first considered an MBA. But for me, the choice to get started, even if I’m taking class from my couch, was a no-brainer. For so many reasons this is not where I would have expected to be eight months ago, but I know I’m now on the right track. In the future, I might look back and realize 2020 was my year after all.
Photo credit: Alexandra Stick