Our team is in a group huddle, starting yet another problem-solving exercise at Squadron Officer School. At the sound of the bell, the team leader begins reading from a plastic instruction card. We only have 5 minutes, and the card has like 50 facts, details, and other clues that might help us solve our problem. The team leader starts reading through all the pieces of ancillary information, but at one point, one of the team members (a pilot) notes “that’s just chaff.” The team quickly moves on and identifies the real clues and moves on to the solution.
The word ‘chaff’ is Air Force lingo for something that is meant to throw you off and distract you from your objective. It comes from the aircraft self-defense countermeasure that’s meant to throw off an incoming missile, which in turn got its name from farming.
At a full time MBA program, you’re going to get a lot of chaff. There are a ton of opportunities getting thrown at you, in addition to a rigorous course load. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of club events, social gatherings, job fairs, workshops, info sessions, and so on…and that’s not including your own personal life and responsibilities. So how do you stay focused?
By ignoring the chaff.
You don’t need to read every single last email in its entirety or do all the readings in the syllabus. You don’t need to do everything at 100% all the time. Instead, just focus on your primary target – whether it’s a career, a person you want to meet, or a particular skill you want to learn. Not interested in consulting? Just completely ignore/delete any of those bulletin emails about consulting club, or spend no more than 10 seconds skimming through the opportunities. You have a very limited amount of bandwidth and willpower, so you’re better off conserving it for stuff that you really care about. Be a mental miser!
Don’t know what you want? Well, definitely try things out, but move on immediately if you’re just not in love with it. Love it or leave it! If it doesn’t ignite or spark some kind of passion inside of you, it’s probably the wrong target. Still nothing interesting to you? Try researching just one job function or career path for a week or two, and focus only on that. Get informational interviews done ASAP. After that, if you’re not in love with that career path or job function, move on to the next one and never look back. It was just chaff.
Note: if after a year of exploration, you *still* don’t know what you want to do after your MBA…then maybe a big consulting firm is for you! You’ll get a ton of exposure in many different industries, and you get to meet some of the most powerful people in their organizations.