know your priorities but focus on giving rather than taking

Being at Oxford feels like you you are constantly at a conference. Every single day we are meeting new people – classmates, scientists, CEOs, even Malala. Outside of our classes there are a ton of talks on everything from morality to healthcare innovation to cryptocurrency to Middle Eastern politics, a gazillion clubs, numerous balls, sports, game nights and cultural events. In a nutshell it has been wonderful, intense, inspiring and hectic all at once!

Hanging out at an Oxford South Asian gathering one night at St Catherine’s College

Looking back on the first term that has just passed, one of the most valuable learnings and guiding principles for me has been – know your priorities, but focus on giving rather than taking.

When I first arrived one of the questions I was most commonly asked by alumni, administration and peers alike was “what do you want from this year?” I was advised “know what you want, and stay focused”.

In the total myriad of activities and opportunities mentioned above, it has been so essential to reflect on this question and to have clear, articulated goals to guide how I spend my time. For me this has been learning about the ways in which we can shift business to be more sustainable and purpose driven, learning about systems change, emerging technologies, and connecting with the wonderful community here.

Celebrating Diwali with classmates

At the same time I think the question “what do you want from this year” can be dangerous in that it emphasises taking, rather than giving. I found rather than dwelling too heavily on the question “what do I want to get from this year” it has been more valuable to ask “how do I want to contribute this year?”

This shift in questioning early in the term inspired me to put myself forward as a Class Representative – to do what I could to improve our student experience. It inspired an idea to start teaching our class meditation which continues to be a highlight every week, to explore how we can enhance the curriculum and to help organise a conference coming up on responsible business. Through thinking how can I give, I have found beautiful relationships have nurtured, my thinking has been challenged and stretched, and I have ironically hit many of those goals that I set for myself in the outset.

I see this attitude of giving reflected in my peers too. Prior to exams classmates went out of their way to organise tutorials, many classmates organise social events, sporting events, are always happy to grab a coffee and discuss their experiences and a group are even putting their own a time aside to redesign the student governance structure here to benefit future MBA classes.

Have learnt so much from conversations with these peers!

In a world warped with competition, growing nationalism, and conflict, this attitude of collaboration, of service, of supporting one another is more important than ever.

What would our world look like, if in whatever context we were in and whatever situation we found ourselves in, if we asked “how can I contribute?” rather than “what can I get?”


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