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A Fond Farewell and Words of Wisdom for Our Graduates

Arthur Brooks shares a piece of knowledge on living a life of happiness.

As another class of leaders departs HBS to embark on their careers, we extend our best wishes for their future endeavors. While undoubtedly excited about the new opportunities ahead, we know many graduates may also be feeling anxious about the changes and uncertainties that come with any major life transition. To provide guidance, we consulted Arthur Brooks, a renowned happiness expert, who shared insightful departing words for the HBS class of 2024.

Whenever you make a big decision in your life, there is a combination of three possible sensations. “Pay attention to your gut feelings of excitement, fear, and deadness when considering big decisions after B-school,” Brooks advises. He explains that the ideal emotional balance is around 70% excitement and 30% fear, with zero percent deadness. “Deadness is a sign you may be making a mistake,” he warned. Well, what exactly is “deadness”? It can be explained as the opposite of feeling alive or trying to justify a decision as a “smart decision” even if you do not exactly feel like it is something that you want to do.  

It is all too easy to rationalize or ignore feelings of deadness in favor of opportunities or pressure to accept offers. But true to the professor’s advice, being honest with yourself about your genuine emotions is important. Of course, some degree of fear is normal and healthy in any new challenge or change. Deadness, however, can indicate a lack of passion that will lead to regret down the road. 

Ultimately, any major change will feel uncomfortable at first, even if it is the right decision. It may feel obvious, but remember to not assume a new job, city, or role will instantly feel 100% positive with no negative aspects. Anticipate an adjustment period and know that initial discomfort does not necessarily mean you have made a mistake. With time and effort, the situation will likely feel better than initially expected.

Proactive social integration makes a huge difference in how a transition feels, according to Brooks. His best advice: "Pretend you’ve lived in your new location for 10 years already on your first day" by immediately making plans to connect with neighbors, coworkers, or local groups through activities, clubs, sports and more. "Don’t wait around to be adopted by others," he stressed. "Take initiative to socialize." By taking things into your own hands and by putting yourself out there, you are more likely to adjust much quicker.   

Brooks also acknowledged that it is okay to change one's mind or job if something is not a good initial fit, advising graduates not to feel stuck with doubts. “Our graduates [at HBS] will probably have eleven jobs and four careers.” The stakes are lower than perceived, with plenty of future opportunities available. 

Lastly, one of the most challenging things about leaving HBS is saying goodbye to the friendships and community students have built up over the last two years. We asked Brooks what he thinks will help cement these friendships once students leave campus. “You need friends that don’t need you professionally. They just love you.” Maybe we need to ask ourselves more often, do we have enough of these friends?    

For graduates embarking on career transitions or relocating to new cities, Brooks' wisdom equips them to successfully manage inevitable uncertainties. With an open mindset, proactive social engagement from day one, and confidence to reevaluate options should doubts arise, recent alumni have the tools to not just cope with but thrive amidst life's changes. Wherever paths may lead, the Harvard community wishes every graduate the very best as they embark on bright futures and make their mark on the world.

And for any ECs who find themselves suddenly single and on “fire sale,” do not worry; your future partner is quite likely already waiting for you at your new job, Brooks humorously shares. 

Brenda Pham (MBA ’25) is a Vietnamese-American born Texan who grew up in Southern California. She graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in Business Economics. Prior to HBS, she worked at a growth buyout firm focused on investing in technology companies.

Loujaine AlMoallim (MBA ’24) is a Saudi Arabian who spent most of her formative years in Canada. After completing her undergraduate degree at McGill University majoring in International Management, she moved back to Saudi Arabia and worked in Consulting.  

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