The Tao of the MBA Internship Search

Landing a summer internship is a central part of the MBA experience. 
But does this high-pressure process lead us closer to or further from Enlightenment?

Inner Peace and The MBA Internship Search are two concepts that are highly unlikely to appear within the same sentence and even less likely to coexist in the practical life of an MBA student.



And it doesn’t take a 750 GMAT to grasp the paradox.  When done correctly, we’re told, the ideal MBA internship search is a well-choreographed, sometimes even Machiavellian quest for the “perfect situation”, which, if chosen wisely, will serve as a magical springboard to that bright vision for which we, as MBA students, have essentially mortgaged our entire futures.

No PRESSURE, or anything!

With stakes this high, its clear why the internship search seems so antithetical to mental health.  From the moment we step foot on campus, the pressure begins to build.  First we need to make a plan – and quick!  But choosing the right path is tricky.  We all arrive on campus with an idea of what we want to do: some want to climb the ladder, some want to create a new or innovative product, while others want to save the world.   But what does that plan actually look like and how does it translate into a summer job?  There are no easy answers and the clock is ticking.

Then the competition begins.  Once you’ve got a plan, you’ve got to outperform and outmaneuver dozens, if not hundreds of bright, well-qualified applicants.  So, you begin to judge yourself compulsively against the merits and faults of others.  You learn to network, to “package” yourself, and to sell your strengths.  You draft multiple resumes and practice answering interview questions.   Before long, the confidence you arrived with can turn to doubt and, unless you’re one of the few people who truly enjoy playing “the game”, it’s likely that nothing about the internship search feels natural.  Clearly, inner peace is going to have to wait until after graduation, right?

Wrong, actually.

One of the most frequently cited spiritual and psychological fallacies is the “I’ll be happy when….” complex.  People, especially high-achievers, often operate under the false belief that happiness and inner peace are not possible now but will surely come with the achievement of a particular goal.  I’ll be happy when I win that internship; I’ll be happy when I get that relationship; I’ll be happy when I get out of that relationship; I’ll be happy when I lose 20 pounds or I get out of debt; and on and on it goes.  The problem is that happiness never comes because, as soon as one goal is achieved, it is almost immediately replaced by a new goal or desire.  What begins as a healthy exercise in delayed gratification becomes a lifelong habit of never quite being satisfied and always chasing the illusion that contentment is just around the next corner……but never right now and with what we already have.

The goal of many spiritual practices, then, is to break the mind’s attachment to the idea that inner harmony depends on outer circumstances.   This theme is present throughout traditions as diverse as Buddhism, Christianity, and even Western Psychology.  And, according to this philosophy, all of life is an opportunity to practice inner peace.  It simply requires that one participate fully in the world while keeping a healthy detachment from outcomes and results.  In this way, even something as insane as an internship search can become part of the path to enlightenment.

Think about it this way: You’ve made the decision to see the MBA process through until the end, which means you must survive the internship search.  Therefore, you have two choices.  Choice One: You can spend the next five months trying to force your outer experience to match an idealized version of what you think your life should be like and, consequently, probably end up frustrated, tired, or anxious, as you are tossed around by the ups and downs of successes and failures. OR, Choice Two: You can play the internship search game to the best of your ability with a sense of adventure and an openness to many possible outcomes, some of which you may not have even considered, and resolve to be content no matter what comes your way.  Your choice will define your experience, for good or ill.

Choosing the path of detachment does not mean that you quit trying or working hard – it only means that you maintain sovereignty over your inner life.  What an empowered place from which to conduct your job search!

So yes, apply for that dream internship.  And rewrite your resume for the 18th time.  And participate in the networking game.  But keep your focus not on the outcome but on the process; enjoy it, if you can.  Relax and breathe.  And, most of all, don’t base your sense of sanity on the results of your job search.   Inner peace is a choice you can make and it starts the moment you decide to own your own experience.

Jessica Bonnano
1st Year Student from Orlando, Fl
Concentrating in Consulting and Business Leadership
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Reflections on Mod 1: How I Found a Home at ND

It was 5 AM when I first arrived in South Bend.  The long road trip had been emotionally draining and my exhaustion greatly amplified the anxiety I felt about making such a dramatic life change.  Six weeks earlier, I had accepted a place in the Notre Dame MBA Class of 2014 based on a tacit awareness that I had outgrown my life in Orlando and was being called toward something new.  But heeding that call meant walking away from a community in which I was valued, closing the successful business I had founded years earlier and, worst of all, living apart from my husband aka best friend in the world.  I was trying to be brave but, in reality, I was scared and the twenty-hour drive through farm country had given me ample opportunity to regret my decision.  Was I crazy to leave such a comfortable life?  Was business school really a good fit for my social-justice orientation? Had I made the right choice?

            Fast-forward nine weeks.  My classmates and I have now completed a rigorous orientation, four challenging courses, and an intense case competition.  My life has been turned completely upside down.  Some nights I only sleep five hours and some days I’m so busy I forget to eat.  But I can honestly say that I have never been so happy, so fully engaged, and so supported in my entire life.  My trepidation has given way to a renewed zeal for life and an ever-present sense of gratitude for each day I spend as a member of the ND family.  And when friends back home ask me to explain why I like the program so much, this is what I tell them:

At Notre Dame, I am surrounded by beauty every day.  I walk to class among colorful fall leaves and august structures that evoke images of no less than Hogwarts Academy.  When I speak to people, there is an unmistakable tone of cooperation that pervades every exchange, whether between the loveably quirky faculty members, the startlingly bright student body, or the genuinely kind support staff.

At Notre Dame, people aren’t afraid of ideas.  In fact, ideas are everywhere.  On any given day I’m as likely to encounter a nanoscientist or an Egyptian revolutionary, as I am a priest or scholar… but unquestionably each will have a head full of ideas ready to be shared at the slightest invitation.  Its truly invigorating!  And people at ND are even comfortable with challenging ideas.  Here, unlike most places, I can have a respectful political debate with someone, which actually strengthens our friendship rather than highlighting our differences.

At Notre Dame, I don’t have to pretend that there is no spiritual dimension to my life and I don’t have to sacrifice my family priorities to the productivity imperative.  The community strongly encourages a balanced lifestyle and respects my need for a personal life, which is something that I would not expect to find at most high-ranked business schools.   At the same time, I am held to a standard of excellence that challenges me to grow at an unyielding pace.  These competing priorities may seem paradoxical, but somehow converge quite naturally in a culture whose definition of excellence extends beyond the academic realm to encompass excellence of body, mind, spirit, and citizenship.  And this spirit of excellence is robustly manifest within the MBA program itself.  Where I expected to find an overemphasis on profits, I have instead found that nearly every MBA topic is examined through an ethical lens.  The curriculum is refreshingly holistic.

What all this amounts to is that I’ve found a real home at Notre Dame, which is something I have always longed for, but never found.  Leaving my entire life behind on six weeks notice was the riskiest decision I’ve ever made.  But it was also the best one.  So, if you see me around the Mendoza building and ever wonder why I walk around this place with a perma-smile on my face, now you know why.  I’m happy because I’m finally home!

Jessica Bonnano
1st Year Student from Orlando, Fl
Concentrating in Consulting and Business Leadership
Learn more about the authors