The Chill MBA

The New President of the Marshall Graduate Student Association Thinks MBAs Should be Nicer to Themselves.

October 07, 2019

Take a deep breath in and a deep breath out…

Komal Shah just wants you to relax.

Hard to do if you’re an MBA student, really. Even if the culture at USC Marshall is more collaborative than at most other business schools, it’s still a driven, ambitious place filled with driven, ambitious people.

But as president of the Marshall Graduate Student Association and a second-year MBA student, Shah knows as well as anyone what needs changing in the business school culture.

“Self-care isn’t a privilege, it’s foundational to living successfully,” she said. “I disagree that in order to succeed you have to sacrifice your physical and mental health.”

“I know, because I tried that and it led to burnout.”

The five years she spent teaching math to low-income 6-7th graders bestowed skills that have proven valuable in business school. Shah can make quick decisions. She can multi task. She can manage her time. But even she struggled in her first year.

“You’re drinking from a fire hose,” she said. “There are classes, and clubs and career prep.” Thirty percent of the class is acclimating to a new country and culture as well.

And amidst that, nobody is talking about how stressed or anxious they are. “You’re thinking, ‘everyone is doing well except for me!’ But the reality is they’re not.”

“Business and leadership can look different. It's got to be about more than the bottom line.”—Komal Shah MBA '20, President, Marshall Graduate Student Association.

After a President’s election speech last year, people have been coming up to her constantly.  “They now feel they can showcase vulnerability, to connect.”

“My goal was to make the class understand that self-care and wellness aren’t indulgent. They are as important as your classes.  That learning how to reflect, be grateful, and build self-awareness is truly the definition of success.”

While B-school is by nature goal-oriented and forward looking, there is value in striving to live in the moment, Shah said. “What would it look like change the culture and bridge the two?”

“Business and leadership can look different,” she said. “It’s got to be about more than the bottom line.”

Bollywood by the Beach

Shah grew up in San Diego, in a close-knit Indian-American community. She graduated from UC Irvine with a biology degree, but instead of veering into a medical profession as might be expected she made the last minute decision to join Teach for America. It was a transformational experience and just the first of several impulsive decisions that have altered the course of her life.

She discovered her calling as a classroom teacher. But after five years she made another last-minute decision: Business school.

Her ultimate goal? Create and launch her own alternative day school that entwines self-care and wellness into its curriculum; enabling the next generation to live consciously in this world.

“I’m rebranding,” she said. “I was a teacher, now I’m going to be a business woman going into the education sector.

“It’s been a journey. And I’m still traveling it.”