HBS MyTake: From MIA to MBA


I think one of the most intimidating things I have been ever asked to do was speak to a large group of my peers about my experiences before and during HBS, and the life lessons I have learned. I remember being so nervous for this talk, even though I had delivered a TEDx talk the year before and had been asked to speak on a few occasions already about my experience on tour and pursuing my MBA. But this felt different. It feels scary to talk to people in your peer group because everyone has their own ways of navigating life and success, so why would they want to hear what I have to say? I worried about whether I’d even share what I learned or if I should just tell the story or what! After going through it several times in my head, here is the talk I ended up giving:

I) Intro: my story, where I grew up, how I ended up drumming for MIA!

2) MBA time: 3 key moments during school that made the tour experience so incredibly challenging

  1. Reading a case, ironically the NFL case, on the plane with Maya in first class, back from Mexico City in October
  2. Going back and forth between NYC and Boston 5 times in one week to be able to attend class in the morning and perform at night at Terminal 5 in NYC. I remember studying for the marketing exam on the Thursday before at SIR studios in NYC. I remember getting the cold call in Marketing on Monday morning – it was a case about Kiehl’s. I managed to get a II in Marketing that semester, somehow.
  3. Speaking with Maya about her religion: on circles, triangles and squares, when we were in the Argentine airport – how she believes there are people who are knowledge seekers (squares), circles (those in line with nature and natural processes) and triangles who are only interested in advancing themselves at the expense of others

The last show I did with M.I.A in 2013:

I told my classmates in that speech about how hard it was and intense but amazing to have Maya criticize HBS so intensely – to say that all of us enter as squares, looking for truth, but leave as money-hungry triangles. That I had to be aware of this. That she hoped I knew what I was doing.

3) I concluded my talk describing Atomic Living. How I imagine myself as a bouncing atom who lives moment to moment and has choices to make every day, every moment. How in order to make the most of spontaneity I don’t make 5 year plans and 10 year plans like most overachievers seem to. Instead, I know what the key things that matter to me are in that moment. for example, mine this year have been feminism, drumming, music business and fitness. And most things in my life, even interactions with friends, tend to advance those needs, and so when I am faced with an atomic choice, it’s usually easy for me to make because my job is just to serve those priorities, until I know they have changed. That during that week in November when I had 5 shows in NYC, it was easy to make decisions…I just repeated over and over in my head: CASES & DRUMS, CASES & DRUMS. I talked about how we suppress feelings of jealousy and envy. They are bad feelings if we cause others harm because of them; if we act cruelly towards the people or circumstances we envy. But these feelings, because they are so pure, can also be seen as intrinsic guiding factors that tell us exactly what we actually care about and what we should be working towards. That sometimes, paying attention to those feelings can unlock exactly what our core priorities are. So that when overwhelming decisions come flying at us, and there are so many moment to moment atomic interactions, we feel still clear and rooted in a sense of self to be able to make decisions with confidence, moving forward spontaneously but authentically. That if you keep making decisions this way, you end up optimizing for the very surroundings that would benefit you and your passions. That by ending up on tour and at HBS, the moment to moment interactions I had often had a much higher probability of being meaningful for me and adding value to my life, because I had optimized for this natural boundary by which most interactions are likely to be additive rather than draining. I talked about how this allowed me to live a life in LA, for example, that I had always wanted to live: a life whole-heartedly immersed in music. Where when I woke up I would hear Runson playing music and then I would drive to work at Interscope Records and work on music analytics all day for our artists and then at night I would either go to their shows or play my own shows or practice drums, and so every interaction felt like it was building towards something I cared about.

These are the lessons I shared with the room that day. That incorporating passion and spontaneity in a meaningful way is all I’ve got. That this is my life. That this often seems unattainable in such a high achieving environment like Harvard Business School, but that it is possible if you do the work of looking inward into your elemental core before looking outward to the atoms around you.