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MBA Sample Essay – What Matters Most to You

What matters most to you and why?

I must confess that, until I read this application question, I had never given much thought to determining exactly what I consider most important in my life. I believe I am one of many applicants who confront this question without a ready-made answer, and I am astonished by the realization that so many of us lead our lives without reflecting on our roles. That is all the more perplexing when we consider that many of these individuals are businesspeople, that is, individuals entrusted with disseminating their companies’ visions and missions.

So I took some time over the past few weeks to reflect on my personal history, present context, and future plans. By carefully analyzing my actions, attitudes, and behaviors, I have finally come up with a solid answer to this complex question. My priority, to put it rather succinctly, is a lifelong pursuit to improve myself as a human being.

Greek philosophers divided the human essence into a trilogy of mind, spirit, and body, and I find this a useful framework to break my life down into its three major dimensions: professional, spiritual, and personal. In my quest for self-improvement, I seek to make progress in each of those areas.

THE PROFESSIONAL DIMENSION

For me, work itself is not a goal unto itself; rather, it is a mean to achieve my objectives. Nevertheless, it is a very important aspect of my life; on average, after all, 40% of our time is spent on duty. Besides financial rewards, work gives me the opportunity to refine and share knowledge, build relationships, help people, overcome personal challenges, grow as a professional, and participate in a social environment.

For example, I feel proud of my ability to work with different people, even if they are difficult to deal with. When I was an Executive Trainee in HSBC, I supervised the work of a younger trainee, Aline, in the Credit Scoring Team. After her first weeks at work, everybody considered Aline a person with good performance but with a difficult personality. Although I agreed that she exhibited an overly aggressive behavior, I managed to conquer her respect. Even though I consider myself an usually impatient individual, I learned the importance of tolerance—two months after I left HSBC, I heard that she had been fired for her attitude.

My flexibility is related to my eagerness to contribute to the learning environment of my workplace. While working in the Commercial Department of Samarco, for instance, I was part of a team that developed an Intranet site to inform our colleagues about the market, customers, and competitors. At HSBC, I co-founded a study group to learn about the financial market.

Although those initiatives were valuable, another important accomplishment taught me how professional determination and adaptability can result in rewards of a more personal nature. In 1997, I started working as a teacher at a new computer school. In order to attract new students, the school set low fees and granted scholarships. Thus, students were usually poor, not very well educated, and responsible for supporting their families. They placed their hopes for a better life on learning computer skills.

At first, I was intimidated. I had no previous work experience, and teaching a class of 24 would be a challenge unto itself. As classes went by, I developed a great relationship with the students. I often spent extra time with them and became a sort of counselor. Seeing them progress from hardly using a mouse to creating complex worksheets just four months later was enormously rewarding. Many found better jobs or were promoted. In the last class, they gave me the most precious thank-you card I have ever received: it was simple, yet heart-felt. Besides improving my communication skills and sharing my knowledge, I learned to work with people from different backgrounds and to establish nurturing relationships. Most importantly, I proved to myself that I can be useful to my community, and I realized that helping others brings the greatest rewards imaginable.

This ability to adapt has allowed me to create a valuable network that crosses many industry boundaries, from mining and metallurgical companies to banking and telecommunications. A few months ago, for example, a Bain colleague was having a hard time developing a credit policy for a client, and I was able to contact a friend at HSBC who could help my colleague with his project. That episode reminded me that friendship, besides being a source of pleasure, can be a great resource in difficult situations.

These achievements, combined with my other professional successes, have helped to shape me not only on a business level, but also on a personal level. As I plan out my next career steps, I seek a diverse environment that will allow me to continue this multi-track development. I believe that Stanford’s MBA program is a perfect match for this expectation, since it would go far beyond presenting me with intellectual challenges: it would further develop my interpersonal skills, enhance my network, and balance my strong analytical background.

THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION

I come from a religious family, which taught me early on the importance of contemplation. Since my teenage years, I have developed a keen interest in authors who seek to present overarching theories about life. Writers like Neale Donald Walsch, Brian Weiss, Deepak Chopra, and James Van Praagh have introduced me to some unconventional theories about the meaning of life. Walsch, for instance, believes that all living beings together comprise the figure of God. His theories have opened my mind to different concepts, and through them I have realized that we should not limit our vision of life to a single, pre-conceived notion.

This open-mindedness, coupled with my interest in spiritual matters, has led me to develop a keen interest in other religions. As a high school exchange student in Tennessee, I spent six months with a family that played an active role in the local Methodist church; later on, in Europe, I attended a Baptist church in order to better understand the liturgical differences between the different sects of Protestantism. All along, I have managed to maintain the principles of ethics and integrity which my Jesuit-run school in Brazil instilled in me.

At Stanford, I will share these spiritual perspectives with fellows and professors. The school’s diverse pool of students, featuring different religions and personal beliefs, will in turn enrich my own experiences; through them, I hope to acquire new points of view about the most complex and divergent dimension of life.

THE PERSONAL DIMENSION

I come from a typical well-structured Brazilian family. My father runs his own business, and my mother gave up her job when I was born in order to raise me and my younger sister, Flávia, in the best way she could. I am privileged to belong to a family that could afford to send me to private elementary and high schools, since in Brazil public schools are tragically inadequate (although public universities are generally excellent). Given this good fortune, I feel a moral obligation to assist those less fortunate than myself. To date, I have tried to fulfill this obligation through volunteer work such as helping the homeless during an unusual cold weather in southern Brazil. In the future, I plan to create jobs for people and, together with my future wife, to run a charity house for children in Northeastern Brazil, the country’s poorest region.

This willingness to travel far and wide in pursuit of my goals has given me a geographical mobility which has helped to broaden my social awareness. I have already lived in three different Brazilian cities—Belo Horizonte, Curitiba, and São Paulo—each of which plays a major role in the Brazilian economy. Each possesses a distinct economy, culture, and history, but the three share the scarcities and community needs typical of urban areas in developing countries.

I grew up keenly aware of such needs. When I was a child, my parents often took me to visit the small towns where my grandparents lived. Campos Gerais, the one I know best, is a very poor rural town where as a child I experienced the total absence of electricity. By interacting with these communities, I learned to value the most basic commodities. Elsewhere, I constantly sought to enrich my experience and improve my understanding of my country and its complexities. This social insight has shaped the way I think about business, and I am determined to share it with my business school peers.

My solid relationship with my fiancée, Renata, whom I will marry next year, is surely the most important aspect of my entire life. Renata is a young doctor, and her background balances my perspectives. We have been together for over 6 years, and during this period has shown me the value of the true love. Moreover, Renata is the type of person who sticks to details that usually escape me. Through her influence, I have learned to appreciate each moment of life with the highest intensity. A few weeks ago, I woke her up in the middle of the night just to show her how bright and beautiful the full moon was—something I would never have paid attention to before I met her. Furthermore, I deeply admire her efforts in the hospitals where she works, and I am immensely proud of the determination with which she approaches the difficult obligations of the medical profession.

Renata and I share a love of sports, which I have always been passionate about. I placed second in a state-wide judo championship in Minas Gerais, and I regularly practice skydiving, scuba diving, rock climbing, spelunking, and sailplane flying. By challenging myself, I acquire a more clear perception of my own limits, both physical and psychological. As a typical Brazilian, I am passionate about soccer, playing it at least twice a week. I have found that sports are a great way to make friends, and at Stanford, I look forward to joining The Outdoors Club and teaching peers how to play Peteca (a sport using shuttlecocks, very popular in my home state of Minas Gerais).

This interest in sports is closely connected with my passion for nature, and specifically for fauna. Through my membership in Ambiente-MG, an entity that seeks to study and disseminate practices of how to use natural resources wisely, I have become very concerned about the criminal destruction of nature. I believe that mankind must progress consciously, taking good care of the environment. In Brazil, by visiting the Tamar project, which aims to protect marine turtles from extinction, I learned that individual action is the building block of change; with every turtle that is saved, the Tamar project makes significant progress in its ambitious quest.

Given this multitude of interests and concerns, this is my ultimate aspiration: to look back seven decades from now and feel proud about my achievements. I feel that so far I have been able to successfully balance the professional, spiritual, and personal dimensions of my life, but I am aware that I must work hard to make myself the very best person I can be to my family and to the world.

At Stanford, I will pursue not only the top-notch graduate business education crucial for my future career goals, but also the even more important challenge of life experience. The Stanford MBA program fulfills my expectations in every sphere, and I am confident that its stimulating curriculum and dynamic environment will make an invaluable contribution to my pursuit of self-improvement.

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