Advice to Class of 2021: get involved!

  • September 25, 2017
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 3 minute read

Alec Johnson, Class of 2020, is majoring in Economics and Strategy; he is a Strategy Fellow at Bear Studios LLC.

Alec Johnson
Alec Johnson

It was only a year ago when I stood, notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other, in the center of Mudd Field. The Activities & Club Fair had just begun.

Surrounding me, on all sides, was a river of freshman, snaking its way around a perimeter composed of countless booths. The diversity of clubs and opportunities was overwhelming and the energy palpable, drawing me into the chaotic crowd of students. As I move from booth to booth, I become fascinated learning about each club’s unique mission, culture, and story. While each group is vastly different from the next, there’s a single element present at every table I visit: passion.

It was contagious, and, before I knew it, my inbox was booming with messages encouraging me to try out for countless organizations. I couldn’t wait to get started, but was soon warned by peers and professors, ‘Be careful not to get too involved, if you spread yourself too thin, your experiences won’t be as meaningful.’

Ultimately, I was told to find a single passion of mine to devote myself to, but I just couldn’t bring myself to narrow my interests down. I decided to simply do what seemed the most fascinating and see where it took me.

As I watched the free hours on my calendar gradually disappear, anxiety began to build. I feared committing to too much would detract from my experience in each organization. However, once I adjusted to my new schedule, I found, counterintuitively, that the opposite effect seemed to be occurring. The more interests I pursued and clubs I became involved in, the greater impact I felt I was having in each of them.

The best analogy to capture this comes from the book No Ordinary Disruption, which describes how “with every doubling of a city’s population, each inhabitant becomes, on average, 15 percent wealthier, more productive, and more innovative.” Likewise, as the number of activities I was involved in grew, I found I could deliver more creativity and value to each of them, leveraging skills I’ve gained and people I met from previous projects.

During the training process for Arch Consulting, Olin’s case competition team, senior members imparted years of case competition knowledge within just a few sessions. My first application of these skills, however, wasn’t in Arch, rather in TAMID. During our intra-organizational case competition, the analytical, research, and design techniques gained from Arch helped our team condense what would’ve ordinarily been a 3-hour project into less than an hour’s worth of work. That competition helped refine my ability to effectively manage a project under a short time constraint which, later in the semester, translated into improving my management of six WUMUNS committees for WashU’s International Relations Council.

The most valuable asset I’ve gained through my involvement, though, hasn’t been the skills or experiences, rather the network of incredibly talented, motivated individuals whom I’ve come to deeply respect and admire. One such person, a member of Arch Consulting I met during pledging for DSP, connected me with what I’ve found to be the most meaningful experience I’ve had thus far at WashU. Over the summer, she reached out to me with an opportunity to interview for a position at Bear Studios, a consulting company founded by three WashU undergraduates that provides strategy, accounting, design, and technology services to a wide range of clients. After a challenging case interview that tested the many skills I’d gained over the past year, I got an email congratulating me that I received the job.

Bear Studios has been the culmination of my experiences with extracurriculars at WashU. Being able to deliver value to entrepreneurial clients who are so passionate about their work is both deeply rewarding and intellectually enriching. In addition to receiving the edifying opportunity to discover more about exciting new industries or products, I can see the tangible impact my work has on their business plan and pitches to investors. There’s truly no feeling more rewarding than seeing your work improve the lives of others.

So, to freshman currently embroiled in the stressful challenge of finding that one interest or activity that defines you – don’t. Get involved in everything and anything that piques your interests. The experiences and friendships you gain will be exponentially more rewarding than the time you commit.

—Alec Johnson, Class of 2020

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