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How to Live a Good Life Takes Center Stage During Kellogg Orientation

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Before diving into the fray of finance, accounting, operations and marketing, every incoming first-year student at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management first spent an afternoon grappling with the question of how to live a good life.

“What do I value?” “How do I find my personal mission?” “How do I create an action plan to live a life consistent with this mission?” These considerations—not how to cut costs, gain market share or increase profits—were part of a new element introduced this year during Kellogg’s Complete Immersion in Management (CIM) Week, the stretch of days before classes start when incoming students meet each other and the school for the first time.

Coined the “Good Life Afternoon,” this newest element of Kellogg’s orientation grew out of a student-led initiative launched last spring called the “Good Life Sessions.” The brainchild of Kellogg students Rohan Rajiv (’16 Kellogg) and Lexie Smith (’15 Kellogg), last year’s series of workshops and this year’s orientation exercise were both designed to help students create a game plan for leading fulfilling, balanced lives in tandem with successful careers.


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Good Life Series co-organizer Rohan Rajiv ’16 Kellogg)

“This is stuff that I believe is incredibly important and if we don’t get right there is almost no point in getting all the other things right,” Rajiv explains. A self-professed “work/life balance geek,” Rajiv spent much of his 20s thinking about and researching happiness and balance, including maintaining a personal blog called “A Learning a Day,” where he shares his thoughts on the topic.

Smith, not so much. “Pretty much all throughout my 20s I was in some really fantastic jobs, but they were incredibly challenging and I was working really long hours—80 to 90 hours a week and traveling a lot,” she says. She spent a few years after college in a financial management program at GE that involved rotating departments every six months. She went into private equity after that, the first woman ever hired by her firm. “It was a really interesting experience for me, but it meant that I didn’t make time for anything else.”

The two met when Rajiv visited Kellogg for an admitted students’ weekend and immediately hit it off, so much so that Rajiv signed up for a KWEST trip Smith was leading in the Galapagos Islands before school started last fall. It was on that trip that the idea for the Good Life Sessions began to take hold.

“I loved his energy,” Smith recalls of meeting Rajiv. “I loved how balanced and settled he seemed when I talked to him.” Both came from low-income homes and were raised by single parents, albeit in different parts of the world. (Rajiv grew up in India and went to school in Singapore, whereas Smith’s childhood included stints in Florida, Texas, Illinois, Virginia and Ohio as her mom did everything from loading UPS trucks in the morning to waitressing at night to provide for her and her two brothers.)

“He spent most of his 20s studying how to have a better life,” says Smith, who Rajiv says has become like a big sister to him. “I was so attracted to that about him, and I was really craving to figure it out for myself but was still very much struggling to do so.”

“We came to the conclusion that I probably wasn’t the only crazy person at Kellogg, and maybe there were a few other people out there who would like to learn how to live a better life as well,” she says.

In consultation with Kellogg Clinical Associate Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Carter Cast (MBA ’92)—who led marketing at PepsiCo and Blue Nile before serving as CEO of—Rajiv and Smith put together an outline for what the Good Life Sessions would look like and recruited three additional faculty members to take part, Clinical Professor of Strategy Harry Kraemer ’79, Adjunct Lecturer of Leadership Coaching Kevin Murnane and Clinical Assistant Professor of Leadership and Director of MBA Leadership Development Paul Corona.

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Professor Carter Cast (‘92 Kellogg) and Professor Harry Kraemer (‘79 Kellogg) sharing their thoughts on why it’s important to determine your values and find your own “Good Life” with the Kellogg class of 2017

As it turns out, the idea resonated with more than a few other Kellogg students. In fact, 50 students signed up within the first 30 seconds of registration for the spring series of three consecutive workshops. Three and a half hours later, 270 students were on board. “When that happened—that’s one fourth of the student body—we closed registration because we realized we couldn’t service more than that,” says Rajiv.

“Rohan and Lexie sort of floated a trial balloon, and the demand was amazing,” says Professor Corona. He attributes the demand, in part, to Kellogg’s “high-impact, low-ego culture.” “These phenomena could occur anywhere in the M7, but I do believe it is unique to Kellogg that so many people want to think about not only how to be a good business leader but also how to have a good life,” he says.

The Good Life Afternoon portion of last week’s CIM was essentially a compressed version of last spring’s three-week workshop series. The participating professors led a series of exercises based on their own research and that of other top researchers from around the globe. Worksheets under each student’s seat helped them think about their own values, how they want to live their lives at Kellogg, how to create an action plan and how to hold themselves accountable—and then they split into group sessions with personal leadership coaches. After an hour, they all returned to the auditorium for a “question and opinion” session.

“All the students got to ask a lot of great questions, and then Professor Corona did a full-blown action plan overview to make sure everyone understood what steps to take for themselves,” Smith says. At the conclusion, everyone walked over to the Allen Center, where 80 Kellogg alumni from the past 10 years joined them for dinner to reflect on how they’ve tried to live a good life. “They shared what they wished they had done at Kellogg to take care of themselves, what they’ve done since to make sure they have a good life, what’s worked,” says Smith. “It was just fantastic,” she gushed. “I wish I could do that every day.”

That Kellogg has incorporated an examination of how to live a good life into orientation for all students says several things about the school, suggests Smith. “First off, it says not only the students but also the faculty and the administration are incredibly supportive of building both incredible leaders and people who are whole beings and happy about living their lives.”

It also says that Kellogg is for those MBA students who really want to focus on their whole self. “If you want to take two years out and really dedicate it to transforming your life to make it what you want it to be, Kellogg is the place to be,” she says.

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Lexie Smith (’15 Kellogg) with her Mom walking through the town Villafranca after hiking 35km

Smith certainly seems to be on a transformative path. “My whole goal since I started this process in the spring was to dedicate my summer to understanding what matters to me in life and how I want to live it,” she says. To this end, she spent a month this summer walking the Camino Trail in Spain and France with her mother, followed by an 11-day silent meditation in Indonesia with a friend who also participated in last spring’s Good Life Sessions.

“Now I know what’s important to me, which is awesome,” she says. After a quick trip back to Evanston last week to help lead the Good Life Afternoon, she started her post-MBA job this week in operations consulting at Boston Consulting Group. “As I start work at BCG, my whole goal is to continue to keep that balance in my life by preserving these things that are important to me on a weekly basis,” she says. “I will be even better at my job and be a better employee as a result.”

In the meantime, Rajiv, Corona and the other faculty members will continue to keep the focus on leading a good life back at Kellogg. Corona helped build the leadership development system at the school, realizing the need to be cognizant of things like work-life balance and work-life integration.

“I would describe what students got as part of the Good Life Afternoon at CIM as an appetizer,” Corona says. Kellogg is launching a new leadership development system for all students who are interested— including a class called “Personal Leadership Insight”—which will go into more depth on what was touched on during orientation. “Our students will have a feast—a buffet—of great complementary options. If they elect to pursue these ideas, they have all the resources they need here.”

If the Good Life Afternoon was any indication, appetite among Kellogg’s incoming class has been whetted. Corona reports that the room was buzzing and people were highly engaged in terms of their questions, comments and energy. Moreover, people seemed thankful for the opportunity to think bigger picture about life in the context of what it means to be a business leader, he added.

“At Kellogg, we have a portfolio of in- and out-of-classroom experiences that help students prepare for the C-suite and other high-impact roles around the world while making sense of what it means to be a business leader and have a personal life aligned with your own true values,” he says. In this way, he believes the school gives its students an opportunity to pursue a more holistic life experience. “You get an opportunity here to focus not only on the intellectual but also the emotional side of business and life.”