Of Ambition, Belonging, Clarity, Direction, Encouragement and Fear

Looking back at a life changing year – this is the final post of the three part series by Abhijat Chahal.


I write this part inspired by a knock on my door last night from a classmate. He felt I had not been myself the last couple of days and wanted to check on me. It was a touching moment indicative of the strong bonds that have developed over the year and takes me to probably the most memorable part of my MBA journey. In January 2017, we all arrived in shiny armours, ready to showcase our best side. With passing weeks, those defences started dropping as we were confronted with chinks in our armours, not least the behavioural traits that were detrimental to the groups we worked in. There is an incredible transformation that took place in how relationships evolved, akin to having been in the trenches together. The IMD MBA took control of our lives and my 89 classmates became the all-consuming universe this year.

Through the year, we found moments of joy together in between working for our start-ups, studying Finance and Accounting, and all the cases that needed preparation. Paintball, bowling, laser tag, rafting on the Aare, celebrating Holi, go-karting, curling, gathering for huge meals, Lausanne 20km and Lausanne marathon, Red Bull 400… in retrospect, it is remarkable that we squeezed in time to do all of this. White Horse, Lacustre and Etoile Blanche became a part of our daily lives as we found comfort in familiarity to let off steam!


No matter the amount of pressure or the long hours of work, a good laugh was just a matter of taking a minute to have a fun conversation. It is amazing how we calibrated our sense of humour, our work ethic and largely, learnt to disagree without being disagreeable. Discussing and debating a host of topics under the sun, within the first weeks I found myself connecting deeply to people I didn’t know before this year. Soon we were discussing our hopes and fears. The armours were off, and the exposed vulnerability built connections that can be hard to fathom while looking from the outside.

Many of us found the courage to confront our demons and speak about it openly to new found confidants or even in the larger group of the class. I take away two great lessons – 1) We all have our stories and the baggage we carry, and 2) we are not alone, it’s just a matter of reaching out. Moments when I mustered the courage to talk about my challenges chipped away at the burden, piece by piece.

I saw this class cry at learning about the pain of some of our classmates, as we dealt with the frailty of our humanness. In the Leadership stream, we learnt that the group behaves like an organism and takes a life of its own. That some of us laid bare our emotions in front of the class speaks of the character and trust in this group. Any exposed vulnerability was nurtured in a sea of empathy, support and most importantly, encouragement.

Whether it was help in studying finance, preparing cases to crack consulting interviews, practicing behavioural questions, or connecting classmates with contacts – finding someone backing you to take that step to improve wasn’t hard. Preparing for Navigating the Future (NTF) conference was an aspirational moment as despite the absence of authority, many in the class volunteered their time and effort to take our show to the next level. The Class of 2017 came together to put together an NTF par excellence and the joy and togetherness of success was a moment to cherish.

abijat 2

If there’s one word that adds to the ambition we all came in with that defines what the year is encouragement – to try new things, to face our fears and dare to explore who we wanted to be.

Remove the broken parts you know were wrong
And feel the calm when the problem’s all gone
Part of Me (1999)


For all that I may have learnt about the world of business, living the experience in all its softer elements has made the decision of coming to IMD worth it. It is now the last week and time is racing. With job offers rolling in for some and working their way to others, there’s an eager anticipation in getting absolute clarity on our next steps.

I also feel a nervous uneasiness and I ask myself if I am ready to acknowledge what I feel.

Am I ready to admit the fear that’s gripping me?

I feel a desperation in wanting to hold on and live this experience a moment longer. I don’t want it to be over. Leaving the safety of our IMD bubble feels daunting. These strangers from a few months ago now feel like people I have known all my life, and the thought of them stepping away into their own lives in a week is disorienting. I don’t feel ready to let go yet.

We are all running away from something, or towards something. It is just the nature of ambitious individuals. I want to make sure in madness, I take the time to pause, reflect and acknowledge this incredible year of my life.

“There are things that we can have but can’t keep.”
One More Light (2017)

To my classmates, my friends…

I take the liberty of using the words that were used for Chester – your powerful voice and generous spirit is what I will take with me as I leave on the 8th December 2017, grateful for what we shared and hopeful of better times to come, pulling down the curtains on an extraordinary year in my life.

As a shipping man, I wish you fair weather and smooth sailing – remember, we can not direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. Look at the person next to you, and remind yourself of the difference they made to your life.

For the late-night knock on my door, for listening to my fears, for keeping me calm in moments of distress, for laughing at my jokes, for challenging my ideas, for sharing this journey… of Ambition, Belonging, Clarity, Direction, Encouragement and Fear, merci beaucoup!

This concludes my three part blog post.



Midsummer reflections..

It has been quite some time since I’ve written as our classmates have been churning out some world-class blog entries over the past few weeks. As you can tell from previous entries, we are now in the midst of our Company Engagement Projects (CEP) scattered across the world. From Azerbaijan to Zanzibar, the 90 of us have impressively managed to pretty much cover the globe. In my case, I’m working on a project with Amazon UK alongside my fellow blogger Sathappan to expand Amazon’s startup accelerator arm across Europe. At the same time, I’m working with a real estate crowdfunding startup in London on a project to expand its client-base internationally.

Over the past month, the program has shifted gears quite a bit. The academics have completely wound down and our focus has shifted towards completing our CEPs and lining up our dream jobs. Accordingly, the iron-clad structure from the first half of the year has given way to a more flexible schedule where we have to create our own sense of urgency. For most of us, this means balancing our CEPs while practicing for consulting case interviews, writing cover letters, updating CVs, and reaching out to the incredibly tight IMD alumni network. And since about half of us are doing our CEPs primarily from beautiful Lausanne, the tight class feel has become even more intimate at a more IMD “lite” level.

In prior blog entries, I mentioned that the program is very much front-loaded leaving very little time for personal reflection or early career search efforts. I still stand by this assertion, but I also now see the merit in this kind of structure. Now that we actually have the time and flexibility to reflect, I realize that this is best done in the absence of an academic workload and in the presence of our CEPs and career search. This allows us to reflect fully in the context of what we want to do after the MBA. After all, many of us (myself included) are looking for the trifecta of changing function, industry, and geography, which requires a fair bit of introspection and soul searching. Personally, I’m glad we have already completed the core academics as we figure all of this out. The various networking events, Navigating the Future conferences, and inspirational guest speakers only helped set the scene that much more. I am reminded of a quote by Confucius, “Study without reflection is a waste of time, reflection without study is dangerous.”

Next up, I am looking forward to having the class reunited back from our CEPs before we embark on our Discovery Expeditions in Dubai/Singapore, San Francisco/Monterey, and Tokyo/Shanghai. After taking these much needed 5 weeks to recharge and triangulate on our paths by way of our CEPs and some personal reflection, I’m sure we will all have a lot to talk about!

Til next time!


Challenge your thinking

“We share viewpoints on global issues and trends and their impact on business models, industries and economies.”

Each morning, during IMD’s OWP (Orchestrating Winning Performance) program, the MBAs have been conducting thought provoking Executive Briefings that continue to share and develop their findings from the Navigating the Future conference.

OWP Collage

Tuesday, 27th June saw ‘The Impact of Automation on Business, Government and Society: The Optimists vs The Pessimists

Wednesday, 28th saw ‘Responding to New Consumer Trends’ & ‘Food Security’

Thursday, 29th focused on ‘MENA – Economic Challenges & Political Context’ &  The New Silk Road – Three Country Perspectives

and tomorrow, MBAs will be discussing ‘European Competitiveness’ & ‘The North America(s) & the Rise of Populism’

At the same time, three other groups of MBAs have left campus to take their presentations to audiences in London, Munich and Zurich – hopefully we’ll be hearing from them over the next couple of days!


Continua a muoverti

Two months have passed since my last entry here. That was not supposed to happen. Yet, it did, affecting once again the German regularity on which I usually like to rely when it comes to structuring my schedule. As the speed of the program increased again during May and the first week of June, priorities shifted towards the execution of various tasks, leaving reflection and introspection on the side for a while. Boxes had to be ticked off. While some of it felt like jumping through the hoops, fuelling my more rebellious side whose disdain for grades seems to increase exponentially as I get older, going through the various simulations provided me with team experiences that I will cherish for some time and look back to as some of the defining moments of my stay here. Continue reading “Continua a muoverti”

Navigating The Future – It’s a kind of magic

It’s a kind of magic
A kind of magic
One dream one soul one prize one goal
One golden glance of what should be

It is on these notes of The Queen that, in my mind, the 2017 edition of Navigating The Future turns to the end. How was it possible that only one week ago we were in a remote monastery lost in the north of Italy, without even an internet connection, and then in four days we were delivering presentations at an unprecedented level of professionalism on global challenges and macro-regional issues that impact the development of the world and the life of hundreds of millions of people? How could it be possible? Continue reading “Navigating The Future – It’s a kind of magic”