Hi, my name is Natalie Neilson, and I’m a Forte MBALauncher and a consultant in the DC area who loves cooking, spending time with friends, and living with a positive mindset. I’m currently applying to b-school and honestly, a year ago, I never thought I would be applying at this point in my career, and especially not to the schools I’m applying to. So you may be wondering, what happened in this year that changed my trajectory? Well, Forté happened. Here are a few chunks of advice that I have to make the most of the process and how this fantastic organization can help. Take a Step. "Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." – Lau Tzu They say all great journeys start with a single step. A year ago, I stepped into a Forté Forum in DC. If you’re just starting to think about an MBA, or even already in the process of applying, I strongly suggest you check out a Forum near you. Not only do you realize that the mission of Forté is strongly supported (the number of top business schools in attendance spoke for itself), but that the admissions representatives will be happy you’re there. When I went, I was treated with respect and value even though I was just there to learn – I didn’t get any less of a conversation than a girl who was actually in the midst of preparing her application to that school. That really impressed me, and immediately after the event, I researched how I could get more involved with Forté, and stumbled across the MBALaunch program. The rest is history. Know Your Story. “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” – Nora Ephron One of the most rewarding, yet one of the most uncomfortable, parts of the MBA admissions process is getting to know yourself – especially what made you who you are today, which can sometimes include difficult hardships or memories. For me, it was going back to when I had to waitress at age 15 to support my family through a rough divorce, working up to 30 hours a week on my feet. 10 years later, when you food blog for fun and have secret Pinterest boards dedicated to your future restaurants, you may not be connecting the dots. But getting to the core of things and discussing the hard times help you realize that your life is more connected than you may have thought. For example, I plan on using my MBA to transfer what I love about my current job (government consulting) into an internal strategy role at a hospitality corporation, with the long term goal of owning a consultancy that assists restaurant owners of color to sustain their businesses through changing times. Knowing my story has helped me articulate in a compelling way why I identify with the hospitality industry, and also why I feel drawn to helping others survive through unforeseen difficulty. If I didn’t dare to be vulnerable and “go there” while preparing to apply, I probably would have taken the safe route and said I wanted to stay in consulting. I learned that just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean that it’s my purpose – through introspection, I found a way to professionally incorporate my skills with my passion and have the courage to own it. Get Connected. “Surround yourself with good people. People who are going to be honest with you and look out for your best interests.” – Derek Jeter Seek out people in the same situation as you, and seek comfort in them. This is one of the best parts about being in MBALaunch, and even the bigger Forté Family. I never would’ve had the courage to reach out to current Forté Fellows at my dream schools, or current presidents of hospitality and consulting clubs. Before, I would’ve sat back and assumed no one is out to help me or that they don’t have time, but in fact, I’ve found nothing but the opposite. All it took was a single email before I was on the phone with an alumna of my dream school who is a Forté Fellow, served as President of the Women in Business club, and now works at a major company – she even told me to keep her in the loop with my application! Now, where can you find allies like that except through organizations like Forté? Believe In Yourself. “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are -- it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that…. Until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.” – Rocky Balboa Being a quote-happy person, as you probably picked up by now, one of my favorite speeches in film was when Rocky Balboa very frankly pep-talks his son. Weirdly, it also embodies the MBA process, because to me, an MBA is a refining degree – it takes someone already in the workforce, probably doing well, and makes them more equipped. So you’ll see that a lot of people don’t get the degree and just keep working, and many of them do fine. An MBA is a personal decision – the decision that you aren’t going to stay where you are – that if you move, or even if you plan on returning to your company, you know what you’re worth and want to pursue it with all you’ve got. To continue the boxing reference, you’re going to get knocked down, you’re going to wonder why you didn’t just stay where you were, but then you realize why you got in the ring. Applying to MBA programs is hard. Writing multiple essays is hard. Going to Jam Sessions when you’ve had a long day and you’d rather be watching Law & Order on Hulu is hard. Explaining to family members, spouses, and friends that you want to step out of the workforce for a couple of years is hard. But guess what – wondering why you never tried your dream job – that’s harder.