Every August, the students in Goizueta Business School’s Full-Time MBA programs gather for Keystone. During this week of giving back through volunteering and catching up with classmates after a summer internship, students are also given an opportunity to pause, reflect, and project.
They write a letter to their future self, not to be opened for at least five years.
Writing the five-year Keystone letter has become one of our most important traditions at Goizueta and is a perfect example of how our MBA program delivers a high-touch, personalized experience.Brian Mitchell, associate dean of Goizueta’s Full-Time MBA programs
“We carve out the time required for reflection and intentional goal setting with this exercise. We provide a framework for the letters, but the students are empowered to describe their goals and aspirations however they see fit,” says Brian Mitchell, associate dean of Goizueta’s Full-Time MBA Programs and Goizueta Global Strategy and Initiatives. “As I have personally delivered these letters to our alumni, I have seen the full range of positive emotions, from giddy amusement to tears of joy, inspired by reflecting on what the Goizueta experience has meant to their lives.”
The letter-writing experience has been a Goizueta MBA tradition since 2012. When Marina Cooley 14MBA wrote her Keystone letter, she was on the cusp of turning 30, and experiencing all the daunting, exciting thoughts that come with turning that age. When Mitchell came to her, letter in hand, she had forgotten about all the thoughts she jotted down almost 10 years earlier. Now, Cooley is turning 40, and after a career in brand marketing, she’s a lecturer in marketing at her alma mater—completing a life goal many years before she envisioned it happening.
“When I read the letter, I remembered everything. It was a time of uncertainty. I had finished my Coca-Cola internship, but I hadn’t received an offer yet. There were so many question marks in the air. I was making a lot of five-year plans about where I wanted to be,” recalls Cooley. “What I’m most surprised about is that my 30-year-old-self had more wisdom than I realized. There’s a line in my letter that says, ‘I don’t want my job to own me.’ And that’s exactly the sentiment I have about work now.”
“The letter writing experience is a really special part of the program,” says Cooley. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that the most important thing is reflection. The letter gives us an opportunity for that reflection—a moment to turn off the noise and articulate what you want for your future self. That to me provides clarity into the now: What do I need to do now to get to that future?”
The Business Owner
When Julius Bryant 17MBA graduated from Emory, he and a fellow classmate started a side business called Jax, connecting gig workers with vehicles. After a few years of managing the business part-time while working at Amazon as an analytics manager, Bryant took the admittedly terrifying leap into solely focusing on his business. Close to six years after writing his letter during Keystone, Bryant was at a Black MBA Association mixer when Mitchell walks over, unexpectedly, with an envelope.
“It was a complete surprise, and although I was really excited to read the letter, I waited until I got home because I didn’t want to cry,” recalls Bryant, who has since committed to journaling on a regular basis. “It was almost spot on. I wrote about wanting to be my own boss and having freedom. The day I resigned from my job, I got the word ‘free’ tattooed on my wrist, kind of like my North Star.”
“Writing the letter is almost like creating a map for yourself to fuel you to do those things. It also allows you to go back and see what frame of mind you were in at a certain point in your life. The reality is we forget stuff, but this letter allows you to go back and see exactly what state you were in and compare it to your mind state today. I think that’s the most beautiful part, seeing those parallel mind states in real time five years later.”
The Healthcare Leader
Raj Kaneriya 12MBA remembers the feeling of excitement and aspiration when writing his letter. The thought of opening something five years later seemed like a time so distant in the future, one full of possibilities. Kaneriya, already a manager, wrote about wanting to impact others and leaving a mark on his part of the world in some way.
“There were things that did come true. Some things I chuckled at writing because they seemed so unimportant now, and other things I hadn’t done yet but still wanted to. Reading the letter triggered something and made me hopeful for the future,” says the senior director of market operations for DaVita.
Echoing the thoughts of many people, Kaneriya says that he’s not typically an introspective person, but having that space within the grind of getting his MBA was valuable.
“To take a step back and think about things at a higher, more personal and meaningful level was a great opportunity for us to say, ‘Am I fulfilling the reasons why I came to the program? Am I creating that path forward? We all went to business school because we aspire to do something better, and writing this letter forces you to hold yourself accountable. You can’t fool yourself. It’s a good exercise to course correct.”
The Future Graduate
For Lara McGee 23MBA, the letter-writing experience was a chance to deepen her connection with classmates and pause and reflect on where she hopes her path takes her.
“I felt pretty emotional thinking about how life-changing getting an MBA has been for my career trajectory and personal growth. I also laughed to myself a bit as I wrote about my career aspirations for the next five years because I knew that, inevitably, life will happen and my goals will shift,” says McGee. “Writing the five-year letter was a great chance to reflect and was also a fun, shared experience with my classmates.”
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