This piece for The Quest’s Meet the Alumni series features Lusana, an M’19 from Brazil, who is currently in San Francisco. She shares what she learned about success and happiness since graduating. (Transcript lightly edited for clarity.)

Lina Della Libera: What have you been up to since graduating?

Lusana: I worked a little bit in marketing for a start-up related to investing, but for the last eight months I’ve been working in consulting in a women-led B-corporation called Future State. I am working on a consulting project for a multinational biotech company. Eighty-three percent of the employees at Future State are women and all leadership roles belong to women which is a very unique vibe. As a certified B-corporation, they also have really good projects with social-impact.

LDL: Why is this project interesting for you?

LO: It wasn’t necessarily a personal project. I have thought about working in consulting before and I wanted something related to women because I’m very passionate about that. Then I found a women-led company doing management consulting. Surprisingly it had nothing to do with what I studied in college.

LDL: Really? How was it different?

LO: I studied business, but I concentrated in brand-management and this job is more about operations consulting. At Minerva, you are learning very broadly and then you only see your concentration in-depth. Because I studied brand-management I felt like I had some level of knowledge that could help me in this project, but I was completely out of my comfort zone which was good.

LDL: Do you feel more comfortable now?

LO: I feel like I learned a lot about what it is like to work in consulting, what it is like to work in a team, and about the corporate world. I learned a bit about operations. The good thing is the constant learning.

LDL: Looking back, did you learn a lot from Minerva that is helpful to your life now?

LO: I think finances have been really helpful. I can really live on a budget now. Also, after traveling for four years with all these different countries and different currencies, I could really live anywhere. To live on a budget and be able to adapt to the local culture by having a certain sense of what’s happening, common practices, and the underlying culture is a skill I don’t think I had before. Lastly, critical thinking has become pretty much normal to us but once you go into the job market you realize many people are not good at it. When I read the news I am able to ask, “What is the bias behind this? I start thinking in multiple levels of analysis. I think about the perspective of history, sociology, and business, and this interdisciplinary thinking is something that other people don’t seem to have yet. I think I owe this very much to Minerva. ” When I talk to someone in the regular world, they tend to totally believe the news.

Critical thinking has become pretty much normal to us but once you go into the job market you realize many people are not good at it.

Because I lived with critical thinkers for four years, I thought some of these things were just normal. Hanging out with smart people was normal. Critical thinking was the standard. And there is a certain level of emotional intelligence that most Minervans have, which made me really surprised when I went out into the “real world” and some people were unable to show emotional maturity. I did not expect the real world to be so different from Minerva. 

LDL: Does that mean that you think the real world is more stressful and tiring than Minerva?

LO: Yes, but for different reasons. You are not in a completely international community with a lot of cultures that are different all the time. You are not on a student budget anymore which can be really hard and you are not moving around every four months. Those were some of my biggest sources of stress at Minerva. But there are other things that are stressful. Work can be really stressful and you can’t just ask for an extension on a deadline, you have to complete it. Also, I really miss the intellectual stimuli that I just can’t seem to find outside Minerva.

You also don’t have the next step anymore: When you finish high school, then comes college, but when you end college it feels like this black abyss of “anything you want.” You just don’t know what’s next. You are on your own now. From that moment on there is no one telling you what to do. There is no fixed definition of happiness and right or wrong. You do what you want and that is a big responsibility. It was hard.

When you finish high school, then comes college, but when you end college it feels like this black abyss of “anything you want.”

LDL: With all the uncertainty you are describing, do you think you have chosen a path now?

LO: I’m still figuring that out but I have definitely started to question the definition of success and happiness. Minervans tend to think about large-scale impact: changing the future, becoming someone important. I had that by getting a big job in a consulting firm, but I started questioning if that is what I really want. Happiness is not necessarily the amount of money I make or how known I am. What is happiness for me? I started really thinking about doing something different, maybe joining a spirituality program. I still don’t have the answer yet, but it’s a good feeling to finally let go of all the pressure. I don’t have to prove anything else to anyone. It’s just me and I can ask myself: “If I was dying tomorrow, what would I wish I had done?” I find myself moving towards a career that aligns more with my values. Some Minervans were already on that path, but I just got there now after graduation.

LDL: Apart from your job, what is making you happy right now?

LO: I’m currently trying to decide my future. I’m in San Francisco and debating whether to stay for a little while longer. The idea of not having to move in four months brings me so much happiness. I can build a home, decorate it however I want, and choose how to spend my time in the city without the pressure of having to leave. I have time. I’ve been trying gardening and yoga. I bought a lot of books with my paychecks. I got into a new relationship that has been working really well and that I am learning a lot from. I think that is also something I didn’t allow myself at Minerva, because I knew I would have to move, but now I don’t have to and it’s exciting.

LDL: What would you tell freshmen, knowing what you know now?

LO: Now I look back and I tell myself not to be so worried about assignment deadlines at Minerva. They were just assignments. Why was I so stressed about that? There is so much more happening now. That’s what I’ve been telling freshmen. Don’t worry so much about grades. They are just grades. Worry about the learning and make sure you understand the HCs and the LOs and how they could be applicable to real-life scenarios. That is more important than the assignment itself or the deadline. You are not a failure if you cannot finish an assignment. Minerva can be stressful at times, but it is just school. It’s ok. Nobody’s dying. It’s just an assignment and you will still have a future.

Updated on May 28, 2020 for clarity and privacy concerns.