This series features reflections from our alumni on their school experiences and their aspirations, learnings, challenges, and joys. Here, Kamal Kaur tells Stanford GSB how her long-held plans to attend the university shaped her life.
“I just need one year where I’m not going to do any studying related to diseases and medical conditions,” Kamal Kaur thought. That idea changed her career path forever.
Kaur was always headed to Stanford, even as she completed her undergrad degree at San Jose State and then went on to nursing school. The plan was to work as a nurse and save up enough to attend medical school at Stanford. The reality looked a little different.
Lured by the life-altering potential of the digital boom at the end of the ’90s, Kaur decided to take a little break from healing others and dip a toe into the high-tech world. Her one year “off” led to many more. She worked her way through the ranks, progressing from one startup to another.
By anyone else’s standards, Kaur was successful. But, she says, “I felt like there were some secret code that was taught at business school where things made sense, and I didn’t know that secret code.”
After her last successful exit demanded that she “sit out” for a year, she decided to put that time to good use. Kaur looked at other schools’ programs. But heading for Stanford, her parents’ dream, to attend Stanford GSB — a prestigious institution whose graduates have had such a big impact on society — “was meant to be.”
Over the course of the Stanford GSB program, Kaur discovered that many of the perceived shortcomings holding her back were simply self-constructed mental blocks. The professors in each of her classes helped her gain the confidence she needed in order to embrace her natural business abilities.
Kaur studied crisis management and strategy beyond markets, learning to accept the fact that not everything is within our control. Letting things play out before deciding on an actionable strategy goes against human inclination, but it can make all of the difference in leading to a successful outcome.
Another lesson she learned at Stanford, Kaur says: “I now have a better appreciation of the failures in my life. Before attending Stanford GSB, I never even mentioned a project until it was on a successful path. Afterward, I started to embrace the concept of failing fast and failing often, and not doing so in the dark."
Moving forward, Kaur has realized that beyond looking for the “right” job or position, what matters to her is finding the right team to join. If you trust yourself and your abilities and have the right people by your side, anything is possible.
As she started her Stanford GSB experience, Kaur says, she could see herself coming out the other side thinking: “ ‘Yeah, I’m not going to starve. That’s for sure.’ But people don’t come to Stanford because they don’t want to starve. They want to be able to make a difference. Now I know I am going to be one of those MSx students who is going to be successful.”