What It Really Means To Go Beyond Yourself (An interview with recent Haas graduate and LinkedIn Professional, Yifan Gong)


During our time as undergrads, we hear a lot about the four defining principles. We hear that our Haas culture is defined by them, but have you ever taken the time to consider how these principles will influence your life after graduation? Yifan Gong is a recent graduate and proud transfer student to Cal. During his time at Cal he was active in the campus dance community and co-led the student giving campaign for the undergraduate program. He is an active Haas alumnus and member of the Haas Leadership Society. After having the time to sit down with Yifan, I learned quite a bit about him as a person and about how he embodies these principles on a daily basis. Here are a few excerpts from our interview that I hope will encourage you to think about how the Four Defining Principles influence your life now and post graduation:

What’s an experience or memory that you have at Cal/Haas that you’ll always remember?

One day “when I got out of class, I saw a call from a 415 number. I ignored it thinking it was unimportant. They called again and this time I answered. They said that I had to come to the general hospital because my mom was in critical condition.”

Following a freak accident “My mom passed away and my dad had had a stroke.” Attempting to cope with my grief, “I posted on Facebook about the event.” “The outpouring of support from classmates to give food and support was truly overwhelming. I didn’t go to school for two months. I talked to the undergrad office and Barbara Felkins, and they told me to take the time that I needed, we will be here afterward. Without my knowing, my classmates started a “go fund me” to help with funeral costs. They gave me a check of $4000 raised from seniors and juniors. People I had met once or twice were knocking at my door for weeks. When finals came around, they would reach out and say “let’s study together.” They shared notes and had helped walk me through what I had missed so that I could take all of my finals.  The kind of people that I met here (at Haas) are so genuine, giving. They truly went “beyond yourself.”

Why do you give back as a donor to Haas? Why do you volunteer your time to Haas?

“I was interested in giving back because of my experience at the school. I also took advantage of  LinkedIn’s corporate matching program. Also, time is what I have the most of to give right now. If I can improve someone’s experience, I will. Seeing someone else succeed is fulfilling and so is helping others find success. In general, getting into Haas is hard. If I can help someone develop and fulfill their potential, I think that benefits both the school and the person. I’m really proud of my time at Haas and the reputation that comes with the name. It is easy to take those things for granted. It is easy to forget the people who came before you who that helped to launch your career. It is up to us as recent graduates to continue our Haas legacy. I want the people who come after me to have the same experience I had once I was here (at Haas). You don’t have to give $10,000 right out of undergrad. Give anything, use your free coffee machine at work, and give the $20 you save from it. Giving creates a lineage of pride.”

Do you have any advice for current Haas students and soon to be graduates?

“First, identify your strong points – those are the things you sell, highlight those. Then identify your areas of improvement. Work on those but not at the expense of improving your strong points. Second, the things you build alone are not going to be as good as things you build together. Third, your personal and professional brand are not separate.”

How have you found your experience as an HBSA alumni mentor? Why did you choose to participate in this program?

“Right now I have three mentees. It has been tough trying to balance this with time at work. I want to do more of the outreach and work on checking in more. Despite the time constraints, I chose to participate because you (the students) are the future and Haas is not the end all be all of your career. It is important to set expectations for some of the underclassmen. Even if you don’t get into Haas, you’re going to be fine and I think it is important to try and find ways to engage.

Was there anybody at Haas who was a mentor and or inspiration for you?

“My entire pre-core class.”

Do you remember when you got your acceptance letter?

“Oh yes! Berkeley is the last one to release their acceptance decisions. I was in Monterey because a friend was running a half marathon. We went to have drinks and I just looked at my phone, to see that the acceptance page had gone down to be updated. When I checked it again, I saw the seal of congrats and all the blood rushed to my head. I called my mom and it sounded like she was on the car phone, she started crying and in the background I could hear my dad saying, “Watch the road!” Apparently, my mom, pulled off to the side of the road. I felt lucky, humbled, overwhelmed, and excited.

A brief note from the writer: This interview occurred over breakfast, at 8 am on a Saturday morning. Yifan drove all the way from San Francisco to meet Drew Ollero, Associate Director of Development & Alumni Relations, and I for breakfast. Aside from this early commute, Yifan’s selflessness and sincerity pervaded the entire interview. His gratefulness to and for Haas and for our community was obvious. I felt honored to have the chance to speak with him and to have the opportunity to hear his story, feel his excitement, and connect with his gratitude first hand. I hope this brief glimpse into his world and time at Haas encourages you to live the defining principles on a daily basis, as Yifan does so well.

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What The Countries Taught Me

During the Spring of 2017, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland at Ireland’s National Theater School. This door was opened for me largely thanks to the Haas School of Business. I applied and received the Thomas Tusher Scholarship to study abroad. This scholarship is available to Haas Undergraduates and is sponsored by Mr. Tusher because of his belief in the value of an education abroad.

As I write this post, I reflect on the the fact that I made the decision to go abroad about one year ago. During my semester studying in Europe, not only did I learn in the classroom, but I also learned from the experiences I had in the 8 other countries I visited. While not in an academic setting, these experiences have influenced my worldview, and so in this post, I would like to share what a few of  these countries taught me:

Dublin, Ireland: Be Kind and It’s No Bother

My time in Ireland was largely influenced by the people I met and the theater I saw. Throughout all of these interactions, I noticed a pervading truth and genuine kindness. When acquaintances, teachers, or even the front desk receptionist at my school asked, “How are you?” or “How was your weekend?”, they really wanted to know. They weren’t interested in a cursory “good, you?” This was a genuine, 15 minute conversation. Ireland taught me to only ask if you truly want to listen and take the time to listen when you do.

Paris, France: Read and Discuss…It’s Important

During my time in Paris, I learned through a simple experience. One evening around 5pm I went to a bar just down the street from my friend’s home. As I waited for him, I read. As the evening went on, a number of people sat in the bar, ordered a drink, and read by themselves. They were not on their phones or taking pictures of their drinks, but rather, they were simply enjoying a good read. That evening, around 11 pm, I sat with my friend, and others from Japan, Brazil, and Paris and we discussed current events, the political situation in America, and topics like architecture and fashion. The simple act of discussing without phones and reading for enjoyment is a lesson I learned in Paris.

Madrid, Spain: Family is Most Important

Spain taught me that honoring family and grandparents should come before everything else. Often I feel that in America, aging is looked down upon. That society often forgets to honor and respect age and subsequently, grandparents. In Spain, meals were never eaten alone. Families gathered to listen to stories told by grandparents and held them as figureheads of families. While school and education was important, I felt as if family was the absolute priority. Being in Spain helped me reflect on who and what should be considered a priority.  
Athens, Greece: Hospitality!

Greece taught me about hospitality and relaxation. When I traveled to Greece, one of the most memorable experiences I had was a dinner in Athens. During this dinner, there was no rush. The waitress was not ushering us out after 2 hours. In fact, she would sit with a glass of wine in between taking orders and sing with the band during the evening. As the band played live music in front of us, our table, full of strangers and friends all rose to dance together. People I didn’t know joined our dance circle and let me lead the dancing line. We sat, and ate, and drank and danced and talked for over 4 hours enjoying the moment and taking our time. So did all the other families in the restaurant. Greece taught me to relax, enjoy what you have right in front of you and not rush on to the next activity.

Rome, Italy: A city can romance you

As part of my thought process while writing this post, I read over my journal entries from each country. During one of my days in Rome, I jotted down what I ate because it was so delicious.From the espresso to the mozzarella di bufala to the gelato, every meal was an experience. The city, the gardens, the food, and the pride of the people in Rome completely romanced me. I learned that streets, people, menus, gardens, and the feeling of a city can be as much of an inspiration as the study of the city itself.

While these brief stories were merely excerpts of my experiences, I would encourage you to look for the places in your life that teach you, outside of the classroom. Consider how and what you’re being taught by the people, places, and settings around you.

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Haas School of Business & Track and Field

On the lineup for Haas’ Homecoming Weekend Schedule of Events was Professor Stephen Etter’s lecture. His talk in Anderson Auditorium was titled, “Students or Athletes, Can You Be Both.”

As a Student-Athlete studying at Haas and a Heptathlete on the women’s track and field team, I found this talk particularly interesting. Around the same time as Homecoming weekend, my track and field coach, Nick Newman, MS, published an article called  “Developing the Multi-Event Athlete.” My thoughts about Professor Etter’s talk coupled with my opinions on this article, helped me develop this post.

I think it is particularly relevant in a number of ways: Firstly, it reinforces the point that Professor Etter made as part of his talk- that it is possible to be a Student-Athlete at Haas. Secondly, it gives you, the reader, a unique glance into the world of Track and Field from a psychological standpoint. Thirdly, I believe it is valuable in the sense that it will encourage you to look more deeply into the purposes of your extracurricular activities. We all have passions that help inform and contribute to our business education. My hope is that by reading a bit about mine in this article, you will consider the places in your life that help inform and guide your business school education.

So before I begin, I’ll start with a bit of background. The multi events in track and field include the decathlon, heptathlon, and pentathlon. Each of these events include some combination of sprinting, hurdling, jumping, and throwing (along with a few others). As with any athletic endeavor, there is an entire science dedicated to the psychology behind the sport. But, the nature of the multi-events requires a unique approach to training. As such, my coach Nick Newman, MS recently published an article that includes a fascinating section titled, “Recommendations for Psychological Preparation.”As I was reading it, my mind immediately drew parallels between the psychological preparation for a multi-event and my studies at Haas.

Here is the link to that article for your reference: Developing the Multi-Event Athlete

Coach Newman’s first assertion was that, “Psychological adaptability- the ability to re-evaluate, re-focus, and re-energize almost instantaneously- is an essential attribute of a multi-event athlete”

During open event competitions, often coaches will intentionally enter athletes in closely scheduled events to test and develop this quality of re-focusing. During my sophomore year season, I ran the 100 meter hurdles almost immediately before throwing the javelin. The finish line of this event was directly next to the throwing runway. As soon as I cleared the last hurdle and crossed the finish line, I kept a jogging pace, checked into javelin, changed spikes, and threw my first attempt in less than 90 seconds. This ability to shift mindset and focus at a high level is not dissimilar to the way in which entrepreneurs  must re-focus attention when attempting to raise initial capital. In NPR’s edition of “How I Built This” featuring Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx, this skill of re-focusing direction is highlighted. When Blakely was pitching her idea to the buying offices of Neiman Marcus, she recognized that her chances were waning. After that realization and in an instant, she refocused her attention and adapted to her audience. She asked Neiman Marcus’ female representative to accompany her to the bathroom so that she could physically show her how Spanx worked. This immediate and vital refocusing of energy at a high level paid off. She convinced her audience and was allowed to initially introduce her products in seven stores.

“Intentionally frustrating sessions can be useful.”

Coach Newman will often set up hurdle practice to include random hurdle heights and spacing. He will train us using suboptimal sessions and purposely provide limited coaching feedback. This method forces athletes to adapt and not merely rely on physical ability.

Recently, during one of my hurdle practices, Coach Newman intentionally set the hurdles at a sub-optimal length and spacing. Without much consideration I attempted to run this set of hurdles as I had done all the others. My rhythm and timing was drastically off. I dodged the hurdle and did not successfully complete the set. Being in the frame of mind that I was, I looked at my coach with frustration. No athlete wants to dodge a hurdle, especially in hurdle practice. He looked back and said simply, “It’s okay, I wanted to see what you would do.”

It was not until after I read his article that I understood that he was testing me, not only physically but mentally and strategically. We readjusted the hurdles. I readjusted my approach pattern and successfully completed the next set. As I write this article, my mind is filled with examples from my Haas education that directly relate to this experience. Consider Krystal Thomas’ UGBA 100 class. During the first “memo” assignment, we were given a set of instructions. We turned in the assignment. Even if we followed the instructions to a tee, we received feedback that included markdowns. As class rep for this class, I noticed a large part of the feedback was rooted in student frustration. Because we weren’t given enough instruction, we couldn’t get the ideal grades. Professor Thomas explained her reasoning. In the real world, we aren’t given step by step instructions. Just like the sub-optimal hurdle spacing, our professors are intentionally challenging and frustrating us. They want us to help craft our own instructions and re-adjust our thought-patterns.

Athletes should be ready to implement proven, personal coping strategies. Creating a culture of self-reflection … helps manifest this.”

After returning from a semester abroad, Coach Newman and I had a meeting. We discussed my “why”- that is, the reasoning behind why I wanted to pursue training for the heptathlon. He provided me with honest feedback and we set a path to move forward. I believe that this process of self reflection should be implemented regularly. Whether you are considering applying to Haas, beginning a job, taking a class, or planning your next career step, it is vital to self reflect and define your personal “why.”   

While Coach Newman’s article included a number of other fascinating points, these three connected most strongly with my studies at Haas. I would encourage you to consider the ways in which your extracurriculars help inform and improve your work as a business student.

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Not 106…Just My Experience

Following the end of a potentially restful or work filled summer, school is now in full swing. With that comes a whole slew of club invitations, new classes, and of course an entire inbox filled with welcome emails. Exciting? Yes, but also overwhelming.

So this post is not meant to add to that pile or to be another round of UGBA 106,  but rather it is meant to express my experience. I share this with hope that yes, maybe you will consider writing for the Haas Undergraduate Blog but also with the hope that no matter what extracurriculars you select, you can take the time and reflect on why you spend time doing what you’re doing.

Keeping a Record and Learning From It

Instagram, Blogs, Journals, Snapchat…these are all ways of keeping some kind of record of your life. There is value in investing time in these forms of record. That is for a number of reasons, but it is important to consider that you can actually learn from yourself. Looking back at my previous blog posts, I read a record of my past beliefs, experiences, and perspectives. It is easy to identify ways in which I have grown and opinions that have changed. By publishing work that is recorded, I have published accountability. That is powerful.

Contributing to the Larger Haas Community

Everybody reading this post has a unique perspective, and that is incredibly valuable. The way you think about the world, about business, and about others around you may be different than your peers. Sharing that diverse thought challenges both yourself and others in our Haas community. While I am able to share my stories briefly with peers in classes or in the courtyard, the blog has allowed me the opportunity to express and share my story in a completely different way. I have enjoyed getting to share glimpses of my life through the Haas blog and who knows, maybe you would too.

Giving Others a Voice

One of the most powerful aspects of the Haas Undergraduate Blog is that it allows you to feature professors, students, and high achievers on campus. Through these means, you, as a writer, have the unique power of giving others a voice. Not only this, but you are able direct interviews and learn from others in ways that you may not have previously. If there is a cause that you personally care about or a professor that you personally find fascinating, the blog can give you the power to share it. From my perspective, I have enjoyed learning from features on the Haas Blog and getting to better understand how my peers have been successful in their particular passions.

So, there you have my thoughts on why the blog has been valuable for my growth as a student, for the Haas community as a whole, and for other peers and causes that need a voice. No matter what you choose to pursue outside of the classroom, I hope that this encourages you to think of why. And of course, if you are still looking for a way to express your perspective on a larger scale…consider the Haas Undergraduate Blog.

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Feature on Patrick Sutton (Director of Ireland’s National Theater School)

Patrick Sutton serves as a perfect example of how business can be used in unsuspecting ways. If you are interested in how your degree and your communication skills can serve you post-Haas, in a number of different fields, then this feature is for you!

Patrick Sutton is the Director of The Gaiety School of Acting-The National Theater School of Ireland. He is also the Director of the newly established Smock Alley Theater from 1662. Moreover, he owns a communications company called, “Communicate with Confidence” and has worked with Ireland’s former prime minister and professionals at companies like Accenture and Twitter.

The responses below have been abridged for clarity:

Can you please speak a bit about the positions you hold in the Business and Theater communities?

“My first job is as the Director of the National Theater School of Ireland, The Gaiety School of Acting. My second job is as the Director of the Smock Alley Theater.” [Smock Alley Theater is a historic theater in the heart of Dublin. Patrick alongside colleague Kristian Marken, restored the original theater of 1662]. We decided to bring it back to life as a resource for Dublin, for Ireland, and for the World. It is the most historic thing I have ever done. I also own a communications company called “Communicate with Confidence.”

How did you decide to start “Communicate with Confidence”?

“About 15 years ago, I was asked by an Irish politician, Bertie Ahern, to coach him in speech delivery and speech writing. We met once a week to prepare him for every speech he ever did. This included speeches to the joint houses of the U.S. Congress and to the joint houses of the British Parliament. [In 1994, Ahern was elected as prime minister of Ireland. He served for about 12 years as prime minister]. He was a huge part of the Northern Ireland Peace process. I have also coached clients in companies like Accenture and Twitter. This afternoon, I am coaching the Managing Director of Twitter for an interview with the BBC.

With your work in political and business realms, has your experience with Theater been helpful?

“I was an actor. Everything I do and always have done has come from that perspective.” The perspective of being able to stand and to be confident in my body and how it operates, in my voice and how it operates, in my gestures as to how they work.” “Ultimately, you’ve got to be able to stand or sit and deliver and own this thing [body] and there is no apology for the performance in the communications work I do.”

Specifically in business and in communications, “ I use a communications model to provide a context, to talk coherently and concisely. I also use this model to present visions. I believe that every presentation is about the future. My vision, as a presenter, is always the future, my vision is never the past.”

Can you speak more about how performing as an actor has helped you as a business man?

“Good acting has a sense of embodiment and ownership. Good acting means that you were there and you were whole and you were full and you were engaged. If you’re not full and engaged with your body, and your voice, and your gestures, and your emotions then you’re at the wrong game, absolutely the wrong game and it is exactly the same with business.”

In a business setting as a company or an employee, it is imperative to “ take ownership of what [you] stand for.” I am a “big believer in the communications game that, if you do not stand for something with a strong spine, strong voice, and clear gesture…there is a danger that you’ll actually stand for nothing. And if you stand for nothing then you are disadvantaged, you are disabled in some sense that you can’t articulate who you are and what you stand for.”

What would you say for students studying Business or Theater?

“At the National Theater School I have designed a course that addresses this question [what do you stand for?] for my students.”

[One of the courses at the National Theater School is called “Manifesto.” It encourages students to create and design their own work. They are in control of the process, presentation and art forms used.] The “Manifesto program is predicated around that concept of figure out who you are and what you stand for.”

“So to students in any realm, I would say figure out what kind of work you want to make and what kind of context you want to make it in. If you can answer those questions, it is incredible what can happen.”

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“Know Thyself”

“Know Thyself.” My time abroad has provided me with the necessary change in perspective to reflect on this phrase. In doing so, I have thought about one specific area of development that runs through every aspect of my life.

Delayed Satisfaction.

The idea of this is often frustrating. We, as business students, do not like to work without the notion of immediate results. But, could this delay actually be a good thing? Here are a few areas in my life where I have identified the value of delayed satisfaction. I hope that this reflection will allow you, reader searching for immediate results, to take the time to reflect on your own life. Maybe, to determine where you seek immediate satisfaction. Hopefully, to figure out how delayed satisfaction is actually valuable to you.

Track and Field:

As a student-athlete, I have continually experienced long periods of delayed satisfaction. It has helped me develop strength. During weekend training, my coach will often check in and ask about the state of our bodies. Usually, following a week of practice, I am honest and say that I feel beat.  He accepts, understands, and then we begin warm-up. Intervals come next. We are coached to push far over our level of comfort. These practices, for me, are sometimes frustrating. I, as an athlete, do not feel springy or fast or fresh. But I realize now that I am not meant to. These practices are about working in a state of discomfort in order to develop mental strength. They are not about immediate reward. I have had to learn that the reward for mental strength may not come in the next day or next month. But the value of this delayed satisfaction lies in the process. You develop the strength to practice when you don’t want to, the strength to push when you think you can’t, and the strength to compete in uncomfortable circumstances.

Haas School of Business (UGBA 100):

As a class representative for UGBA 100, I learned that delayed satisfaction is valuable training for the professional world. In this class, we were often given an assignment that had minimal direction. Yes, we knew the length, the font, and the margin requirements. We knew the ultimate goal but were unclear about how to get there. And…that was the assignment. Figure out how to get from point A to “successful pitch.” At first, I was frustrated. I asked for more instruction, more details, what exactly do I need? Near the middle of the semester, our teacher explained that there is value to be found in working “in the dark.” Working to produce a finalized, quality assignment without a blueprint. That in the working world, we will not be directed around every turn. There will be decisions we need to make for ourselves. This practice of working without robotic delivery, strengthens our confidence in our instincts as educated students.

Study Abroad at The National Theater School of Ireland:

Through studying conservatory acting, I have learned that delayed satisfaction is valuable due to the process it forces. That is, the process without immediate result. A large part of my curriculum in Ireland requires memorization. From Shakespeare sonnets (Sonnet 137) to Greek speeches (Antigone) to plays (Othello), I have had to memorize countless lines. The process of memorization involves a huge amount of delayed satisfaction. True memorization, for me, is about repetition. Memorize. Say the lines in a quiet room, say them with a beat, sing them, say them while running, say them in an elevator, say them while trying to listen to your favorite song. The process is long and frankly, it is often irritating. Often, the point of it is to put yourself in situations of mental or physical stress in order to see if the lines are truly memorized. The value is finally recognized in performance, on stage, impacting an audience. The lines are clear, the groundwork is laid, and the process pays off.

So, I know, this is my reflection, my view of delayed satisfaction. I realize that my experiences may not resonate directly with yours. I encourage you, reader still looking for immediate results,  to think of areas in your life where you have felt frustrated with a process. Where you have been  frustrated by the time it took. Search for the strength you’re building, how this might help you in the future, and what you are gaining from laying the groundwork. There is often value in delaying satisfaction, we just need to find it.

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Accounting, Banking, Consulting, and … Conservatory Acting?

When I say that I am double majoring in Business and Theater, my words are usually met with confusion and a number of questions. Namely, “Why?”, “How?”, or even “Really?” Realistically, I’m not surprised. This unlikely duo seems, on the surface, to be wildly unrelated. It is true, that Business and Theater have a number of striking differences ( I don’t need to tell you that), but it is also true that there are a number of ways in which these two subjects connect.

Studying at Haas and at Ireland’s National Theater School, the Gaiety School of Acting, has allowed me to recognize how these vastly different realms collide. Here are a few ways in which my studies in Theater have helped me develop skills for the business world.

Reading people

The success of any business endeavor relies heavily on team dynamics. Consider Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks or Henry Ford and Clarence Avery. These teams were successful largely because of the way their members connected. On a smaller scale, think about group projects in UGBA 100. You make your first choices about success or failure when you pick your group. On a larger scale, think about starting your own business. Your initial success will be highly dependent on the way in which you and your co-founders work.  As such, reading people is a skill that I have learned is vital in business. Being able to distinguish sincerity from insincerity or flattery from honesty is integral to picking partners. As existential as it may sound, studying conservatory theater has taught me new ways to read people. By studying film acting, I have learned to identify how and when people lie. By participating in movement classes, I can recognize the importance of breath patterns as they relate to emotion. Moreover, by practicing improvisation, I have learned to analyze eye contact in order to determine intentions. Yes, right now, I am using my skills to better inform my characters and my acting style, but these skills are applicable in every situation in which it is integral to read people.

Targeting your audience

In my first week of drama school, my ensemble and I studied theater of clown. “The Clown” as we know it is meant to entertain. But the clown also does much more. The clown is meant to represent all facets of a human being:  good, bad, stunning, and ugly. On stage, the clown receives signals and energy from the audience to inform his or her performance. As such, the clown must constantly be in tune with the audience’s reaction to their performance. If the audience seems disconnected or uninterested, it is up to the clown to edit their approach in order to engage the audience. The same goes for any investment pitch, job interview, or group presentation. If your audience (teacher, class, or investor) is disconnected, it is your job to recognize, reset, and retry.

Being Creative

Want to be an entrepreneur? One of the keys to success is creativity. Haas encourages us as students to challenge standards because we aspire to improve our creative and entrepreneurial brains. When I came to drama school, my brain was challenged in a completely different way. In one class called “Manifesto” where students are encouraged to create their own art, we were given an assignment. It wasn’t the usual problem set or product pitch but rather, the prompt read “Make me feel something.” Pause. What? I could use any art form I desired (dance, singing, or poetry) and my art installation had to operate for 15 minutes. That was all. This work was something that stretched my mind in emotional, artistic, and generally unusual ways. I know that I can incorporate these aspects into my business education. From marketing to how I pitch ideas, these activities in creativity will positively inform business experience.

So I know that you as a reader may not study conservatory acting or even anything in that realm. But, I do believe that there are ways in which your interests outside of business can influence your Haas experience. I hope this post brings your attention to the connection between these two seemingly unconnected areas and encourages you to explore these three basic skills in the way that best suits you.

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