The Yarn: My Experience Wearing My Heart On My Sleeve At Sloan

MIT The Yarn May 2015

Class of 2015 MBAs Esteban Lubensky, Kathy Lin, Erica Swallow, Liat Kaver, Dan Schiffman, and Adam Traina presented at the May 2015 “Graduation” gathering of The Yarn.

Business school is many things: Challenging, social, exploratory, path-defining, thought-provoking. But one word you don’t often hear associated with the MBA is emotional. Whether at MIT Sloan or otherwise, the MBA Program is known for being rigorous in many respects, but with its business focus, the sensitive, heart-on-your-sleeve sort of sentiment is often not a huge component of the experience.

At Sloan, I’m very happy to report, we have an outlet for that emotional side of the program — it’s called “The Yarn.” While it can be difficult to align the touchy-feely aspect of personal development with the accounting, data analytics, and communications courses we all take, The Yarn is an ongoing community event that aims to do just that. It’s mission is to “go deeper and become more tight-knit as a Sloan community” through true, personal stories that make you laugh, cry, think, and everything in between.

One of the capstone experiences of my MBA was sharing my story at The Yarn about combatting labels. I spoke specifically about growing up as a “low-income, at-risk youth” and how those labels affected and still affect me. You can see my talk on YouTube.

The process was program-changing for me. My two years at Sloan, I felt a personal disconnect, akin to how I’ve often felt throughout my life — I felt as if I didn’t belong. My childhood and journey to Sloan seemed lightyears away from those of my colleagues. And while by my final semester I had made some close friends, I felt as if many of them didn’t know my true story. With all of the hustle and bustle, there never seemed to be an appropriate time to get to know one another on a truly deep level.

The Yarn was a closure moment for me, in a way. It enabled me to share my story in a safe environment, free of judgement, and alongside five of my peers, the majority of whom spent time collaborating and workshopping their stories in small breakout groups leading up to the event. Those get-togethers themselves were packed with meaning and emotion. Coming into the program, I would have never imagined the camaraderie and empathy I felt in those hours.

Sharing was therapeutic — and you’ll get a sense of that if you watch my talk. Along with the audience, I laughed, I cried, I was nervous, I was elated. It was the first time I felt completely open and accepted during my time at Sloan, and it happened on a stage with many of my classmates present and receptive. It wasn’t that The Yarn was the first time I had attempted radical transparency at Sloan, but more that it was the first time where it was the goal at hand, which sincerely made all the difference.

The Yarn truly was program-changing, if not life-changing, for me. It completed my Sloan experience and taught me that vulnerability truly is a strength. Following my talk, I received so much support and feedback that I am certain I will choose openness and vulnerability more often in the future. We can sometimes shield our pain in order to lessen future damage, but my experience at The Yarn taught me that vulnerability is very much a means of healing.

Beyond my own personal growth, though, I got to see a handful of my colleagues develop and present their personal stories, stories which centered around some of life’s toughest topics — divorce, relationship abuse, death, being abandoned on an island (ok, the last one, while serious, was actually quite comical!). I was a part of their growth and witnessed the evolution of their stories from conception to presentation, which was a rare treasure.

To all of the incoming first-years, rising second-years, and all future Sloanies: If you have the opportunity to sign up for a Yarn talk, please take the chance! It’s a courageous step, and it takes time and reflection to bare all, but it is an experience unlike any other at Sloan. And if you’re ever curious about workshopping your story, you know who to call!

For those of you not at Sloan: I challenge you to share your story in your own community or workplace. Perhaps it’s a great time to organize a Yarn-like event. 🙂

Erica Swallow

Erica Swallow is a technology writer, startup entrepreneur, and status quo wrecker. She is currently an MBA candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management and her thoughts have been published in a number of esteemed outlets, including Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post, among others.

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