Jenna Hussein is an MBA Student at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and working as part of the Venture Program at the Harvard Innovation Labs.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m an MBA student at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an MPA student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I’m pursuing both business and policy master’s degrees concurrently through a three-year joint program and I plan to graduate with both degrees in Spring 2022.
Prior to attending graduate school, I worked as an Analyst at an economic consulting firm in Los Angeles and as the Chief of Staff of a sanitation startup in Nairobi. During graduate school, I spent my first summer working in product at Google X and my second summer working in product marketing at Adobe.
This semester, I was selected to be a part of the Venture Program at the Harvard Innovation Labs, where I’m identifying market gaps in B2C FinTech in the U.S. and Latin America and brainstorming payments and cryptocurrency innovations that can fill these gaps.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you?
My favorite way to start my day is with a quick walk from my Harvard student residence to the gym, where I jump on the stair climber for a 20-minute interval workout followed by 30 minutes of weightlifting.
I’ve found exercise to be just as beneficial to my mental health as it is to my physical health – from the moment I put on my headphones and step into the gym, my mind clears, and I only concentrate on the music and my movements.
I shower and eat breakfast before walking across the Charles River to my 9:00AM negotiations class at the Harvard Kennedy School. After class, I say a quick hello to classmates in the hallways and grab a coffee before The Founder’s Journey, a class on entrepreneurship.
I start my lunch break by dedicating 30 minutes to work towards achieving professional fluency in Spanish. I then pick up a salad from Sweetgreen with a classmate and enjoy the autumn colors in Harvard Yard as we eat lunch and discuss the pros and cons of different post-graduation career paths.
I head back to school for my final class of the day, The Arts of Communication, where I deliver a persuasive speech to the class. After receiving candid feedback from the class about my speech content and body language, I walk over to the Harvard Innovation Lab where I meet with my advisor to discuss my progress in the Venture Program.
Later, I join classmates to unwind over a small group dinner at a restaurant in Harvard Square. We chat about our career paths, our favorite courses, our goals for the future, and discuss ways in which we can support each other in our journeys.
Before jumping into my homework at the end of the day, I call my parents, who are my closest friends, role models, and mentors. As Tanzanian immigrants in Canada, my parents made countless sacrifices to break our family’s cycle of poverty.
Talking to my parents keeps me grounded. It reminds me to express gratitude every day for the opportunities that I have been granted, and it reminds me to maximize the value of my education to make a positive mark on the world.
3) How has the shift to remote school and work affected you?
The COVID-19 pandemic hit towards the end of the first year of my program. My classes quickly transitioned online, as did my summer internship, and my school and work remained online for almost a year before returning to normal.
Building and maintaining relationships is what brings me the most joy in life, and so I greatly missed the spontaneous social interactions on campus and the opportunity to build deeper personal relationships with colleagues during the virtual period.
To overcome this, I tried to find new ways of socializing in the Zoom era. My Harvard classmates and I started a series called “Delta Deep Dives,” where we shared candid, 45-minute presentations about the ups and downs of our life stories with other members of our 60-student Delta cohort.
At Stanford, I was an active participant in a similar business school tradition called “TALK,” and during my summer at Google, I arranged nearly 100 virtual coffee-chats to have 1-on-1 conversations with people in different departments and learn about their work and life experiences.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
To me, work-life balance is a journey and not a destination. It is not something that can be achieved and then taken for granted. I see it as a constant balancing act that I need to frequently evaluate and re-calibrate.
Quality time with my closest loved ones, exercise, sleep, and healthy eating are the four parts of my life that I consider to be non-negotiable and imperative to my happiness.
Even though I know that nurturing these four parts actually makes me more productive in my professional life, I can still find myself falling into the trap of neglecting them when I’m laser-focused on achieving an important goal.
This is why I push myself to reflect on the tradeoffs I’m making and re-adjust whenever I feel that I am out of balance.
5) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
These podcasts and books have helped me to reflect on what matters the most to me and the ways in which I can materialize the kind of impact I wish to have on the world. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have.
- How I Built This – Guy Raz
- Being Mortal – Atul Gawande
- Becoming – Michelle Obama
- Educated – Tara Westover
- And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini
Before you go…
If you’d like to sponsor or advertise with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here.
Join our community and never miss a conversation about work, life & balance – subscribe to our newsletter.