You may recognize Sana Mohammed’s name from the “Whether or not to MBA?” Muppies webinar, her five years on the board for the Muppies Houston City Committee, or her commencement speech for Harvard Business School (HBS), where she served as Student Association Co-President. 

Sana loves constantly learning from those around her and reflecting deeply on her own life lessons. Muppies Marketing Volunteer Anum Khan, a current MBA student herself, recently spoke with Sana.

What is the best piece of advice, or the most useful thing you learned, while at HBS? 

 “Many high-achievers are too hard on themselves. If you are too critical of yourself, you will be too critical of others, and it will come across in how you treat your team.” My mentor from the HBS Tech Club gave me this advice after I was elected Student Association Co-President. 

When she first gave me this advice, I didn’t agree with her. My coworkers often described me as very compassionate and caring, even though I was definitely hard on myself. At the time, I thought to be hard on myself helped me achieve. If I could be painstakingly aware of my flaws and my mistakes, then I could find ways to improve myself. 

What I learned through my student leadership role, however, was that most of us thrive and gain energy from encouragement and celebrating small wins. The momentum from celebrating every small success when tackling big problems gives us the energy to keep going and handle the setbacks we face. A leader’s job is to balance being a cheerleader while also pushing the status quo. This starts by first being able to do this for oneself by celebrating your own small wins. Accept we are all human, not machines, so no one can be productive 100% of the time, and we all make mistakes.

It seems as though reflection and introspection are important to you. Do you have a process for reflecting? 

Yes! I’ve always been a naturally reflective person, but recently, I learned that sometimes in life, we “re-learn” the same lessons again and again because we forget them. So, I’ve started documenting my reflections. I… 

  1. Document daily lessons learned or moments of joy in a “One Line A Day: Five Year Memory Journal.” This journal is a catalyst for both gratitude and personal improvement. Reading old entries reminds me of how much joy I have in my life and enables me to reflect on how I’ve personally evolved. 
  2. Carry a notebook with me at all times. I will take it out and jot down random thoughts,  feelings, and duas throughout the week. I could pause and write while walking around the city, sitting in a meeting, or after talking to a friend. Some of my best journal entries are reflections after a really good conversation with a friend or acquaintance. Sometimes, I’ll even take out the notebook mid-conversation because what my friend is saying is so wise and insightful.
  3. Pre-plan reflection time at important milestones: end of each semester, birthdays, the start of a new year, end of a big project, etc. I’ll be honest: this is a little painful because it’s forced. Forcing myself to take an hour at important milestones just to sit and type or write what I’ve learned, what I enjoyed, what I did well, what I didn’t do well, or what I want to remember, is hard to do. But, whenever I’ve looked back at these entries, I am so grateful to have them.

How does your identity as an American Muslim woman, who is also ethnically South Asian, shape how you show up in the professional world? 

Throughout my life, there have been many moments that, because of this identity, I’ve felt like “the other” – the one that doesn’t fit in. I felt this at times in school, too. The thing is, I am sure most of the student body felt like an “other” at some point. All of us have multi-dimensional identities that span beyond even the identifiers in this question. Some of us are siblings, parents, husbands/wives, caregivers, etc. All of these identities and our life experiences, especially the challenges we’ve faced, shape the people we are and, therefore, the leaders we are.

At HBS, Professor Jan Rivkins, who is also the head of the MBA program, believes that in the next 20-30 years, the “leaders that will make the most difference in the world are those who can make the most out of differences in the world.” I agree with him, and I think the people who will be the most capable of“making the most out of the differences in the world” are empathetic, emotionally intelligent, and resilient individuals.

My life experiences, including trying to navigate multiple identities that often feel like they are in direct conflict, have cultivated within me a level of empathy and resilience that sometimes surprise even me. I’m actively learning how to navigate interpersonal relationships and become more emotionally intelligent. I’m nervous, but also excited to see what the future holds! I think this quote sums up how I feel: “Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.”

Sana spent this past summer working as an MBA Intern at the Sheryl Sandberg Dave Goldberg Family Foundation on initiatives around Option B, which focuses on helping people build resilience in the face of adversity.  She is now working at Bain & Company in San Francisco, where she will be working as a General Consultant.

Eventually, she would like to be a CEO. “I don’t know how I’ll get there but I’m confident Allah will guide me to what is best for me,” she says. After all, if it’s one thing her story shows so far – it’s all about the journey.