6 Lessons Chocolat Can Teach You About Business School


You know the movie Chocolat? I know you do. Even Jason Segel’s guy’s guy character in I Love You Man can’t resist the fairytale charm of the film.

If you truly haven’t watched the movie, just humor me and read on anyway.

In the movie, the main character Vianne is haunted by a wanderlust that inhabits the spirits of all the women in her family. She goes from town to town, following the wind, and helping the people who live there. But we start to see the toll this constant moving takes on her and her daughter, and we, the audience, hope she’ll finally settle down.

Spoiler alert: In the end, she finds her place in the village Lansquenet-sous-Tannes (along with a devastatingly handsome rogue played by Johnny Depp) and stays put.

Hooray! We cry with happiness.

Graphic Designer and Web Content Coordinator Nicole Busto had a similar dilemma. She just couldn’t seem to find a career that could put an end to her work wanderlust.

After already trying out two different career paths, she was feeling the urge to move on once again. Though Nicole was itching to switch careers, she didn’t want to keep constantly re-inventing herself professionally. With a background in applied research as well as communication design, she was interested to see if there was a way to combine the two.

Also, like Vianne, Nicole was also interested in helping others. The only other requirement she had for a career was that she worked for an organization that created social impact.

Other than that, she really had no idea what to do and realized that she needed to explore her options. Going to business school seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn about different roles while also building concrete, marketable skills.

We thought it would be fun (and helpful) to discuss Nicole’s experience with business school and present you with the six things watching Chocolat can teach you about getting your MBA.

1. The People You Meet Will Surprise You

Many of the villagers of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes in Chocolat are exactly how I picture students would be in business school: hostile, un-accepting, and threatened. But some surprised Vianne by their support and love.

The classmates that Nicole encountered at Presidio Graduate School were not what she expected. They were supportive and ready to work as teammates rather than competitors. She realizes that this may not be the case for every business school—each school has its own culture—but still, she was shocked to find such an understanding community.

This was especially apparent when about a year into the program, she had a baby. At first, she was anxious about how she might be perceived—that she would be seen as a weak link. But all of her teams were really supportive and well prepared for the couple weeks of time off she had to take.

2. You’ll Acquire More Than One Business Skill

Why was the riverrat gypsy Roux so attractive to Vianne and those of us watching the movie? Well, besides the fact that he was played by Johnny Depp, he could do just about anything. Not only did he know how to slide on the guitar, sell trinkets, and outwit Vianne when it came to guessing his favorite chocolate, but he also came over and fixed the door of her shop like it was no big deal.

It’s just a fact: Having a wide range of abilities is good for business whether you’re floating down a river selling baubles or starting and managing your own company. Nicole’s favorite part of going to business school was the opportunity it provided her to acquire an understanding of so many business concepts.

Regardless of your focus while in your program, you will leave with a thorough knowledge of marketing, strategy, finance, and operations. You may never end up specifically in any of those roles, but being aware of how people think, speak, and function in them helps you to assume a more holistic, system-based perspective when approaching the challenges you’ll encounter.

3. You’ll Have to Find a Balance

Vianne runs her chocolate shop while also handling all of the drama that takes place in the little village. You’ll face a similar challenge when attending business school. Nicole worked throughout her program and it was definitely hard at times to stay on top of everything. It forced her to develop time management skills and really focus to get things done.

Business school is expensive. Student loans don’t just disappear when you graduate. Working while in school can help to lessen that burden, but be aware of the amount of work it will add to your already busy schedule. Learn how to prioritize.

4. You Must Be Honest About Your Abilities

Vianne is so sure of her ability to guess a person’s favorite type of chocolate that when she can’t guess Roux’s it comes as a huge shock, and it really disturbs her. Don’t let yourself be caught by surprise when you enter into your business program.

Nicole warns that there’s a lot of math involved. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you haven’t taken a statistics course for a while, you need to refresh your knowledge. The program starts quickly and your math skills need to be on-point in order to keep up with the lesson and the rest of the class.

5. You Need Some Experience to Relate to Business School

Vianne may be an almost magical chocolatier who brings happiness to those who need it, but even she needs to have a little background information on her customers. While trying to cheer up her rough-around-the-edges landlord, she makes the mistake of giving her hot chocolate without first discovering that the old woman has diabetes.

In order for your business program to have the right effect, you have to make sure that you have the background experience. Though Nicole doesn’t have a specific number of years she’d recommend working before going to get your MBA, she definitely recommends you have a few before pursuing this type of higher ed.

The information that you learn in your business program will be more effective if you have something to relate it back to. Also, you should think about your life after your business program. Says Nicole, “Consider what your résumé might look like to a potential employer after you graduate. MBAs are great as add-ons but don’t really stand up by themselves if you have little work experience.”

6. You Can’t Be Too Critical of Yourself

The antagonist of the movie is Comte (Count) Paul de Reynaud. He is critical of everyone and everything—especially himself. His pursuit of perfection causes him to have a breakdown. It is only after this total meltdown that he’s able to see that he needs to accept himself for who he is. This realization allows him to move on from the memories holding him back and to find real happiness.

Nicole’s advice is to learn to accept yourself before starting business school.

“Give yourself room to grow,” she says, “We can be so critical of ourselves and it prevents us from becoming who we really want to become. Allow yourself the opportunity for a do-over and remember to be kind to yourself. For instance, if you constantly tell yourself that you’re not good at public speaking before a presentation, you might not see the small improvements that you’re making. Just give yourself a chance; learning new skills doesn’t happen overnight.”

It’s not like you needed an excuse to stay home on a Friday night, open a box of chocolates, and watch Chocolat… but now you have one. Not only will you be able to watch the feel-good film, but you’ll also be preparing yourself for business school.

Homework time! A lot of Nicole’s advice has to do with knowing yourself. Take some time to reflect before jumping into business school. Are you prepared for the workload? Do you have the background experience to relate your lessons to? How are your math skills? Make sure you’re in the right mindset before applying to a program.


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