Oh no, not this guy.
It was the first week of class back in my MBA program. We were randomly paired with a classmate to research and write a paper together.
We had nothing in common. He worked in supply chain management at a large company with a much more analytical mind than me. I wished I could work with someone in marketing or communications to be much more on each other’s wavelength.
Now I remembered why I felt like I didn’t belong in this program — and why I left.
I started taking business classes in my late 20s. I thought that everyone in this program was cut from the same cloth except me.
I was afraid to speak up. I felt like the odd man out who didn’t have a business degree or work in a large corporation. I had a background as a journalism reporter and was newly in a marketing role. I didn’t speak MBA jargon.
I struggled. I didn’t know if I would make it through my first class, which for some reason was New Venture Formation (talk about diving into the deep end).
Then my daughter was born halfway through the semester. I made it through, but often felt like I was drowning. I dropped my math class and took it a second time. I took a week of vacation to study and work on the final in that class.
Then our house flooded and I had to take some time off school. Then our second kid was born. I decided around that point to drop out of the program. It was too much to add to the daily struggles of trying to care for a young family and do my day job. I took a few years off to recover. I didn’t think I would go back to school — I was physically and mentally done.
Then an associate dean and professor sought me out about the communications grad program. She told me I would get a lot out of the program by supplementing my professional knowledge with academics and research. Reluctantly, I became a student again. And surprisingly, I loved it. I thrived. And a few years later, I finished a thesis and graduated (finally!) with my masters with a 4.0 GPA.
It’s now been a decade. I’ve taken classes in three programs, everything from accounting and calculus to models of sustainability and communication theory.
I stopped and I started. I went from a young person in the MBA program to the old guy in a room full of graduate students. I didn’t always know where I was going. I didn’t always think I could do it.
After all these years I actually had a paper to show for it.
But I still had some unfished business with the MBA program.
This year, I went back to the MBA program to finish what I started. I took an online class that provided more opportunity for everyone to speak up. The beauty of an online class like this is you get to hear from EVERYONE, even those who are introverts, reticent, or like me felt like they don’t fit the mold.
As my time went on in the program, I saw more nuance in the students, got to know people better in group projects, and learned to trust and use my own voice and provide different perspectives.
I’m so glad I did have the partner that I did. We were very different, and that’s what made us a good team. I provided the business we would analyze, content and big-picture theme. He wrote the outline and made sure we were on track for staying ahead of deadlines. It was very evident that he worked in supply chain, and I worked in marketing and communications. And it worked! Our partnership was a microcosm case study of why a business needs both types of thinkers and skill sets.
That, it seemed, was the point of the assignment: We learned from each other, but also learned how to work with people of different backgrounds, skill sets and outlooks.
That brings me back to today. I’m in a much different spot than I was when I started this program. The discussions with so many other students in so many different phases of their career, remembering (and sometimes forgetting) to stick to assignment deadlines and (especially) working on citing my work in APA format each week reminded me what it’s like to be a student again.
There’s a Zen saying that resonates with me more and more as I get older: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
And also: Before graduation, chop wood and carry water. After graduation, chop wood and carry water.
I feel like I’m right where I need to be right now.