I tried, I failed, but found it not the antipathy but part of the process to success!
Walking away from the MBA
It’s the 16th December 2016 today – a date that’s been on my radar for a while now. Today’s the day I should be handing in my dissertation, marking the last stage of my MBA. But I’m not. I’m writing this blog post instead – a blog post about a journey I started in September 2012. And how I’m perfectly at peace with walking away from my MBA.
The first two years of my MBA gave me so much understanding I use every day. They gave me great insight into the business world, and have been invaluable, not least for giving me the confidence to work with my client base. I now understand elements ranging from marketing to the relationship between strategy and numbers (but don’t let me loose on your balance sheet!).
I was meant to finish my studies in 2014, when I handed in my dissertation for the first time. Looking back, I now admit it wasn’t good enough to pass, and it was returned to me to do again. So, in 2015, I handed it in for the second time. This time, I thought it was good enough – I knew I’d pulled out all the stops and done my best. But the school didn’t agree, and it was returned to me again.
This was now a struggle. I was reading and writing about topics I had no interest in, I was getting depressed, I was losing weight, and I was miserable. Then, like a bolt from the blue, I just thought to myself, “Why am I doing this? What am I doing?” I was getting feedback from the school telling me I wasn’t good at it, and my customers didn’t depend on it, so why was I doing it?!
You might have heard of your Passionate Why, your reason for doing something. According to this theory, there are three reasons why you should do something, and you need to be able to tick at least two of them to justify doing it:
- You love doing it
- You’re good at doing it
- You’re solving a problem with it (e.g. providing a service to your clients you otherwise couldn’t provide, or earning money from it)
When it came to completing the final hurdle of my MBA, I realised:
- I wasn’t enjoying it
- I wasn’t good at the academic element of it
- My customers didn’t need me to have it, and it made no difference to them!
Once I had this realisation, I came to a decision – and there seemed to be no sense in me continuing to bang my head against this wall. I took the choice to walk away instead. And in that instance, a weight was lifted from me – I actually felt relieved! I’m now spending my time doing things I love – reading books I want to read, learning things I want to learn. If I’ve only got 20-30 years left on this earth, I’m not going to spend them reading things I have no interest in which add no value to what I’m doing!
It also made me realise that I have so much to give without the badge of an MBA. Maybe I was just trying to satisfy the 17-year old me who never got his qualifications, to prove to myself I was academic. But I’m not, and accepting you’re not good at something is one of the bravest things you can do! And not being academic doesn’t stop me from being a motivator, a person who can offer wisdom, a person who can help others. And that’s what I now recognise. You can’t be good at everything, so spend your time concentrating on the things you are good at.
It’s a bit like when I changed from the flat to hurdles in my athletics career. I loved the flat, I really did. But I wasn’t the best at it, and I was never going to be. I was only satisfying one element of my Passionate Why. But when it came to hurdles, I was good. I could win. I could break those records. I may not have been as passionate about hurdles, but I was ticking two boxes of my Passionate Why – so why waste time and effort on the flat? And that’s just how it was with the MBA too.
Now, walking away from something doesn’t come easy, particularly coming from a background in competitive sport! We associate the idea of stepping back – of ‘quitting’ – with a sense of failure. I still struggle every time I get to a certain line of that poem, ‘Dream Big’:
There will be days when you want to turn around,
Pack it up,
And call it quits.
Those times tell you
That you are pushing yourself,
That you are not afraid to learn by trying.
Because with an idea,
And the right tools,
You can do great things.
It’s that word, ‘Persist’. The idea that if we just do something enough times, we’ll overcome it, we’ll accomplish it. But I’m not persisting. Because for me, it wasn’t the badge of ‘MBA’ I needed from the MBA – it was everything else I got from my years of study. It gave me confidence, wonderful learning, and a great network of people who value my insights.
As the great Shakespeare said, “There’s no such thing as good or bad but thinking makes it so.” We get so hung up on the idea of achieving a goal, sometimes we neglect to see the good things that come out of not achieving it.
Simply by reframing our thinking, we can learn some most valuable lessons, and my lesson in this instance was that I learned to lose, and lose well. At one point, I felt so bowed under pressure from the dissertation that I even considered cheating by getting someone else to write it! And this isn’t like me at all. Today, I can look in the mirror and say, “I may not have an MBA, but everything I do have, I did it myself.”
It was Rudyard Kipling who guided us in If… to “meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same”. Everything can be a victory if you look for the lessons in it – the purpose of it. My MBA started as a destination, but became about the journey, and once I saw it like that, I completely understood its purpose in my life.
Nobody can take my learning from the MBA away from me – both about business and about me. I now know sometimes you can’t achieve something, but you learn so much in the process of trying to achieve it.
We shouldn’t be afraid to learn by trying – it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all!
It was the great Einstein who said, “A mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size”. And that’s what the MBA has done for me.