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Life lessons from finishing an MBA

29 March 2018
Considering an MBA?
Dr Kim Johnstone, UN Women NC Australia MBA Scholarship recipient and graduate of the University of Sydney Business School MBA, gives her advice on getting the most out of the program.

Just over three weeks ago, I submitted the last of my assignments for my MBA with the University of Sydney Business School. As I tell people I’m finished, the congratulations start rolling in. However, I’ve not been prepared for the accompanying compliments like, “you’re amazing” or “you’re a superwoman”. It’s true that I did my MBA while working full-time and having young children, but in a part-time MBA program, I was not an exception. These compliments have made me reflect on how I got through the MBA in two and half years and what doing the MBA has taught me. Besides the huge learnings about leadership and business, and the technical skills, there are three lessons that stand out.

You can’t do it alone

I could not have done this MBA without the unwavering support of my partner. He ensured I was fed and watered, he parented, did housework, paid the bills … etc etc.  My mother took leave from her work to help when my partner was away (and always tackled the ironing pile). Parents from school did pick-ups and extended play dates so I could do assignments. I had a network of babysitters. Book club provided a safe place to just breathe. Two employers gave me time when I needed it, allowed me to do projects on the workplace, and gave lots of encouragement. Fellow MBA students helped when needed and accommodated my kids. Without this huge network, I could not have finished. And this is true for whatever we do, at work, at university or at home.

You can’t do everything

The reality is that you can’t do an MBA, work, spend time with the family, volunteer and sleep, all at the same time. Something must give. Usually, it’s the laundry pile. There was also a pile of “stuff” on top my dresser that just kept piling up. Sometimes the kids got to play a lot of Zelda so I could do assignments or interview people. I missed a few board meetings. The lawn often looked like a paddock, and the roses were always pruned late. In the last six months of the MBA, I found it hard to find time to exercise. Of course, I’ve had to manage my time but the biggest learning was to stop trying to do everything. This is certainly a lesson I’ll be taking with me into the future.

You need to turn up

Last year, I nearly quit. I had a new job that was busy, my eldest son (who has learning support needs) was needing more of our time, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and had to stop running (my go-to stress reliever and stay healthy tool), and my partner was away one week in four. But I kept going to class. I did my assignments even when I knew they weren’t my best work (I wrote one at a karate tournament, on a metal bench with kids stepping on my computer all day). Just turning up, just turning on the computer to write or look at data, just going to team meetings, was enough to get me through. I discovered that even when I didn’t do my “best”, I still learned and still delivered results. This is something that remains true as I do new things at work in areas outside my expertise – just turn up, do your best and reap the rewards.

In addition to learning the things I expected to from the MBA, I’ve developed a whole new view of the world. It’s been a hell of a ride!

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