Anticipating the End: An Introspective on My MBA

Wow.  The last actual class of my MBA program is in two weeks.  Graduation is another two weeks after that.

What a ride.  To be sure, it’s a ride that I’m ready to get off of, now.  But it has been a very valuable and enriching experience.  Enriching, yes, but also exhausting.

In some ways it’s a surprise to be here.  I don’t fit the typical model of an MBA student.  I’m a creative.  I’m a writer.  I’m a fantasy and speculative fiction writer.  I’ve done no formal polling, but I imagine you can count on one hand the number of successful fantasy and speculative fiction writers with MBAs.  You could probably have lost a few of your fingers in some horrible accident and still have enough to count the number of successful fantasy and speculative fiction writers with an MBA from one of the top business schools in the country. 

Which is to say, the business field is not one that typically draws people like me who have such a creative bent and focus that creative energy on the production of fantasy fiction.  Let’s face it, there are certain stereotypes we’re dealing with here: MBAs are understood to be cold, calculating, detached, and overly concerned about money and the bottom-line; they have little or no compassion, don’t interact well with other people, and any factory floor worker could do their job as good or better than they without a fancy degree.  They probably afflicted with some sociopathic tendencies.  Creatives, meanwhile, are flaky, flighty and undisciplined; they lack the mechanisms to comprehend the importance of financial matters, are unable to deal with numbers larger than roughly around 20, and are prone to erratic and sometimes self-destructive behavior.  They are probably afflicted with bipolar disorder, OCD, or are addicted to mind-altering drugs.  It goes without saying that both of these stereotypes are excessively and bizarrely unrealistic portrayals of either group.  And that as perhaps an amusing study in contrasts I am a member of both groups.

Even rejecting these two extremes, I still have some trouble, sometimes, reconciling the duality of my nature, with regard to being a writer in pursuit of an MBA and a business career while simultaneously in pursuit of a successful writing career.  Because, though the difference between the two worlds is not so extreme as the sad stereotypes might suggest, the two worlds are different.

When I started my collegiate education more than a decade ago now, I chose to get my bachelor’s in business for a simple reason.  It was because I wanted to be a writer. Continue reading

Istanbul & Athens Trip Part 1: Epic Quest in Istanbul

Domes & Minarets

You know you're in Istanbul when you see the domes and minarets... You know it's the off-season when you see the gray, gray skies...

The MBA program I’m in requires of its students that “your feet touch foreign soil” before you graduate, except under extenuating circumstances.  It’s perhaps a little odd for an evening program, whose students mostly have full-time jobs, when the same school does not have the same requirement of its full-time MBA students (whose only regular daytime commitment is generally to their education), but there you go.  Except for the added expense (and the necessary time-off from work) I don’t mind the requirement.  I enjoy the opportunity to travel. 

Students are able to fill this requirement in one of two ways: they can do an international class during one of the regularly-scheduled study-abroad courses, or they can participate in the annual “International Colloquium”.  Each graduating class selects its own Colloquium destination (within certain guidelines) and this year we chose a combined two-city itinerary in Turkey and Greece.  And so, a few weeks ago now, my bags packed I hopped on a plane that took me half-a-world away to my first stop in the city of Istanbul, a city with ancient roots rich in history. Continue reading

Rocks in a Jar

I haven’t talked much about writing, lately.  Nor have I said much of anything that touches on the primary theme of this blog: balancing a busy life of work, school, family, and church to find and make time for writing.

I’ve been thinking about that theme lately.  It’s one of the reasons I started this blog.  I was about a year and a half into 3-year MBA program, and I hadn’t done any writing except for reports and term papers.  And even before I started on my MBA, I hadn’t done any creative writing since the disaster a little over a year earlier.  But the itch had returned with a vengeance.  I felt the need to be writing creatively again.

And so, the idea for this blog was born Continue reading

Weekend Assignment: Last Day

A little late to the punch, again, but I haven’t forgotten the latest Weekend Assignment:

Tell us about the last day of anything: the last day of school or a job, your last day as a smoker, the last day before you moved or got married, the last day before you got that car you always wanted, or even the last day of a particularly memorable vacation. Here’s the catch: I’m looking for happy memories here, happy endings rather than tragic ones.

Extra Credit: What happened the next day?

I honestly struggled with this one, for a while.  And then I remembered my truly quintessential “last day”, the anniversary of which is actually right around the corner.

In October of 2006 I said good-bye to my home-town of ten years (though it was never my true home town; military brats don’t have the luxury of a true home town) – a place I like to call V-town.  My destination: the “big city” of the South, Atlanta Georgia. Continue reading

The ‘D’ in PhD stands for ‘Dilemma’

Shortly before Christmas, my wife had a conversation with a friend of hers whose husband is an assistant professor at the school where I am earning my MBA.  She presented a very positive assessment of what it was like to be a college professor – particularly at a Business School, and it was suggested that I give her husband a call to ask about his experience.

It didn’t take much to get me excited about the idea of pursuing a business PhD.  In my undergraduate school, I had some professors suggest to me that I might someday want to pursue a career as a professor.  That idea has been in the back of my mind for the past six years.  But I decided that, business being a practical field of study more than a pure theoretical field, it would be useful even as a future educator to have ample practical experience to draw from.  Ergo, whether I wanted to become a professor or not, I should get some real-world work under my belt first.

But the school where I am currently earning my MBA – and the one where I’d likely want to go to get a PhD, if I went that route – is a top-notch research institution.  So, this was almost a whole new idea.  I talked to the professor, and then to another friend who is pursuing a PhD at the same school, and got a pretty well-rounded but overall positive assessment of the career choice. 

There’s a lot that’s attractive about the idea of being a professor: the relative autonomy, the concept of being, as my friend put it, a “net producer of new knowledge” as opposed to merely a “consumer of knowledge”, and the value and satisfaction of knowing that what you do makes a difference are all positives.  It’s also very demanding: research institutions have a high expectation that professors will produce and publish new research on a regular basis.  Those who do, it seems, are often compensated for those efforts.  Granted, this is based on a very narrow sample set of professors and PhDs. 

The “Dilemma” I mention comes in the form of significantly more financial debt – on top of what I’ve taken on to pursue an MBA – and deferral of compensation until after the degree is completed in another 4 to 5 years, combined with a potentially significant adverse impact on my family in the intervening years.  Added to that is the fact that these programs are highly competitive, and though I’ve done quite well in my education and very well on the entrance exam (which I could reuse if I applied for a PhD next year, but would have to retake if I applied in the following year), there are confounding factors against me, such as my lack of experience in a research-based field.

In all honesty, the idea got me excited, but since I started looking at the numbers, I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of my ability to make this work financially.  Many PhD programs are paid for with stipends, but these stipends are so small that they would not meet my growing family’s financial needs over the duration of the program, which without some other source of financial assistance would be crippling.  With my already outstanding student debt from the MBA, taking on further loans seems pretty unconscionable.  It would also mean deferring further retirement savings for those years – and every year lost saving for retirement is another year that you have to continue working before you shed your mortal coil.

It’s left me in a bit of an emotional tizzy contemplating it all.  Initially, when these conversations started, it was with the idea in mind that the deadline for applying for the next year was looming.  I soon realized it wasn’t possible for me to make an effective application in a few short weeks, much less decide whether this was a viable career choice for me.

Over the next few months, I’ll continue thinking about the possibility of pursuing a PhD, and trying to learn all I can about the career, its viability, and what it would take to succeed.   Only time will tell whether I eventually apply for the program, or decide that my MBA alone will be sufficient for the career I want to pursue.

Time for Writing?

If I’m going to be a writer, obviously I need to write.  I was thinking a bit today about finding the time to write.  In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the general topic of time management, which I am going to have to get my arms around if I’m ever going to have time either to write or even to work out what to do about my non-writerly career.

Yesterday, during the first part of the Product & Brand Management class, I became acutely aware that there were a few key lessons during the early part of the semester that I had missed because I had not had time to read the (100-ish page) documentation for an online simulation program we used in that class.  It made me wonder again about how pressed for time I always feel, and during the break I did a very simple and quick time study.

It went like this: there are 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week, so there are 168 hours in a week.  Then I thought about how many hours per week I spend doing different things each week.  So, I’m at work a little over 9 hours a day for 5 days, so that’s about 46 hours spent at work.  I spend about 11 hours commuting to and from work.  Ideally, I would be asleep roughly 8 hours at night (an unrealistic assumption), so that’s 56 hours gone.  My two classes take 3 hours each a week, so that’s 6 hours gone, and I probably spend at least two hours outside of class, if not more, studying or doing work related to class for each hour, so that’s a minimum of 12 additional hours per week.  So far, then, I’ve spent more than 131 of the 168 available hours in the week, and I have 37 left.  37 hours to be spent with my family, at Church, going on dates with my wife, and other activities, including personal development and writing.  It sounds like a lot… but that breaks down pretty quick.

We spend roughly 3 hours in church on Sundays, plus about 20 minutes getting there and back, and pad on another 10 minutes before and after for socializing, we’ll call that 4 hours weekly.  I spend about 20 minutes each morning running (I try to do this six days a week though reality is I miss a few).  That’s up to 2 hours a week.  I spend about an hour each workday morning  getting ready for work – showering & grooming, packing my bags, taking care of our dog, getting dressed, catching breakfast – plus usually around 15-ish minutes brushing teeth and getting ready for bed every night, and that’s another 7 hours gone.  Now we’re down to 24 hours.

That’s one whole day left in the week to spend with my family, going on dates with my wife, personal development, reading, writing, and a few other essential things that we don’t like to think of as taking time but which do.  So let’s say quality family time is a priority in my life, and I want to spend at least an hour and a half per day just doing some family things, plus maybe another 5 to 7 hours a week working around the house (doing the dishes, cleaning up the yard, fixing things, etc.).  And let’s estimate another couple hours a week are lost to other essential activities.  I’m now down to 4 hours a week.  If I go on a date with my wife on top of regular family time, we can say that’s another 2 -3 hours.  I now have one hour left for personal development, including reading and writing.  The problem?  That one hour is spread out over seven days in little 1 or 2 or maybe 5 or 10 minute increments.  At this point, we’re dealing with the time between going to and from all the other major activities.

Granted, this is a really fast-and-loose analysis.  Do I really spend an hour-and-a-half per day doing something with my wife and dog (and presumably, with our child when he or she arrives)?  Right now, I can’t say that’s as realistic as I want it to be.  There are definitely days when that really doesn’t happen at all.  And I know many nights I don’t get 8 hours of sleep, and I don’t usually get an opportunity to make that up later.  Sometimes I can do several of these activities at once.  (I eat lunch while on the job, usually, and other activities overlap in a similar way.) On the flip side, some weeks I spend far more than 46 hours at work, other weeks an extra hour or two commuting because of unexpected traffic delays.  Study time can fluctuate wildly with the number of cases and projects due in a week, or group work necessary.

To really get at the heart of where the time goes, I’d have to do a far more detailed time analysis, keeping a careful journal of how I spent my time over the course of a month or so.  (That, of course, would take time to do.)

The fact is, it’s important to have our priorities in life.  Those things come first.  For me, that priority is my family.  Right now that’s a wife and dog but soon enough it’s a wife and kid and dog.  That family priority is at least part of the impetus behind why I am in school right now, and it’s the reason I work of course, but neither of those things can replace family time.

But writing… being a writer; that’s also important to me.  The challenge is: even if, in theory, writing comes second in my life behind my family, the fact that family comes first necessitates ranking my career and school both above writing.  Because of that, there’s not a lot of shuffling around I can do with my schedule.

For now, then, having time for writing means stealing 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there, when those little moments pop up, to at least get words on paper.  In the near future, hopefully, I will be acquiring a new notebook that I can carry around and write in during those fleeting moments between things that are, for now, of a higher priority.  With that little tool, I may be on my way to at least feeling like I’m writing something each week.

Aside from that, there’s this blog.  Which, by the way, I’ve met and exceeded my committment for week 1 (this is 1k+ words, now).  If I can keep up to the committment I’ve made of 250 words a week, minimum, I’ll at least be doing one little thing that’s rather necessary if I consider myself a writer: writing.