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Finding Joy With Your MBA

MBA student libraryThe MBA is a highly regarded credential and considered to be an essential element to career success.  It is often used to invoke a career change, move into the management ranks, gain the confidence to become an entrepreneur, start a consultancy or simply prepare to take advantage of any future opportunities.  The MBA’s greatest advantage, as touted by many graduates I work with, is that one can do anything with it.  However, this great advantage also presents the greatest challenge in that the holder must figure out what to do with it.

In working with high achievers over the years, graduates tend to think more about where they want to be rather than where they really are.  I know I did.  After I graduated with my MBA, I expected Jack Welch to call me up and say “Todd, I need you to run my US Operations.  Money is no object.  When can you start?”  It was what I wanted to hear.  Well, maybe not from Jack Welch, but from some company needing a real leader.  Somehow, I put it in my mind that this is what was required for me to be successful with my MBA.


As with most of us, we don’t learn where we really are until we get that first job after graduation, which serves as our proving ground.  Equipped with the latest business gadgetry and corporate level expertise, we’re ready to take on the toughest assignments.  But, when this opportunity never materializes, we take a job with a company that’s a few floors below the CEO.  To the normal professional, that’s a blow to the ego that sends one right passed triage and onto the emergency room operating table.  To the high achiever, that’s a bump in the road that can be endured – for a while.

After six months to one year on the job, we’ve become a big contributor to the organization.  We don’t run around asking people how to do this or that.  We’re fully functioning members of the company.  Within another six months, disappointment sets in when we don’t get any recognition for our efforts, forcing a reevaluation of our current state and an extrapolation into the near future.  Further degradation of spirit and motivation can drive you into self-defeating behavior or drastic action to get out of your current state (e.g. find another job in another company).  It’s a cycle that can occur over and over in your career.

Finding joy with your MBA traverses a path.  It’s almost impossible to tell you what your path will be but we can tell you what many others have found and used along their journey down their path.  A continuous flow of career success requires a balance of four elements: vision, purpose, skill and environment.  These are elements you’ll often define as you go along your chosen career path.  A failure to define one of these will inhibit your progress.  Maybe it steers you in the wrong direction or just stops your forward progress altogether.  In any case, you must define and understand how each element impacts your career.

Adlai Stevenson once said “We can chart our future clearly and wisely only when we know the path which has led to the present.”  Vision requires an understanding of two paths – where you are and where you want to be.  Most of us have some understanding of where we are and how we got there but do we know where we want to be?  Without a clear vision, your success will be driven by luck.

Purpose is the fuel that drives you daily.  If you struggle to go to work every day and feel your dreams aren’t coming true, you have undoubtedly accepted this fact at some point and are now living with that decision.  Your purpose is the underpinning and overriding reason you do what you do.  It unifies your thoughts and desires and as such, guides all of your actions. 

Understanding your purpose is not an easy task.  It’s much like our childhood days when we would chase the butterflies.  The faster we ran, the higher they flew, drifting in and out of reach.  Yet, when we rested, they lit on us, if only for a short while.  Our career provides a comparable experience.  At times, we are in alignment with our purpose, while at other times we are not.  Think back to times in your career when your forward progress failed to meet your expectations.  What was your purpose at the time?  Did your environment support such a purpose?

Another element required for finding joy with your MBA is the acquisition of skills.  The skills you need to develop are the ones that will benefit your career the most.  You’ll find that the MBA doesn’t give you all the ones you’ll need.  The hard skills you learn should serve you well.  However, the soft skills are the ones that can set you apart from your competition.  MBA programs don’t focus heavily on these.  This will be a set of skills you’ll need to focus on heavily using your own time and energy.

The last consideration for finding your joy is working in the right environment.  In his book, The Millionaire Mind, Thomas Stanley tells the story of a salesman who held 9 jobs before he found a company where he could be extremely successful and earned over $200,000 per year.  A short time later this salesman quits, starts his own company and then joins Stanley’s millionaire club to tell his story of success.  It wasn’t that this salesman didn’t know what he was doing, although he learned a lot along the way.  It was that he finally found a place where he fit.  Often it’s hard to know why you’re not successful, but it’s pretty easy to know when you are.

The keys to finding joy with your MBA require an understanding of four factors: vision, purpose, skill and environment.  Each factor requires thought and planning.  As you change one element, it will become necessary to re-evaluate the others and possible redefine them.  If you don’t have a vision of where you want to go, then any path will get you there.  If you don’t have great passion from your sense of purpose, you’ll run out of gas too quickly.  If you don’t have the skill to traverse your path, almost any obstacle will throw you off course.  Lastly, if you are unfamiliar with the neighborhood you’re passing through, you’ll become confused and lost. 

Joy of an MBAI know what you’re thinking.  The four elements are great but how do I use them?  I hear you loud and clear.  The best way to find joy with your MBA and learn how to use these elements is to see how others have done it.  It’s often quite helpful to see the path of others to find our own course. That’s what we give you in our latest ebook, The Joy of an MBA.  It’s the first in the Henry series of ebooks for MBAs.

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