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The Learning is In the Struggle: An Executive Reflecting Post MBA Degree

Jun 21, 2017

In 2015, I made the biggest decision of my professional career to pursue my Executive MBA at the University of Texas at Austin. It was almost two years of attending class every other weekend while trying to balance my job, personal life and a recent move to Austin. It was the hardest, most exhausting, most rewarding thing I have done in both my professional and personal lives. As a reflection, in this week’s blog, I want to share some of the most important lessons I learned in business school. You will note, there are no financial equations or statistical models to follow. For good reason, while we learn those things, those are not the things that are “sticky” when it comes to becoming a better leader and executive. It’s the “sticky” that separates us between being number crunchers or tomorrow’s leaders.

“The Learning Is In the Struggle.”

The director of our program and professor for our Leading People and Organizations course the first semester, Dr. John Burrows, used this quote quite often. We were all mid-career executives working full time, going back to school for the first time in a very LONG time while taking three courses every other weekend. The struggle was REAL! We often learn the very most from situations in which we have to struggle and to figure out a way to push through. When you or your employees have a low risk opportunity to try something different, take the chance. Struggling through an experience or even failing is where the learning happens.

Woo Hoo, Not the Smartest!

Be thrilled when you are not the smartest, most experienced, highest ranking, most senior titled, etc. etc. etc. in the room. Be Thrilled. I spent 21 months with some of the most intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We each brought our own expertise to each course. Their diverse experiences, cultures, backgrounds and future goals challenged my current thinking and enhanced my entire learning experience. When you sit back and truly listen to those surrounding you, the perspective and outlook you gain from any situation will help you make better decisions in all areas of your life. 

Deciding Between the “Cans” and “Shoulds”

Whether in our businesses, careers or personal lives we all like to think we can do anything. There are famous sayings like, “You Can Do It” or “Just Do It” encouraging us to just get out there and make it happen. While it is reassuring and inspiring to know you “can” do something, it doesn’t always mean you “should.” In business school we learned to gather data from all entities of the operation to make projections and answer questions to determine if an opportunity is right. While there are many questions to ask after information gathering here are a few important ones:

  • Does this fit with our core strategy?
  • Is there a market demand for this product/service?
  • Will it provide an advantage over my competitors?
  • Who else will it affect in my organization?

While I am not saying you must go back to school to learn the lessons I learned, everyone can look for these lessons in their professional lives and I hope this five-minute lesson pushed you to do such a thing.


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