Outside the Comfort Zone

If you told me two years ago that I would be a full-time MBA student at Smurfit, I would have said you were crazy. Sure, I’d been tinkering with the idea of an MBA for some time, but I have also thought about who I would mention in my thank you speech should I ever win an Oscar. There is a big difference between thinking and doing.

This time last year, I was approaching a decade of working in journalism: a decade of demanding work, difficult stories, rotating shift work and tight deadlines. Like all milestones, the end of that decade prompted some introspection. I was forced to ask myself some tough questions–which I knew would have complicated answers. I was confident in my work, but also, I realised, I was comfortable. And comfort is the enemy of progress.

Over the locked-down summer, I wrapped up seven years of my day job at Independent.ie, and fully immersed myself in the business school application process. To my absolute joy, I received a generous scholarship given to one female candidate across the Full-Time and Executive MBAs. It remains one of the proudest achievements in my life and gave me a vote of confidence that perhaps I had yet to find in myself–a sign that I was doing the right thing.

By September, I was officially a student again. The last time I was a student, I was 21 finishing a Master’s in International Journalism. Things look different this time around: I’m older; I’m wiser; I’m a remote student. Before Level 4 and 5 restrictions forced universities to implement a virtual delivery, we were given two precious weeks of time on the Smurfit campus. It was the closest thing to normal I have experienced all year.

As my colleagues have attested in their earlier blogs, those first two weeks of in-person classes were priceless. It laid the foundation for friendships, allowed a more nuanced understanding of lecturers, gave us time to navigate the campus, and we also got a free hoodie.

I’ll be honest: anyone who says Zoom is just as good as the real thing is lying to you. But if there is anything this year has taught us, it is that there are so many things beyond our control, and this is just one of them. This year has been a life lesson in letting go of the unimportant things and focusing on the big picture. And for me, having an MBA plays a starring role in that picture.

In September, my world suddenly became much bigger. Within weeks of matriculating, I was connecting to IE Business School in Madrid as part of the GNAM programme for a week-long crash course focusing on Europe’s economic recovery after Covid. Instead of debating and celebrating after lectures with tapas and Rioja in the Spanish capital, I was joining from my home office/box room. This semester, I’m working in a study group in which one classmate is still at home in India. I have developed friendships with people whom I haven’t seen in person for more than two months. My world has opened up more than ever before and it’s all happening from a small room in my small house.

Now that I’m nearly three months into the MBA, I realise I have never once been comfortable. Every day, I am challenged – by the curriculum, by lecturers, by my classmates, by coronavirus (!) – and that perpetual cycle of learning and development is one I had always been chasing before now. Can I pick just one highlight so far? No. But I can say that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Caitlin McBride, FTMBA Class of 2021