Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.Viktor Frankl
For many, the past 12 months have felt like a bit of a whirlwind. We went from what we thought was a 2-week lockdown, through copious amounts of zoom calls, to what people are now calling COVID fatigue. Like many others I have gone through substantial change this year. Wherever possible I have tried to embrace it with open arms, even when it didn’t come naturally: such as when I faced the maths section of the executive assessment exam.
The past 7 years and a big chunk of my professional career were spent working in the Middle East, where I had worked hard to build a reputation as a person who delivered results in sales & business development. In July of 2020, five months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world stood still for a moment. I received an email to say my role was impacted by the global headcount reduction at my company. If anyone has ever been impacted by redundancies before, you will know it is not the most pleasant experience to go through. There is still stigma around the word and many do not like to talk about it. Many self-critical thoughts raced through my mind: Could I have done more? Am I good enough? Did they not like me? It was a very strange and isolating time. I was reminded by a friend recently that redundancy doesn’t mean you are redundant but more importantly its the role that is redundant.
Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.Randy Pausch
After letting the dust settle for a few days, I thought to myself, ‘how can I turn this event into an opportunity to grow?’ I narrowed it down to four areas: apply for a new role? travel the world? (Hard to do with a ban on most travel.) Set up my own business? or do an MBA? I’ve wanted to do an MBA for a long time. In my Microsoft Internship, I remember sitting with a colleague who was mid-way through their MBA and being positively impacted by their energy and excitement for the MBA course. The way they articulated and understood the bigger picture intrigued me. Following that conversation, I firmly placed the desire to do an MBA onto my things I would like to do in the future list.
If I am being very honest, I was a little naïve to the process of getting into an MBA programme. So, when I realized I not only had to do an entrance exam but there was also a section heavily weighted on maths, I was a little concerned. It had been so long since I had encountered any of these types of math. With six weeks to prepare for the executive assessment, I had a small moment of doubt. Had I left it too late to get up-to-speed and achieve the standard required in such a short time?
If I didn’t pass the entry exams, I knew that the decision to return home could be the wrong decision and the year I had set-aside to complete the MBA could be an ambiguous time. I also knew that to wait another year before joining the MBA class was not a realistic option.
Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.William Shakespeare
So, with no time to lose, I began receiving Math tutoring 3 times a week for 3 weeks until I returned to Ireland. During this same period, I was preparing to leave Dubai. Rental agreements needed to be closed, belongings that could not be re-patriated needed to be disposed of and banking and visa requirements all needed attention. Most importantly, I needed to say goodbye to friends and colleagues. These 3 weeks were hectic and challenging on many fronts.
Having arrived back in Ireland, I still was not feeling fully confident in the math section of the executive assessment. I tried the mock online and I knew I needed to find more help. I secured lessons with a professor: 2 hours of teaching per day, for 5 days, every morning, right up to the exam.
Why am I telling you all this you might be wondering?
The executive assessment exam for me was an early lesson in overcoming my limiting beliefs. I had to keep an open mind, tackle my weaknesses front-on, know when to ask for help, and map out a clear process to enable me to succeed. These same skills continued to help me throughout the first semester of the MBA, which, thanks to the complications of COVID-19, was not the easiest start. I have thoroughly settled into and am enjoying the course. I have been able to build relationships with my fellow students and lecturers and hope to strengthen these even further as time goes on.
Funnily enough, and to my surprise, some of the subjects I have found the most interesting are maths-based: management accounting, financial statement analysis, and economics. Overcoming my limiting beliefs allowed me to go into subjects with an open mind, ask questions, and remain curious.
As I reflect over the past few months I remember an article that I wrote back in April, one month into the pandemic. I had just started watching Game of Thrones. In this scene, one of the characters (Ygritte) is sharpening and fine-tuning her bow & arrows amid a great storm. Her friend Tormund looks to her and says, ‘we could be here for a while; there is no need to rush with making arrows, come for a drink.’ Her response: “Good, the longer we wait, the more arrows I’ll have.” This is what stood out to me in Game of Thrones and this is what I hope the pandemic (our own storm) is for me. I hope to take what I learned in conquering the maths section of the GMAT and, at the end of my MBA, come back out to the market with my skills sharpened.
Career success is not about being employed but being employable. Change is the only constant in life and does not have to define us. A true test of character is how we react when it does.
—Conor Hyland, FTMBA Class of 2021