The Obstacle on the Path Becomes the Path

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. 

Four smiling people in front of a wood wall featuring the LinkedIn logo in lights
Working with one of our growing customers in Dubai. 

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. 

A young bearded man in a business suit speaks, holding a microphone, on a platform in a hotel ballroom.
Board member of the Irish Business Network Dubai presenting to members 

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. 

Back home in ireland – for weekly Sunday swims at the 40Ft

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

Life is What You Make It

We have had a bit of a rough go as of late and, quite frankly, things are not looking up as we round out 2020. A global pandemic is once again forcing us into our homes, cutting us off from the people and things that we hold dear. Brexit threatens to destabilize the Eurozone, both economically and otherwise. The outcome of the United States’ presidential election could change so many things in regards to how the free Western world lives its life. Yet in all of this, there are still amazing things about the time that we are living through.

Twelve Hours and Five Minutes is a LOT of Zoom.

After yet another day on Zoom, this time for GNAM week, I decided to take a bicycle ride down to the strand in Sandymount. I have found that, whenever possible, sitting for a while by the ocean acts as a sort of reset button. I am able to check out from being constantly connected and process all of the input that is relentlessly being thrown my way. As I set my bicycle down and found a bench to call home for a few moments, a rainbow appeared over Dublin Bay. I took a picture, reflected on what was in front of me and realized this: There are opportunities wherever you look; it is up to you to see them.

Rainbow over Dublin Bay & the Poolbeg Chimneys

Through all of the chatter and noise in this unprecedented time, there are a plethora of opportunities to seek beauty, spark curiosity, and connect with the people around us. We are in a beautiful, historic city with so much to offer, even if we are not able to take advantage of everything at the present time. The Smurfit campus is a stone’s throw away from both a global city centre and the Dublin mountains. We are a short, relatively inexpensive airplane ride away from the entirety of Western Europe. Most importantly, we are now connected with 36 other people who are from a diverse set of backgrounds, from around the globe. It is easy to look at the negative regarding our current situation, but the reality is that there will be a post-COVID era. We will all go back to work, the pub, and whatever else we feel like getting ourselves into.

Fall colours and low stone walls along Dublin’s Ailesbury Road

And that is exactly where we all need to focus as the days get shorter and the temperature falls. When things open up for good, what restaurants do you want to try? What things around town are you going to do? Who do you want to go out for drinks with? Where are you going to book your summer holiday? A time when we can laugh together seems so far off into the future, but it actually isn’t. By the end of this lockdown, we will be at Christmas. After that, straight into the spring semester, and before you realize, it will be Easter. 

Students sitting in the sunshine outside a bright red pub, back in simpler days.

We have the opportunity to leverage this experience to our benefit, no matter what the external circumstances are surrounding the experience. It is going to be up to us to find the ways in which we can best do that; we just might have to look a bit harder.

Andrew Hodnicki, FTMBA Class of 2021

Virtual Connectivity, the New Handshakes

As a member of the UCD Smurfit FTMBA class, I am part of a cohort of 37 brilliant individuals who have all come here with the same ambition: to build a wonderful network of smart, talented, and inquisitive leaders for the future, who will challenge each other intellectually at every step of this MBA journey. Many of us left our home countries for the opportunity to network in-person with others from all over the world. Unfortunately, we could not foresee the momentum in which things went from classroom to Zoom calls. In the midst of the pandemic environment, the Irish government has put new restrictions in place and classes went completely online, taking away the opportunity to connect with my colleagues in person, which is one of the major learning curves I wanted to experience while at Smurfit. 

However, we believe that this time of isolation brings a unique opportunity to grow together as a community, to find meaningful activities to partake in, and to ultimately come out stronger.  Some of us decided to make the best of what we have. Thanks to a few, we were able to coordinate a mini bowling session and also go on a day-hike around the Howth cliff. These get togethers were the most blissful moments in the initial course of my life in Dublin. 

The Howth Cliff Walk: Special thanks to the Irish Weather for favouring us with a sunny day

Now here I am, halfway through my GNAM week with IE business school, Spain. In typical years, The Global Network for Advanced Management provides each MBA candidate from 32 Business Schools to come under one roof and experience world-class facilities and engage in riveting discussions. While most schools offered conventional subjects, I found IE’s approach to discuss COVID’s impact on Europe and its re-emergence more captivating, especially it is by no exaggeration the hottest topic in the planet right now. 

On my first day at GNAM, I got introduced to the members of my team, who were connecting from Germany, China, Chile, Canada, and Turkey–that’s pretty much stretched across the map from east to west–and made it even more difficult for us to settle for a convenient time-slot to discuss after class. But that’s the challenge GNAM had to offer: to connect and develop a rapport with those brilliant individuals in the short stretch of time. 

Spanish Tortillas in the making – the IE GNAM Culinary Session

GNAM is not all about the classroom interactions; it offers an unique opportunity to understand and experience a new culture and connect on an emotional front. In one of the afternoon sessions, the current MBA students of IE went one step ahead to provide the international students with an opportunity to experience Spanish cuisine. We were invited to a Spanish cooking class on “how to make a Tortilla”, via Zoom. The whole event was carried out so gracefully by Calottina and Mikaela, that I was lip-smacking just looking at the finished dish over the video call. It gave me a platform to connect with the students in a more relaxed domain. We even had a virtual DJing and entrepreneurial talk event, from one of the IE Alumni. 

Although I am thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to connect with peers from different parts of the world, the mere thought of how the whole week would have turned out in person brings an ambivalent state of emotions. I could only wish if COVID had been just a conspiracy diegesis from a Tarantino movie, and I wish I was in Madrid now, sharing the class with them, enjoying the flamenco nights and munching through croquettes, while gazing over “Mercado de la cebada”. 

During this highly unprecedented moment in time, there is still so much to get excited about. These are difficult times we are facing, but I believe the power of our coterie can keep us in a positive frame of mind. Let’s all try to find more of our inner self and find happiness in these moments we are together. Let’s all travel, learn and evolve together, and be hopeful about the brighter times ahead. 

As the saying goes, 

“The greater your storm, the brighter your rainbow.”

Avinash Jayan, FTMBA class of 2021