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Business Education Having it all figured out isn’t necessary, but having a vision is

Tichina Beaton is an MBA student at Smith School of Business in Kingston.

Greg Black

Tichina Beaton is an MBA candidate and Sobey Scholar in the class of 2019 at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business in Kingston. She is also a soon-to-be senior consultant at Ernst & Young in Toronto. Prior to her enrolment in the MBA, Ms. Beaton spent her career working in residential and commercial real estate, financial services, and e-commerce for Toronto-based startup Poppys Collection. This is her first blog for MBA Diary.

I recall hearing that people pursue an MBA because they are either running away from or toward something, and that if you’re in the former category you ought to re-evaluate. While there is surely some truth to this statement, given the hefty investment of an MBA, I want to dispel the myth that you should have it all figured out before you enroll. That’s not true of education, and that’s not true of life.

In business, if you wait for absolute certainty, you’ll often miss market opportunities. In life, it’s much the same. When I was 23, I took a chance. I packed three bags, declared to the world I then inhabited – my small hometown of Gander, Nfld. – that I was going on “vacation” and left for Toronto.

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I had no job lined up but was confident in my ability to secure one quickly. With some savings and a friend who offered to have me stay with her, I set a schedule to job hunt from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To reinforce online applications, I ventured to office buildings to hand out résumés. I received instructions to “go online” and I was met by many strange looks – the thought unfathomable to the person greeting me at reception that I would try to gain facetime with a potential employer.

In one instance, I was certain the move hurt me rather than helped me. But I kept trying. With persistence, I secured a job within a few weeks. I unpacked my bags and officially changed my address. I didn’t know it then, but I was building the important skill of navigating through ambiguity to find opportunity.

As time passed, doors opened; the challenge became knowing which doors would lead to even greater opportunities. I believe in network effects and the idea that, if you come by it honestly with a genuine interest in learning from others, people help people move forward.

Despite this belief, it was tough to live this practice. I wrestled with anonymity, a staple of big city living. The canopy of steel and glass buildings rising above sidewalks filled with fast-walking and -talking business professionals was a far cry from the feeling of community I had grown up with in my neighbourhood.

Luckily, my belief and old habits surfaced. I always made it a point to ask others their story and this led to varied perspectives that informed my decisions and very meaningful relationships – a client who gave me the true entrepreneurial experience I’d hoped for, a client’s husband who guided me through the value of an MBA, and an East Coaster and fellow MBA Sobey Scholar from Smith who helped me unlock the financial resources that would allow me to study at a reputable school, just to name a few.

When I had my first interview at Smith, I told them I wanted to specialize in entrepreneurship. It looked like I had it all figured out. In reality, I wasn’t entirely certain who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do.

I was interested in consulting – however, coming off the launch of a new business gave me incentive to explore. In hindsight, I wish I had just spoken my truth: I was looking for a vehicle to a career that would help me learn, grow, be challenged, and be happy. I had a vision. I knew I wanted to work in business and surround myself with people who were smarter than me, who could push me to be a better me and would help me define and find success.

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I knew my strength – building relationships – and I wanted to find a role where I could leverage this. I wasn’t 100-per-cent sure of my end game, but I had a vision and drive to figure it out. The funny thing is, after the start of the program, once we had broken down walls and built rapport, I discovered that about 80 per cent of classmates shared these same sentiments.

The MBA is about learning. Learning who you are, what you want to become, how you want to spend your days, and who you want to spend them with. We learned the technical stuff, too – accounting principles, problem-solving, strategy, and economics – but all of this happens in the background of the personal transformation that’s at work in the foreground. I was thoroughly surprised by how much intangible skills mattered to my MBA experience.

For those considering furthering their education, I can tell you that a “just get the job” attitude won’t yield the best outcomes from your MBA, especially in a team-based program such as Smith’s. Collaborating means considering that others may not know the material as well as you do.

Learning how to effectively run a meeting and distribute work are great skills that will serve you well in business. You realize this quite quickly after sleepless nights and project rewrites. You will also learn how to balance opposing leadership styles, and discover your own.

One very valuable lesson I learned was how to approach an underperforming teammate and navigate conflict in a way that is still going to ensure the other person shows up in the morning with the work done. It was tough, but that’s reflective of the real work world. I would argue that these soft skills are what I’ll use and remember the most from my MBA.

There are many programs to choose from, so my advice to anyone is to examine what you want your life to look like and map out your vision – you may discover that an MBA is the vehicle to get you there. If you know the exact job you want, that’s awesome. Write that down.

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But, if you’re like me, who wasn’t 100-per-cent sure, don’t stop writing. Start with what type of projects you want to work on. Do you want to be an expert in something, or know a little bit about everything? How much variety do you need in your day? Do you want to face clients, or are you more of an independent worker? And what work culture and values matter the most to you? In my opinion, having it all figured out isn’t necessary, but having a vision is.

Students interested in contributing to MBA Diary and EMBA Diary can contact project editor jbrooke@globeandmail.com.

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