Tomorrow, I Graduate

by Emily Jasper on May 10, 2012

Tomorrow, I will graduate from Virginia Tech’s MBA program. When I left the working world two years ago, I didn’t know what I would expect the world to look like when I finished. Would the economy have improved? How much would technology change? Could I ease back into the workforce as if I had never left?

Were the last two years worth it?

Not every day can people just walk away for two years to pursue something indulgently. For some, school is indulgent. In this day and age, will an MBA really make you more valuable, allow you to contribute more? I’d like to think so.

A lesson I learned while in school is that you have to work on yourself if you want to work hard for others. By “others,” I do not mean your boss or “the man,” but I mean your family, friends, community, and society. Your accomplishments may be for you, but often they impact others. If you want to provide a good life for your child, you have to work on yourself to do it.

If I hadn’t come back to school, I don’t know if I would have gotten that lesson. I benefited from the fishbowl of student life, knowing I had time to explore a little philosophy when cramming for exams and hashing through 45-page papers. In fact, with ethics integrated into every class, you had to stop and think: why do we do all this?

It may sound crass, but a lot of businesses exist today because of selfish leaders. They had ideas that they wanted to see grow, that they could be challenged by, and that they could bring to the world. Some may have been Harvard dropouts or kids who built computers in garages, others may have been the top of their MBA graduating class. They are people who didn’t just hope that the world would give them an opportunity to do something, instead they made the opportunity.

What makes businesses change the world are leaders who keep learning in order to facilitate that change. You have to want to learn to improve yourself if you plan on improving anything else.

Personal development might be selfish, but it’s exactly what we need. After the last two years, I have redefined “selfish”: the pursuit of goals that give me the tools I need to work hard and succeed.

Selfishness as a good thing is a foreign concept for many. In fact, as kids we are taught that you must be selfless, that it is better to help others than to help yourself. The definitions online practically drip with negative connotation: “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others; arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others.” But then why do I put on my oxygen mask on first during an in-flight emergency before helping the person next to me?

Because I have to still exist if I am going to help others.

Perhaps the difference in my definition and the perception of the world comes down to the work ethic. I want to work hard and do good work. “Seeking pleasure” implies that you want the opposite of work, that you want to be lazy. But don’t you feel pleasure and satisfaction after doing good work?

Or perhaps it is because I believe my ability to contribute to society does improve society, so therefore I do it with regard to others. There’s a balance here because I don’t work hard knowing I should improve the world for those around me, but just that it will be a natural result of my hard work.

There is never just one way to view something.

After tomorrow, I will not always have the luxury to stop and think: why do we do all this? I hope I am able to maintain disciplines of analysis and evaluation in my day-to-day work life, but we all know work is its own kind of fishbowl.

What I do know is that two years ago, I knew I needed more education to be great at what I do at work. I made the decision to pursue it, and now I am back on the path to doing great work. Back then I could make the decision to improve myself, so I think I will be able to continue to make that same decision in the future.

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