November 21 2016
120 Days as an EMBA Student, 5 Lessons Learned
It’s hard for me to believe that I’m already 120 days—give or take—into my Cornell Executive MBA Metro NY experience. This time last year, I was attending the open house in the Palisades trying to decide if this was the right program for me and figuring out how my life would change. Three months later, I got the phone call that I was accepted, and five months after that I was stepping off the Cornell Campus-to-Campus bus in Ithaca ready to meet my classmates and embark on a new adventure. Now I’ve nearly finished my first term.
Many of you are probably weighing your options: Should you do an executive MBA? Which program is right for you? What will your day-to-day be like if you’re working and studying? Is it worth it?
I can’t answer the first two questions for you, but I can share some lessons from my first days as an EMBA student that may shed some light on the last two questions.
Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize
Ok, so this lesson probably isn’t a surprise, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is. The bottom line is that your time is limited and an EMBA is a commitment. If you’re going to make that investment, you want to make sure that you’re getting something out of it—and that means giving it the time it deserves. For me, happy hours after work were replaced with study sessions with friends. My limited free time is spent with my boyfriend, family, and friends who couldn’t be more supportive. I constantly carry textbooks and readings with me so I can use my commute and any unexpected down time to study. You’ll find that you actually have more time than you think, but you have to prioritize. I won’t steal his thunder, but Professor Juran has an analogy he shares in one of the first Statistics classes in Ithaca that captures this perfectly.
Life Doesn’t Stop—Don’t Try to Hit Pause
Acknowledging what I just said about prioritization, it’s also important to recognize that your life isn’t going to stop. You’re in this program for two years, and there’s no way to hit pause on everything around you. I may have taken this to an extreme because I’ve juggled finding and starting a new job, moving 300 miles to a new city, and my brother getting married during the start of my EMBA. But I’m not alone in this. My classmates have had their first kids, gotten married, and run marathons in New York and Chicago. You have to find balance, and…
Ask for Help!
You have an EMBA team for a reason. Hopefully, you also have very supportive and understanding families, friends, partners, colleagues, bosses, etc. around you. You cannot do this on your own. Like I said, life happens and sometimes you’re going to have busy weeks or months. You need an EMBA team that is going to step up to help if you’re going through a rough period at work or personally—and you need to be that person for your team, too. Asking for help can be uncomfortable, but it’s a lesson that Cornell tries to teach you early in the program. One of your first activities in Ithaca during the first residential session is a ropes course with Cornell Outdoor Education. Many of the challenges on the course require you to ask for help or else you can’t be successful. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is a critical lesson that rings true every day.
I would imagine some of the reasons you’re thinking about getting an EMBA are to expand your network, learn from others, and fill in knowledge gaps. But you’ve also been working for a while, and you’ve probably fallen into the trap of consciously or unconsciously labelling yourself and others. Approach the EMBA experience with an open mind. You’re going to find that you’re better at some things (and worse at others!) than you expected. I’ve already found new skills and interests, as well as some career paths that clearly aren’t for me. Your classmates are going to have diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. Like any team or group, you’ll probably gravitate toward some people more than others. But Cornell does an amazing job of putting together a diverse class. Take advantage of that! Be curious, ask questions, and talk with different groups of people.
Remember Why You’re Doing This—and Have FUN!
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have that Sunday morning when your friends are at brunch while you’re working through your umpteenth accounting FSET and you may wonder what you’re doing. Remember that you had a reason for pursuing an MBA and you have an incredible group of people around you who are striving for the same goal. Make time with them on Saturdays in the Palisades to have fun. Go out for dinner, catch a yoga class, grab a drink at the Blu Lounge.
Enjoy the experience because I can already tell you that yes, it’s worth it.
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