Years ago, while trying to explain how a person can be caught off guard, someone shared an analogy with me of a frog being boiled alive. The explanation of the situation was that if a person threw a frog in a pot of boiling water, the frog would immediately jump out, and the would-be cook’s future frog-leg dinner would be lost. However, if a person threw a frog into a pot of cool water and then gradually warmed the water to boiling, the frog would swim around happily until it was too late, and the frog-leg dinner would be a success.
I can empathize with that frog.
I’ve already shared on this blog my experience a couple years ago with rediscovering social enterprise and the work being done in developing markets. What I didn’t share was that I admired C.K. Prahalad’s (the late author of “The Fortune At The Bottom of The Pyramid”) expertise and imagination, and it occurred to me that there would be a lot of value in turning toward an academic career. That didn’t mean I actually wanted to do something with it. There was value in it, but there wasn’t a chance that I was right for something like research and clear academic rhetoric.
Fast forward a little more than a year, and I was a brand new student in BYU’s MBA program. I was vigorously working to learn as much as I could about the social enterprise space and trying to determine what the best way into the space would be. (Note: There is so much that I’ve learned that could be written here, and I’m hoping to catch up with it, but I have avoided putting down a lot of my thoughts, because it was looking like I was going to be getting a corporate internship, and I didn’t want to scare anybody off with my “distractions.”) The initial options I found for working directly with the BoP or starting my own social enterprise or consulting weren’t the right fit as a career, but I had observed some previous graduates entering into innovating in developing markets through multinational technological corporations. It also occurred to me that a PhD could be a strong option, because it gave me more control over my work, and it offered a solid situation for my family. I didn’t take it very seriously, but that time I did ask some colleagues about it.
At the same time, I was taking my MBA courses – courses taught by PhDs. I think I was lucky to have a set of professors that I unanimously enjoyed, and I often reflected on how much I appreciated the way they were engaged in their work and carried out the task of instructing us. Not only that, it occurred to me that I would enjoy teaching, and I thought I would be good at it. It didn’t really matter whether I was right about that or not. The thought was back.
It was about this time that I realized there was probably something up – the water around me was warming up.
I followed up with one of my professors (Dr. Curtis Lebaron) with some questions about my career, and it was during that conversation that the idea of a PhD was first brought up and entertained as legitimate. Dr. Lebaron asked me what kind of career options I was thinking of, and I shared some details about my goals and what I thought I could do, and then I told him that I’d even thought of a PhD, but I didn’t give that idea any real traction. I told him how I just couldn’t see how I could be a PhD, and then I rattled off a bunch of concerns I had about myself in such a role. They didn’t phase him a bit. He just smiled and said that he didn’t think I would have a problem at all – if that’s what I wanted to do of course.
That little bit of encouragement was actually pretty startling. I really hadn’t expected anybody to write me down as a PhD candidate. I’d been a salesman – persuasive communicator – for years, not a well-articulated deep-thinking academic. I was excited about making the world a better place, but it was going to be my enthusiasm and work ethic and drive that changed the world, not my ability to come up with the next big breakthrough in business theory. At least that’s how I saw it then.
Not only was I concerned about my own fit as a PhD, the fact is that going through a PhD would mean taking my family so far “backwards”, as I saw it, that I couldn’t even fathom the idea at all. A significant force for reducing the stresses on my family was focusing on making our home comfortable and inviting and having our family in one of the best neighborhoods on earth. A PhD would mean packing an active and growing family with 3 kids into a tiny house and a guarantee that I was going to be explaining at some point to my kids, especially my oldest son, why dad had taken them from comfort and friends to cramped quarters, toys that couldn’t be repaired, second-hand sports equipment, and a new school. At least that’s how I had seen it before, but the little bits of preparation I’d had prior to talking with Dr. Lebaron had taken that edge off, warmed up with water I’d been swimming in if you will, and my defenses were down. For better or for worse, I didn’t say no to a PhD. My family was doomed.
A month or so later the PhD finally started taking a very realistic place in my career path decision. One prominent factor was a pre-PhD information session that was put on by the faculty. I didn’t find out about this until later, but the secret sauce that PhDs use to entice students into the career path is the most fantastic sounding family life you’ll ever discover. That information session was covered in secret sauce, and I ate it up. I learned a lot about the career path and the demands of a PhD too, and by this time I was in so deep that I really wasn’t putting up a fight any more. Shortly after the information session, I went to talk with another of my professors Dr. Dan Snow to bounce the idea of a PhD off of him – an idea that I was now realistically considering. Dr. Snow was encouraging again, he really only had good to say about the opportunity and my ideas for it, and he wished me the best while I figured things out. That was good enough for me. I was two for two in professors giving me a thumbs up, and I was considering that enough of a vote of confidence that the option of a PhD was now a very strong contender for a career path.
A contender?! Seriously?!
To my wife and friends I imagine this was something like watching a jaded left-wing hipster friend take off for a couple months and return wearing an Izod shirt, Dockers and penny loafers and listening to Glenn Beck. Well, something like that. The change just begs the question: what on earth happened?
The reality is that while I had come a long way, and my awareness had changed a lot in a very short time, there was still a long way to go to make a decision. I’ll probably talk more about the actual decision (making the difficult choice took more time and skill than I would have expected) a little bit later. Right now I just want to stress that it took me another two months to read info on PhDs, to visit companies that I was interested in, to talk with my wife, to talk with my professors, to get my wife to talk with my professors’ wives and the rest of my career path due diligence. I think it’s also worth noting that I did a lot of learning about myself and how I make decisions during that time.
The decision has now been made, and if the subtext wasn’t clear, my wife and I have decided that a PhD will be best. I’m really pleased with the decision, and I’m excited by how closely it fits with all of my goals. It hasn’t been easy (I just sent an email to one of the best contacts I’ve ever made who was bending over backwards in ways that would have made a Chinese acrobat jealous to get me into the company I was most excited in. I can tell you that it seriously makes you question your sanity when you find yourself turning away from success at the same time you’re finding it.), but I’m confident the decision is right.
What’s so fascinating to me is how rewarding this experience of being “boiled” has been for me. This wasn’t an easy decision – it hurt to make it, and it’s going to be painful to a certain extent to adjust. I guarantee you if somebody had told me at the beginning of my MBA that I had to make a choice about a PhD or a professional career right at that time, I would have chose the professional career immediately without even thinking. The decision was just way too “hot”. Now, after swimming around in this gradually boiling pot, I’m really pleased to be where I am. I guess you could say that if there was a frog who was really happy about being a frog-leg dinner, I’m that frog. Once I was deep into the possibility of deciding on being an academic, I would have felt irresponsible turning away from something that had such great possibilities for allowing me to achieve my goals for my career and taking care of my family. I had to see it through, and I’ve discovered that seeing it through was a brilliant exercise in learning how I value my own work and my family and how to approach critical decisions. The decision process was painful, but it was right to go through it. The decision itself was somewhat painful, but it was right to make it.
I can empathize with the boiled frog, and the experience was transforming for both of us. I’d like to think that the results for my life will be a spectacular “dinner” made of success.
(The following is an article I wrote for the BYU MBA newsletter Student Wire. Cheers. – Christian)
When I wake up today, I’m a 31 year old MBA student-husband-father-friend-classmate with possibly overly divided attentions, a growing list of personal successes, an also growing list of mistakes and awkward ideas, and a rolling list of to-dos that just seems to exist no matter how much effort I put into eliminating it. I’m ambitious. I expect myself to make a difference. I want to contribute valuable insights and work. I want the next moment to be my best moment. I hope the last less-than-my-best moment will go away quietly.
I’m thrilled with this knowledge-building, friendship-gaining, connection-finding, experience-gathering opportunity. I’m also exhausted by it. I’m enjoying this experience, and I expect I’m going to get better at it, but, in the meantime, all of these roles and goals and activities are putting a lot of miles on me.
And that got me thinking again about what I’m doing to keep me going.
A while ago I found that I had to be a lot more careful about what I ate and how much I slept in order to be clear and engaged in my work. It wasn’t that I was suddenly motivated to turn myself into some superhuman gladiator capable of conquering anything I came in contact with. These changes were to just keep up.
I assumed I was getting old, and it was now my job to make sure I didn’t fall apart.
Recently, it occurred to me that needing to eat and sleep better might have less to do with being “old” than I had thought. While looking over a sports car, it dawned on me that the high-performance vehicle required special motor oils, the highest quality fuel, and special tuning in order to function properly. If the car didn’t get those necessities, then it would actually function worse than its less than sporty commuter-class counterparts.
The light went on, and I suddenly realized (rationalized) that I wasn’t getting old, instead, after growing up as a commuter-class “me” that could deal with irregular maintenance and lower quality fuels, I had somewhere transformed into a high-performance “me” that would accept nothing less than the best to manage this high-performance lifestyle I was living.
I know I’m not the only one balancing the student, family, friend, job-hunter, success, failure, feeling-found, feeling-lost lifestyle, and I believe I’m not the only one who’s suffering from “high-performance” maintenance requirements. So, I hope all of you are also enjoying this MBA experience, and I encourage you to keep diving in where you see fit, and, if you’re feeling like this experience is making you age quickly, I suggest to you that you see it instead as refining you into a high-performance machine that needs special maintenance and care, and then continue maintaining yourself accordingly.
I enjoy speed – and not just any speed, but speed that has one right at the edge of their ability to perceive their surrounding because everything is coming so fast.
I remember going dirt-biking with my Dad many times as a teenager. Whenever I had the chance, I loved to just “open up” the bike and push it as fast as it could go (at least that’s how I remember it). Later on I would take up snowboarding, and, again, I would often just point the board down the hill and enjoy the feeling of the snow flying under my board, nudging and pulling at its edges as I navigated the trails and passed over the varied terrain and consistencies.
Sometimes these experiences were literally nearing on transcendental. Sometimes these experiences were more transformative – like transforming a perfectly good thumb or wrist or ankle into a not-so-working thumb or wrist or ankle. I’m not sure that anybody can spend much time hanging on the very edge of their own ability for control without a crash here and there, and I had a few. Thankfully, though, the crashes were rare, and the experiences were far more often positive and genuinely thrilling.
I’m not a scientist, and I haven’t sat down and done a bunch of research on the anatomical changes that happen during such an experience, but I can say navigating a trail at speeds so high that details came at me almost faster than I could really consciously process them would lead to a sort of heightened awareness. Each moment was happening a little more clearly and each sensation was just a little more tangible. Also, not only would I complete the experience with a feeling of having completed a difficult challenge, but I would walk away feeling excited and invigorated and, in some ways, recharged.
How does this apply to an MBA?
Being an MBA student at BYU, and I’m sure many other programs as well, is an adrenalin rush!
The last four weeks have been fantastic. I’m really proud to be a student in BYU’s MBA program, and I could go on and on about the many positives of each of the faculty.
I could also go on and on, and it seems that so could the faculty, about how much there is to do as an MBA student.
BYU’s MBA program moves fast – really fast, and I’m finding myself right in the middle of a very similar experience to those I had while hanging onto the handlebars of a motorcycle or while flying down a snowy mountain. There is a lot of information coming at me, and it’s coming at me very fast. Thankfully, I don’t think my schooling is going to be leading to any broken bones (although the faceplant I did while hurrying up the stairs the other day brought me uncomfortably close), but there is definitely a feeling of being on the edge of my ability. And I’m grateful for it. Right now I’m being pushed significantly in my ability to manage a tight schedule, to digest large amounts of information, to find the right balance of education and extra-curricular, to network and look for a job, and to contribute back to the program and my peers.
It’s a little dizzying.
It reminds me of a nut or screw being turned tight. At first they are very loose and quite wobbly, but, as the nut or screw is turned in further, there is a lot less wobble and give until it is finally tight. I’m finding myself spinning a little bit right now, but I’m learning very quickly, and every day I’m getting a little tighter and little more sure.
It is a bit of a rush.
Because there is so much to learn, and the pace of the work is so fast, I’m finding myself challenged, and I’m quickly having to learn ways to better work with my team, to better manage my own time, and to find ways to effectively prioritize. It may not be exactly the same as being intensely focused on making a couple quick turns on a race track or on making sure an edge doesn’t catch wrong in the snow, but the need to raise my awareness is very much the same, and I’m already finding that the reward of satisfaction and excitement is too.
In fact, the experience has been, and I expect it will continue to be, rather transcendent.
I’ve been wondering for a while now what people were thinking of my informational interview approach and how much it mattered that I’m still coming across as rather green on many of the subjects I’m digging into. I still feel like some of my questions could be better prepared (kind of a “get to the point” scenario), and my responses sometime feel a little long, and some of my questions were getting responses that seemed to have an apathetic not-sure-what-he’s-asking tone. The last thing I want to do is make the person I’m interviewing feel like they have to ask me to be clear or say that they don’t understand what I’m asking.
I received some welcome insight today when the person I was interviewing told me, after responding to a question about the clarity of my explanation of my background and interests, how they go about approaching informational interviews, included how important it is that I spend more time practicing getting my story clear and concise with alumni and other “more patient” sources. They then recommended that I send my resume for them to look over before they were willing to give me any information of more persons to talk to.
Subtle and effective and much welcomed.
I’ve been looking forward to this.
At this point I imagine myself somewhat like a performer practicing and preparing for some imaginary audience. This is my first post. I’ve told my wife, my parents and a couple friends at school about Time In. There probably isn’t a large group of people about to read this tomorrow, but I still imagine my words reaching eyes, and I’m definitely writing to a group here. I intend for the content to be top notch and engaging, and I hope you enjoy it.
Let’s go then.
Here’s a thought related to my MBA:
I find that I don’t have much time for television, but I do find a bit of a guilty pleasure in the reality T.V. show, America’s Got Talent. Thank goodness for Hulu. The show displays some absolutely jaw dropping acts. The gist of my interest is that it puts two elements together that I really enjoy: One is the opportunity to see feats, skills and creativity performed at a level above the norm. The second is that the contestants are in an extremely challenging situation where they are going to have to stay very focused to make it to the end. The contestants are each fantastic, but so are a lot of other people around them, and they have to battle through a lot of uncertainty while continuing to practice and sacrifice, and it’s fascinating to me to observe the ones that rise to the challenge.
For example: Jeremy Vanschoonhoven from Talent, OR. He’s a trials bicyclist who decided to make a show combining the challenge of completing his course on stage and also the suspense the audience feels for his well-being. He’s already explained how he’s given up all other distractions to make sure that he was completely focused on practicing for the stunts he performs on the show. As a result, he’s performed stunning acts, and he’s gone to the finals. However, he almost didn’t. In the semifinals, during his rehearsal, he missed a stunt jump from about 10-15 feet up, and crashed badly resulting in a gash to his head, stitches in his elbow and an injury to his hip that made it difficult to stand. He decided to perform anyway. His pain showed during the live show, and he even missed a rather basic trick because his arm pain was making it hard to hang on to his bike. This is where it got awesome. He kept going. If you followed the link, you saw that he jumped his bike all the way to the top of this wild apparatus about 10-15 feet in the air, and then he jumped back down doing the same trick perfectly that he had crashed on so miserably earlier the same day. That was courage. That was also the result of sheer determination and focus and clear unrelenting practice. Now Jeremy isn’t my favorite act (If you’re one of my imagined readers that is actually reading this and wants to know who my favorite is, then ask me in the comments.), but he did stand out tonight as admirable.
I’ll bring this back to the MBA.
Here at school I’m among a multitude (300+ is a multitude when there’s this much talent) of very talented students who are all focused on achieving a significant goal. I can’t imagine that I’m going to go this next two years without “falling” a couple times. I do believe, however, that much of my own personal innovation will happen when I have to “get back up”. Balancing the networking for an internship and balancing my schoolwork is not going to be easy. I’m confident that I can do it, though. I’ve already had the privilege of working in a fantastic team that has significantly improved my own learning ability, and where, against all odds, it appears I might have made a couple helpful contributions myself. This is an uncertain time for a lot of us, but I have no doubt that we are going to be able to do it. We, the students, have already expressed our own confidence in our selves by enrolling, and the faculty has expressed there confidence in us many times as well. At this point, I don’t think that there is much question of whether or not we’re going to make through. The real question is what kind of grace, dignity and determination were are going to exercise throughout the process, and then what the quality of our award will be when we are finished.
To the Class of 2012: Here’s to the next 2 years!
To anybody else interested (imagined audience or otherwise), here’s to making a positive impact wherever we go.