They are the four words that seem to be circulating in my thoughts, over and over again. In the morning, while the rest of my family is sleeping and at night, when I’m trying to get to sleep and reminding myself that I’ve built a multimillion-dollar company that serves clients around the globe. What. Am. I. Doing? Instead of counting sheep, I decide to count my achievements. Always good at multitasking, I figure I will build up my confidence as I attempt to lure myself back into slumber. But no, the question lingers…
What. Am. I. Doing?
What I’m doing is embarking on one the most frightening things I’ve ever done. At age 50 (yes, I turned 50 this year), I am going back to school to earn my MBA. I’m not sure what part is scarier; it could be the accounting exam I have looming on September 26th, or it might be that the average age in the class is 39. Let’s not leave out the commitment to homework after working 10 hours running my business or picking out my “first day of school” outfit for my first class. All of these reasons are hovering between a whole lot of crazy and just plum terrifying.
Let’s go back to the basics and the “W’s” in an attempt to make sense of this adventure.
First the “Why”: Why would someone who has written seven books-with another coming out next Spring- want to commit to college calculus, finance and statistics? There are several reasons. I’ve always wondered, would learning come easier as an adult? You might be thinking what I’ve asked myself several nights this week, “Couldn’t you just audit a college course to find out?” I could, but then I wouldn’t be earning the MBA that I’ve always thought about adding to my resume. Which leads me to “Why an MBA”? Two reasons. I have spent 30 years in the work place listening to young brand managers try to impress me with their B-school degree. I remember working in a corporate headquarters environment a few years ago as a hired consultant and every single 30-something manager I met introduced themselves with their name followed by where they earned their MBA. No lie. Ironically, they were all laid off the following week, but that had nothing to do with their B school allegiance.
Again, it’ s my curiosity that has gotten the best of me. I’ve always wondered what they knew that I didn’t because it didn’t seem like much, but I want to find out. Lastly and most importantly, the reason I want to earn my MBA is that some day I would like to teach college courses. Call it my next career move, but I’ve always enjoyed working with younger marketing enthusiasts and the world of academia is calling me.
Next the Where: Believe it or not, this was big for me. When I was a high school senior trying to select a college, I passed up acceptances to several elite, private schools. Instead, I followed my high school sweetheart to Florida State. It was a great school and I made great friends. But it was his choice, not mine and ultimately I wasn’t his choice in life. (Note to self: I got the better end of that deal all the way around.) This time, I gave myself permission to choose whatever college program I wanted to attend. I did my research. I talked to peers. I thought about the people I’ve met in life from various institutions, because after all, it’s the people that matter after the classes are done. My heart and experiences led me to select the University of Notre Dame. Being forced to cheer for Notre Dame football for the last 23 years of marriage may have had something to do with it. Before my South Florida friends think I’m moving to Indiana, the program will require me to travel to South Bend, Indiana once a month for the next 20 months. Not a stretch compared to my normal travel schedule.
Now for the Who: As in “Who has inspired me to do this now”? This is the easiest answer. My children. I’ve had the opportunity that every mother dreams of during the last two years. I’ve been able to sit back and watch my children follow their passions and thrive while doing it. Unlike a lot of parents, I didn’t send my three oldest off to college to figure out their likes and dislikes and discover the path they want to travel in life. No, I sent off three ambitious and eager students who grabbed on to their dreams and haven’t let go. Proud mom moment is coming. Madison, my oldest daughter, attends Clemson University and follows her passion of helping others by traveling to third world countries every summer to immerse herself in building houses for the poor. She is majoring in Spanish and International Health so that she can continue her work abroad after graduation. Owen, my oldest son, is at West Point following his dream to “do great things” as he told me when he was 16. My younger son Keenan, who spent his freshman year at the University of Missouri studying and working as a Student Coach, made the difficult decision to transfer to his dream school. He did it, but more on that in a minute. Even my youngest has discovered her passion for performing while in high school. She not only won the Talent Show and sang Adele a cappella in front of the entire student body three weeks into her freshman year, but also performed in two plays with significant roles. Watching my children inspired me to keep pushing forward rather than kicking back at 50.
What For: Are you Serious? This is one of the craziest parts of my story. Yet another round of What. Am. I. Doing? Remember my son Keenan and his acceptance to his dream school? Apparently, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because we shared the same dream. Keenan will also be a student at Notre Dame. Isn’t that every 19-year-old’s dream, to go to college with his mother in tow? I’ve promised him I won’t knock on his door nor will I call out to him when I see him across the quad. Nor will I expect to sit with him at football games. Nope, he’s there and I’m here. We have agreed that a monthly dinner might be in order if the study schedule permits. Truth be known, Keenan was accepted into Notre Dame the morning that I touched down in South Bend for my interview with the admissions team. I even asked his permission to confirm my acceptance. You get the idea. A mother always puts her needs and desires behind those of her children- a lesson I’ve learned since the last time I attended college.
It doesn’t come naturally to go back to school at 50. For instance, the day I called Florida State University to get my undergraduate transcript and gave the name Maria Bailey. The nice person on the phone informed me that no Maria Bailey graduated in 1986. And after several minutes and three calls, I realized Maria Bailey didn’t exist in 1986, but a Maria Telli did! Then there’s the Notre Dame Medical form that is required for admission. Have you tried to find your vaccination records lately? It’s been 35 years since I’ve seen my shot records. Mumps, measles and all the rest, I know I had them but coming up with a piece of paper that said so wasn’t easy. A lot has changed since I last stepped foot in a classroom as a student. I can now size up my classmates on Facebook before entering the classroom, I don’t have to call home and ask my dad to deposit money in my checking account (although I wish I could) and if I want to have a beer, I can do so legally.
So, What. Am. I. Doing? Well, I can tell you what I hope I’m doing. I hope I am setting an example for my children, my friends, for strangers who read my blog or follow me on Twitter that it’s never too late to follow a dream or challenge yourself. I hope I’m creating new opportunities for myself professionally and personally. I hope to tackle those standard deviations without fail.
Yes, I’m afraid of Assets=Liabilities + Equity, but what I’ve discovered laying in the dark is that the drive to accomplish a big dream is far stronger an emotion than the fear I might feel in embarking on the journey.
You can follow my journey on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll be using #MBA@50.