“Why in the world are you going back to school at this point in your life? I couldn’t do it!”
I heard this many times during the nearly 4 years I spent taking online classes nights and weekends to get my MBA Plus at Gardner-Webb University. All this while working a full time job during the day, and I started when I was 45. Believe me, it’s not easy, and it takes serious commitment, but it can be done. But why did I do it?
Here are the 4 reasons I got my MBA while in my 40s.
1) I gave myself career options.
I needed a change. It’s that simple. The walls were closing in on me, working for a large corporation that, while great for the first 8 years, began a disturbing trend of outsourcing and pigeon-holing that convinced me to be intentional about my future. I was motivated to begin studying for the GMAT at night and investigate MBA options.
Unlike previous generations, very few mature workers perform the same job for 30 years and retire from the first company that hired them. Most workers who are nearing retirement can divide their career history into segments where they went through significant turns in their career path. Dissatisfaction, boredom, stress, layoffs and personal events lead to 1 out of 5 workers planning to make significant job change each year. Boosting your education, whether you get the support of your employer or not, will give you career options.
2) I built on my work experience.
I spent 16 years as a software engineer, 1 year as a product manager, 5 years as a manager, 3 years as a project manager and 4 years as an elected official. During that time, I was exposed to a wide variety of aspects to what I was doing, why it mattered to my managers, how it impacted customers and how I could make a difference. I learned the machinations of the world of business by experience, and greatly desired to understand why so many things were done the way they were.
From the moment I cracked the spine of my first text book until I turned in my final term paper, I found every chapter somehow relatable to my quiver of experience arrows. Reading textbooks had never been so interesting as when I had “Ah ha!” moments every couple of pages. Doing assignments was never so easy as it was drawing from work situations spanning my entire then-20-year career — never mind that the teachers will love you because you’re their ideal, mature student.
3) I boosted my morale.
Let’s face it… the proverbial mid-life crisis is not a mythical adventure. It’s a scary series of moments where you walk in a slump, feeling out of shape, and you wake up in the middle of the night because you dreamed you had become instantly old and irrelevant. I watched a lot of late night TV with insomnia due to these experiences. I even cried a couple of times from the stress.
But instead of buying an expensive convertible that would leave me feeling empty and unfulfilled, I put my money towards higher education. Each time I got an “A” on an assignment, test, term paper or final exam, I slept a bit better that night and walked a bit taller the next day. I realized that anyone who would disparage me, simply didn’t know me well enough. Because now I had evidence at the end of every semester that I’m quite capable of more than I thought. And man, was that a shot in the emotional arm.
4) I set a studious example for my college-age kids.
With a bit of anguish, I watched both my kids end high school and start college with a bit of “I got an ’80’ and I’m content” attitude. As always, I’d ask, “Wouldn’t you like the next test (or paper) to be a ’95’?” For some reason, “I don’t know… I guess so” wasn’t the response I was exactly looking for.
Realizing that the “do as I say” approach doesn’t carry the weight that the “do as I do” method does, I made sure my kids saw me turn off the TV at 7:30 to go study for 4 hours every night. And even though I’d spend a couple of hours with them on Saturday and Sunday, I spend most of those days also studying. But when I showed them the results, I was able to ask, “How do you think I got this ’98’?” The obvious answer came back, “You studied every day.”
“Correct,” I encouraged. “You can do likewise. You just have to want it.” Lesson taught; lesson learned.
When you’ve lived 20 years as a professional, you’ve built up all this work experience, you think you might want to do something different, you’re dragging around contemplating your relevance and your kids no longer need you like they did before, this is the perfect time to pursue your MBA — in your 40s.