The Why Question: Part 2

4.5 years into working at my consulting job another change came.  My father called to tell me that the family business was having problems.  The accounting software just wasn’t cutting it anymore.  The company had outgrown the simple software he had purchased years ago and tracking inventory with a piece of paper wasn’t helping either.  It was a hard decision, but I ultimately left my consulting job, with its comfy salary, fancy clothes, and Flavia coffee makers to head back to my home town to help the family business.

At that point in time the question “Why?” was asked a lot.  So naturally, I thought again about my goals.  Once again, in a car ride with my parents, my mom asked “Have you thought anymore about applying for your MBA?”  I talked with my parents that evening about a program my friend at the consulting firm had mentioned once and said it sounded pretty interesting.  “What school is it with?” Mom asked.  “Duke.” I replied.  “Well, you’ve always wanted to go there.  Why don’t you check it out?”

So that evening when we got home I opened up my computer and searched for “Duke MBA”.  There it was.  The Cross Continent MBA program.  I checked out the essay questions and there it was, the dreaded “Why?” question.  This time though there were light bulbs going off.  If I had my MBA the task of growing the company from a small start-up to a national and international brand would not be as daunting.  If I had a better understanding of the markets in China and India, the two places where our parts are manufactured, I could help ease the dealings with our partners and get a better quality product for our customers.  If I understand the markets in Europe, South America, and Middle East, then the potential to market our product overseas would open up.  There was one why question answered.

Why now?  Well that makes sense too.  The company is on the verge of growing.  If I graduate in 16 months the foundation for the growth will be solid and my MBA could then propel the company to the next level smoothly.  If I wait I might miss the opportunity or the company might not make it.

Why Duke?  It fits.  It’s not just a life long goal, it’s the logical choice.  I can keep working and growing the company and my career.  The markets I need to get experience with are on each of the trips.  The courses discuss the same topics I’ve sat around the dinner table with brain storming with my father about, and they’re going to be taught by the number one faculty.  When it clicks it clicks!

After that, the essay wrote itself.  The question in the interview was one I was excited to answer.  Now, I am looking back at what all started with a conversation in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  What a long road it has been, and the journey down this road is just starting.

The Why Question: Part 1

It’s on every MBA applicant’s list of essay questions to answer, “Why an MBA?  Why now?  Why this program?”  You take a deep breath and really start to examine how to boil down your goal of an MBA into a 500 word essay.  Here’s the story of how I answered these three seemingly simple questions for myself.

I was 12 years old when I first had the idea of attending Duke.  Actually, it was the first time I ever thought of going to college at all.  I grew up on a small farm in rural North Carolina.  Growing up, money was hard to come by, but chores were not.  You fall into a rhythm when you grow up on a farm.  The animals have to eat, they have to be milked, they have to have hay and water.  You go through the routine everyday knowing that it’s not a get rich quick scheme.  It’s hard manual labor, and the lives of the animals depend on it.  That’s a lot for a young girl to realize at the age of 12.  It’s also a lot to realize that if it’s only your parents, you, and your younger brother helping with chores, maybe those chores won’t get done if you grew up and moved away.

I was a quiet kid growing up, so I never explicitly said anything to my parents about my thoughts of staying and helping on the farm after high school.  In my head it was a given.  We had no money for school and there was too much work for me to leave on just my parents.  I’m not sure how my mother figured it out one day, but I distinctly remember the moment.  We were sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot and we were about to head back to start our afternoon chores.  There was some exchange which  passed between my mother and I about how many chores there were and I must have said something about her not worrying about that because I’d always be there to help.

She stopped, put the car back in park, turned and looked at me and said “Jordan, I hope you don’t think that you are going to stay on the farm and not go to school.  You are going to college.”  I was shocked.  That is what I thought.  I was going to go to college?  It seemed like the dream of winning the lottery.  How was that going to happen?  “No matter what you decide to do after, you are going to college.  Think for a minute and tell me where you think you would like to go.”  I sat there quietly thinking about it and taking in this new revelation.  After a few minutes I looked up, “I think I want to go to Duke.”  “Good!”, my mom said, “Then one day you will go there.”  She threw the car in gear and we pulled out of the Wal-Mart parking lot, talking the whole way home about making plans for college.

Life changed a lot over those next few years.  We sold the family farm and moved into town.  High school came and passed.  My father started his own company.  Then it was finally time, I was going to college.  Life happens, goals change, and at the time the right fit for my undergrad was The University of Georgia.  There were accounting finals, stressing over getting accepted to Terry Business School, football games, life long friendships made, and finally the degree I had worked for since I was 12.  One thing that was now embedded in me was the dream of education.  From the time we left the Wal-Mart parking lot somehow it seemed like I could go a lot further than just an undergraduate degree.  I wanted something more.  I wanted a Masters.

At that point in time I had the goal of an MBA, but I could not answer the “Why?” questions.  It’s great to have a goal of having an MBA, but why did I have it?  Over the next few years I worked away at my consulting job pondering how I would answer that essay question.  Well, I could say I wanted it so I could get a promotion.  Not true, I could keep working away and eventually I would get promoted.  I could say I wanted it because I wanted to change industries.  Not entirely true.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do period, so maybe I wasn’t going to switch maybe I was, I couldn’t even answer that question.  I could say a bunch  of things, but I could never write a 500 word essay that convinced even myself that is why I wanted my MBA.  So I waited.

To be continued….