So today I took my last exam of the academic year, which is the first year of my Master’s Degree programme. It’s hard to put into words what this academic year has been like. There were moments of pure craziness, moments of “wtf”, and moments that were really awesome. I have made some great friends this academic year as well. I have also had to balance it against a new job which requires a lot of commitment and energy. It’s been hard to juggle everything, so for the next three months, I just want to decompress (even if I am not sure that I passed that last exam I took today…sigh…I can take it again in September…) When I got home from my exam this afternoon, I went for a walk, came back home, sunk comfortably into my couch, and I think I aged 9 months in a matter of minutes. I took a well-deserved nap with the kind of deep sleep I haven’t had in about 9 months 🙂 I wondered at some point today if my fundamental reasons for pursuing my degree had changed since my last post on the subject. Whether it’s climbing Kilimanjaro, getting a Masters Degree, or training for a 10k run, I never want to stop moving. There will come a time when the ability to move will no longer be there, and advanced years will increasingly dictate what I can and can’t do. But for now, I full speed ahead. I also want to be a role model for my nieces and nephews – anytime is a good time to learn and grow and try new things. I thought I would summarise the year, in terms of things I learned and what I need to remember for the second (and final) year:
- I look forward in 2015 to changing the priorities in my life. Whilst I am studying the order of priority has been work, school, and people. Saying that doesn’t mean that I think that work and school are more important than people. Rather, I am expressing that very often this year, commitments to work and school have meant that I have less time to hang out. Random and unscheduled nights out have been kinda rare this academic year.
- My friends and family are awesome. They have been so understanding of my situation and whenever I meet them I am really glad. It hasn’t been as often as I’d like, and I look forward to a huge graduation party to make up for it! 😀
- My “Core Group” at school have been amazing. Natalie, Erik, and Latife, I am talking about you. They have been flexible and understanding of my calendar, we have made great use of technology, and it has been great to hang out with them and get to know them as people. I’ll really miss that we won’t be a complete gang for the Autumn term in 2014, but I have Erik to terrorise.
- Google, you have my undying gratitude. The ecosystem for Google has made everything easier to enable our team to work in a flexible way. It’s the best free collaboration suite (Docs, Drive, Hangouts, etc) that I know of.
- Student discounts are great. I will miss those when they are gone.
- Some of my best work has been done within hours of the deadline; and some of my worst work has been when I thought I knew it all and let my arrogance get in the way of learning.
- The Black Pearl (my car) quite simple is a logistical miracle. Otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to get from work to school and back before anyone even missed me.
So what lies ahead in terms of school? Well first, I don’t have to think about school again until September! Autumn term awaits with 4 courses (and possible a re-take of a final exam) and then I move on to my Master’s thesis project for the Spring term. In the autumn expect more of the same as above – trying to find a way to make it all work. I will need to think about my courses in terms of what my interests are and what my schedule allows and find the balance point. I think there is more laughter, more tears, more redbull, more coffee, more joy, more frustration, more of everything to be had in the autumn term. And I have to say I look forward to it. Besides, it’s the beginning of my last year… …unless of course, I go for my PhD…after all, one should never stop pushing and learning 🙂
So now having been through 10 weeks of work and 10 weeks of school, I have learned a lot of things. Fortunately, most of those things have been nice 🙂 I will share a selection of them:
- For the most part, I go to school with some very awesome people! All of my groups have been really supportive of the fact that I study and work full-time. So it might mean that we have to meet at times where they would prefer to be free or something like that. And in every instance they have been accommodating. I should say that two of my three groups have been amazing to work with. I have learned a lot with them and from them.
- I don’t use my job as a reason not to do my fair share of group-based work (at least I hope I don’t). Yes, there are times when I simply can’t be in the lecture or the seminar because work has to come first. But I resolved in my mind before I started that I wouldn’t be one of those people who don’t pull their own weight in the group.
- Sometimes I think my professors take my work schedule and plan important events to purposefully conflict 🙂 Some professors seems to get this right every time. Luckily there has always been a solution everyone can live with.
- I underestimated the amount of effort involved when our courses start up. In Sweden, which is probably a bit different than US schools, each semester has two blocks that are about 8-10 weeks long. So it means that at two points in the semester you have intense start-up activities. Didn’t see that coming, but I am coping well…even if it requires that I take a day off of work here or there to make it possible.
- I am still loving my new job. I am still very happy that I made the move from IBM to HP. I miss people for sure, but I don’t have any regrets.
- My boss has been amazingly flexible and understanding about school. Generally I can manage quite well between school and work. There are some school assignments and dates that are mandatory, but I still always put in my 50+ hours to get things done.
- There are some things that are common to all multi-national corporations, no matter where you go. That is mostly good and has helped make the transition a bit easier.
- Did I mention I am still very happy? 🙂
So for all of this, what does it mean in practical terms.
- I had to make a conscious choice to really scale back my social life for the next 2 years. So please, if I am not as responsive or declining invites, it’s not personally. It might be strange, but please don’t stop sending invites 🙂 They are psychological proof that somewhere out there I still have friends 🙂 Meetings for coffees or food work better than big nights out.
- I am thankful for my car. I couldn’t make this work without one! Connected to this is the fact that I am thankful that my classes are reasonably accessible by car. Some locations are easier than others, but it helps me to make things work.
- Coffee is my friend. It is my constant companion.
- I have learned to enjoy my friend’s Facebook photos and stories of the weekend as if they were my own. In the last 10 weeks I have only had 1 weekend where there was no studying or work involved. Keep those pictures and stories coming! 🙂 I live vicariously through all of you these days.
- There such a thing as 04.30 in the morning. And more important I learned that it’s a great time to catch up on e-mails and reading over a cup of coffee. Or three.
- Shamefully, within the last 10 weeks, I have been to the McDonalds twice as much as I have been to the my gym which is one door over. I have started to change that now.
- I’m understanding again why students cook things in large quantities. What you might give up in taste, you make up in time.
- BBC Knowledge TV is a great way to procrastinate and kill some time in a way where you don’t feel completely bad for it because you’ve learned something in the process.
Despite all of this, I still feel I can do this. It hasn’t been an easy semester (in fact I am not even sure I passed by first two courses), nor has work been easy in any sense of the word. But I can say that I am using the knowledge and experience from both work and school to compliment each other. And combined with the great people I am meeting along the way – that makes me happy 🙂
So I find myself awake early in the morning on a Friday – the last weekend before I begin a new job as well as begin studying for my Master’s Degree in Strategic IT Management (for me this is a great blend between a MBA and a MSc). It’s a terrifying and exciting moment at the same time. In some ways, I feel like I should just relax – I have been through this before on the undergraduate level. But somehow this feels different. I have these emotions for different reasons than when I went for my undergraduate degree all those years ago.
In some ways it is terrifying because I will be holding down a full-time job as well as pursuing my degree full-time and I haven’t yet figured out how to balance those two things out. There really isn’t a distance/online element to my courses, which means that I may find myself occasionally having to be in two places at once during the day. Whilst I am fortunate enough to work for a company that believes in flex time and I know myself well enough to know that I am determined to do what it takes to be a success, I can’t help but feel like there will be times where I will have to bend the laws of time and physics to make things work. It’s terrifying to be amongst the oldest (if not the oldest) in my class. I attended my department’s orientation today and it is clear that the concerns of a 25 year old student are far different than one in their 30s. I think about whether my 14 years in the IT industry and 8 years in leadership roles will be of any benefit to me in my studies. I think about the little things – like trying to find a group that realises that I can’t just tool around campus on a Tuesday afternoon because I will likely be in the office trying to make my numbers. It’s the little things which I worry will become big things.
On the other hand, I am excited to get back into school and to complete the next phase of my education. It’s something I should have done 5 years ago, but life and circumstances get in the way. I am fortunate enough to have a role where I will get to influence my schedule (being a Manager probably helps here a bit), making bending the laws of time and physics a bit more possible. As an older student, I bring with me the benefit of work experience and a healthy curiosity on whether my decisions in industry and leadership have been consistent with the theory that I am about to learn. And I am also curious about when it makes sense to throw the theory out of the window.
On many levels I know that this will be hard. The fundamentals of project management will have never mattered more to me than they will over the next 2 years: plan the work; work the plan. I know that sacrifices will have to be made to achieve what I want the next 2 years, but I want to try as best I can to have as good of a work-study-life balance as possible. However, I also want to prove to myself that I can do this. I want to show my nieces and nephews the importance of education by walking the walk and not just talking about it. It’s about being competitive (I’ll be the workplace for a few more decades) and getting ready for the challenges ahead.
I think I can do this. Time will tell if I am right.