Over the years, whenever I’ve come to a crossroads in my life, I’ve entertained the idea of going back to school to finish a degree I halfheartedly started after high school. For one reason or another it has never happened and now, at fifty, I’m pretty sure it never will. I have no regrets though, because I know that if it was meant to be it would have happened. My friend Karen, however, came to a point in her life, at 47, and realized that she did want to further her education. Growing up in Saskatchewan, Karen’s mom didn’t have a formal post secondary school education and as a single mother she struggled. Seeing that, Karen knew from an early age that she wanted more for herself. She would go to university, get an education and have a career. It was never a question, it was just something she would do. Her life has taken some twists and turns along the way but the desire to better herself has never faded. At 50 years of age she is five months away from earning her MBA.
After high school Karen earned a degree in Commerce and Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan then took a year off and travelled in Southeast Asia. At the end of that year she needed to make a decision on what to do and where to go. “I sat in a bar in Bangkok and tried to decide if I should go to Australia or the UK”. Although the lure of beaches and surfing was strong, the UK won out. Securing a work visa, she headed to London. Even though she had her degree, she was in her early twenties and had no real life work experience so she joined a temp secretarial pool. Her programming background and her wicked typing skills got her plenty of jobs and within a few months she was offered a full time programming position. There’s no doubt in my mind that it wasn’t just her university degree that propelled her into this job. Karen has, what I would call, moxy.
Okay, so quick life segway…..While working in London Karen met her soon to be husband. They returned to Canada and had two boys who are now 18 and 16. She took a programming position at a telecommunications company and continued to move up the corporate ladder. About 2002 she met me. (Okay, so maybe that’s not really a “life moment” but it was at a time that her life was changing so I’m putting it in the story). A few years later she found herself going through a divorce. Having been through a divorce, I know how all consuming it can be. From what I saw, Karen took it all in stride. She put her head down, worked hard and raised her sons. All the while continuing to better herself personally and professionally. I truly admire that.
Getting an executive MBA requires a lot of things. Working for an organization that believes in people is a great place to start, and Karen’s employer has been behind her all the way. But ultimately you need to have a full support team. Work peers, friends and family. At one point in her first year Karen was struggling to juggle work, school and parenting . Feeling like she was, perhaps, not fully there for one of her sons as he reported a less than stellar grade, she said to him, “I think I should just quit this and be more available for you.” As her eyes filled with tears she recalled that her son had adamantly told her, no way was she going to quit. They were behind her 100%. Now if only she could get them to study as much as she did. Unfortunately it hasn’t all been as good as that. “I wish that women would support women more.” She’s left friendships behind because some friends, female friends, couldn’t support, or understand, what she would gain from this venture. Feeling that there was no room for negativity in her life, she has forced to moved on.
A big part of the program she is enrolled in involves working in teams and networking. Some of the members of her team are VPs of huge corporations and are well connected men and women in Vancouver business. At first she was a bit intimidated, but then one night over beers she realized she was just as smart, if not smarter, than most of them. Hey, she thought, I could do your job. One day she probably will. As she gets ready to travel to Mexico next month to complete the International portion of her degree, she thinks about how good it will feel to be done. She has specific goals in mind for her future and opportunities and connections that will take her anywhere she wants to go.
This is the reason I write this blog. Exploring other people’s Best Things in Life and searching for mine over the last nine months has shown me so many different approaches to doing what you love. So many different ways to be happy. I will not go back to school. It’s not in me. But I admire Karen so much for what she is doing and I think that not only will she succeed in all that she does, but along the way she will teach others a thing or two. She has taught me that some things are really hard to achieve. Sometimes the road to them is long, winding and full of pot holes. But if you can navigate that road, as Karen has, great things await you. The Best Thing in Life await you.