Sarah Stuart's 2014 Blog

Sarah Stuart, an MBA student and former editor of the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, reveals the challenges of the programme in a weekly blog.

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MBA - a degree of confidence

08 September 2014

It was this time of year, two years ago, that I upped and quit my job on a whim and wondered what I should do with my life.

I'd had 24 years in journalism, was editing a magazine loved by Kiwi women and managing a team of 20 staff who made work fun, as well as fruitful.

Problem was, I was miserable. I was also, by my own reckoning, about midway through my working life. There will be no retiring at 65 for my generation, and at 41 I was facing up to three decades more of generating an income.

That didn't faze me: I love working, always have. Life in the media had been a little depressing in recent years: shrinking budgets and workforces, an uncertain future. But getting up and going to the office has almost always been a joy. I just wasn't sure which office I wanted to head to next.

Eighteen months later I'm more excited about my career than I've ever been. Studying for an MBA at the University of Auckland has opened dozens of doors I didn't know existed.

Only half-jokingly I have been telling my husband that I love studying so much, I might go on to do a PhD. "How long does that take?" he asked, just containing the anxiety in his voice. "Three years fulltime, but I'd probably do it over four or five so I could work a bit." His reply was unprintable.

There are other options to consider. Before I undertook midlife study I would never have imagined setting up my own business: now that is something I want to do at least once before I hit the sherry.

Returning to the corporate world holds enormous attraction, too. My financial skills, management capabilities, strategic thinking and knowledge of my own strengths and weaknesses will make me a far sharper, more successful employee than I could have achieved through work experience alone.

The discipline required to complete an MBA is something that I will have for the rest of my life. You really can do anything if you put in the work, I now know. No quantitative theory hurdle is too high; no 7000-word essay too difficult; no three-hour exam impossible. All it takes is work, work, and lots more work. For a person who used to give up if I wasn't successful straight away, that has been the biggest revelation. Now all I need to do is focus that knowledge in the best new direction.

In two weeks I'll fly out to Tokyo with the rest of my four-member team to complete a sizeable project for one of New Zealand's most successful primary exporters. We will be holding focus groups, meeting potential importers, putting together financial analyses and recommending a best market-entry plan for a company that has had decades of success in international markets.

Am I terrified? No. Just a little daunted by the work required and the responsibility of ensuring our critical thinking offers real value to this client.

Practically, who knows how this work will help me in my next career? But being able to walk confidently into a business environment as competitive and culturally different as Japan's will sustain me personally and professionally for years.

MBA students are often accused of a certain elitism that, in my experience, is quite wrong. Learning what you are capable of instils a self-belief that negates the need for arrogance. Eighteen months ago I set out on what I thought was a qualification in management and business. Perhaps, instead, I've spent that time working towards a degree in confidence.