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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Shutting down the negative voices

15 October 2014

"What are you going to do with your MBA when you finish?"

That's the kind of cheerful enquiry that's right up there with "how's your love-life?", "what do you do for a job?" and "why don't you have kids?" All risk inciting violence from those you direct them at - if they don't have an acceptable answer.

For the last 20 months I've dreaded the "what will you do when you finish?" line. At a party held at my former workplace last week, one of the company's senior men asked me just that. When I replied with "I'm still not sure", he said: "Shouldn't they make that one of the papers you do?"

Luckily, they do. In our final semester, while completing a research project requiring inordinate amounts of self-discipline and social sacrifice, we are also being forced to create a five-year career plan. Then, apparently, we have to stick at it.

On Saturday we spent an inspiring hour with an MBA graduate of four years prior, who ran us through the plans he laid in this exact course - and how he'd driven himself to stick by them.

His goal was to own his own company again and he's sacrificed a lot to get there.

"My plan was to use the equity in my house to invest in a business," he said. "But to get there, I had to spend six weeks doing up my house, to ensure the valuation was good enough. I thought 'what the hell am I doing' as I trimmed hedges and built decks. But that's what I needed to do, so I did it."

Scraping the funds together required sticking the last $5000 on his credit card. "I left the boats burning on the shore," he said happily. Like most of us, it is only fear that holds us back from achieving.

He played psychological games with himself to motivate himself to action. That included committing to a swimming club three times a week at 5am - no excuses. Watching the performance improvement that came from shutting down the negative voices in his head was inspiring, and helped his business.

"Turn down the inner voice and turn up productivity," he said. Life comes from your rituals, so make success habitual.

This paper is teaching some basics of coaching - but it's about coaching yourself towards your goals, as much as your team or staff. Coaching is about performance and winning, we were told. Progress is alive so you must expand, grow and improve.

I dutifully reported this all back to friends over a late night dinner on Saturday and was met with howls of derision.

"Lots of people are just happy where they are," one high-achieving friend reported. He's probably right.

But if you're not planning and aiming for success after two years of learning, personal growth and sacrifice, then you're probably underselling yourself.

So give me another five weeks and I'll be able to answer the "what are you going to do now?" with an Excel spreadsheet, a clear vision of my goals and the commitment to say I'm going to get there. I'll be silencing the internal negative voices, if not the ones at parties.