Reflecting on 10 years since graduating from UW Foster School of Business

This weekend marks 10 years since I graduated from business school.  2011 was a big milestone year – the end of coming of age of sorts.  I got my MBA, got married, and got a job in big tech. I was on the cusp of “grown up life.”

10 years later, I reflect that I am happily married (celebrating 10 years later this month), we have two awesome kids and since my MBA, have changed careers (from marketing to product) and recently left big tech in favor of a smaller company. Not a bad showing for a decade of life.  

Let’s start with the basics – was it worth it to get an MBA?

For me unequivocally yes. I was a career transitioner (from politics) and did not feel or know that I could break into the corporate world without a degree. Because I also had no intention of leaving the Pacific Northwest, getting a degree from UW Foster School of Business has set me up with access to the myriad of companies based on the area (Microsoft, Amazon, REI, Nordstrom, Starbucks, etc.). For an aspiring career changer, I could not have asked for a better jumping off point and support.

Academically, MBA gave me firmer legs to stand, mainly by teaching me the buzzwords to Google for if I needed to add structure to my thinking – Porter’s 5 forces, marketing 4Ps, how to write charter and mission statements – all were useful tools to learn and then apply to solving problems IRL.

Because of the MBA program being on the smaller end of class size, I got to meet and get to know a bunch of great people. As two years in a full time program was as much about monthly TGs1, tailgates, clubs and study tours abroad as it is about learning hard skills.

I continue to assert that one should be thoughtful about why they are getting an MBA and make the investment based on the outcome you want to accomplish. For example, if you are already a developer at a big tech company and want to transition to a product leader – I don’t think you need to get an MBA for that, try Mind the Product or Product School courses instead.

What have I learned since getting my higher ed degree?

Show up every day

A key lesson I have learned is that showing up every day is most of the battle. The ability to always look forward to tomorrow keeps me going on my good and bad days. I have had and continue to have days when I am lost at work, days when my child is sick and I haven’t slept, days with bad reviews, days when I tear my ACL while skiing and days when I drop a ball (or five).  

The trick for me is to get up the next morning and try again. It’s on those days that I’ve learned it’s especially important to get a workout in, eat a good breakfast, put make up on and walk in with confidence to give the new day a chance.

Know your worth

When I started by first job post MBA, I was wide-eyed and excited – and I hope you are too when you get that job after you graduate. Because I am inherently an optimist, I believed that it was the most important job one could have at my company. As it turned out, my first job out of MBA was more of a “starter” job where I got my feet wet, understood the corporate landscape and met some incredible people.

However, I also realized pretty quickly that the job I was in was not one where I was having the right amount of impact, growth and learning so I needed to find the next opportunity. Once I realized that pattern, it was easy to see that again in the future.

Embrace on the job training and learning

Looking back, I now can appreciate that the mega tech company after grad school was my professional training ground. This was a place that taught me about loving product, scale, process, marketing, sales and everything in between. I am far from becoming a master of my craft, but 10 years later, I feel like I have now moved on to a place where I am putting into practice so much of what I have been learning and doing since my MBA (read my post on going to a growth start up)

Finding ways to stay fresh and keep growing continues to be important – but the things I am learning are now shifting as I focus more on how to build healthy, strong teams and organizational structure than how to write product requirements (read Good Leaders are Good Learners from HBR).

Keep up your network and keep giving back

A key reason I went to business school is to create a professional cohort of people. Even though many of my favorite classmates have moved away, I have stayed in touch with many personally and professionally. These friendships are different than the life defining relationships I have formed in college, but just as important.

So find that balance after your MBA – of maintaining these relationships both for the friendship and the network that they provide. My get-togethers with my MBA friends are rarer than I’d like but incredibly fulfilling because we get to geek out not just on memories but also about industry stuff (latest marketing and business trends). And these are the people I call when I need a new job, to bounce ideas around my current challenges or just need to poke my head up and look around.

I have strived to stay involved in helping UW Foster students and the community in general. I remember when I was getting my degree and talking to an alumni who was helping me prepare for my interviews, he told me that I will one day sit on the other side of this table encouraging and supporting students just as he was supporting me.

Staying close to graduating MBAs by coaching and guiding them has given me the honor of helping people land their first job out of school while also helping me source candidates and recruit for companies I work for.

Tip: Have a folder where you store resumes people send you. You never know when you come across an opportunity you can share.

What have I learned about managing work and a family?

This question deserves a post of its own, but suffice to say that during the first three or so years of my life post MBA, I was a lot freer commitment wise. I once flew to Paris for 48 hours to drop off devices for a Windows launch event. Travel to conferences was easy and did not require a carefully created logistics plan. Know that and cherish those moments if you are able and then also know that after your life changes with kids, pets, etc., you will still get to do these things but they will require more planning and prep. I don’t think I would volunteer myself to fly across the world for 2 days on the weekend right now, but I have been able to attend conferences, put in the extra hours needed to work and take on new and challenging jobs.     

If you haven’t yet started a family, I do recommend getting some bucket list things out of the way – for me it was attempting to summit Mt. Rainier, getting scuba certified and hiking/seeing inaccessible places. It’s not that you can’t do these things after you have a family, but they look different for awhile.

Allow yourself to be seen

In this post MBA chapter, so much has happened. Adam and I bought our first house, got pregnant and learned about in the middle of a work trip where it was absolutely impossible to hide my nausea, wondered what maternity leave will do to my career, watched friends move closer to us and move away to pursue new adventures and so much more.

I needed to figure out how to show up through all of this. From initial thoughts of driving a clear separation line between my work self and my home self, to the place I got to today where there is only one of me and I bring my whole self to wherever I go. This means that I told my coworker in London that I am possibly pregnant (I was at most 6 weeks at the time) and to please cover for me at client dinners by drinking my wine. I also love that one of my co-workers and I swap kid/dad jokes together – it gives us common ground and humanizes our day to day.  

I’ve learned not to be afraid to say that I have to stop working now because I have a family to attend to but I’ll get back to you tomorrow.  I see now that people respect me more for it and not think I am weak or not committed enough.  I find that the path has gotten easier now that I am convicted that I don’t need to separate or compartmentalize myself.

Summing it all up: learning to be responsible for more people  

The Little Prince is one of my favorite books of all time and the quote about becoming responsible for what you have tamed resonates with me. In the past 10 years, the responsibilities I carry with me have increased exponentially - I have a husband, a home, children, a leadership role at work and teammates who rely and depend on me. This phase of my life has been filled figuring out how to tame new and complex demands on my life/time and be in the driver seat. As always, this is all a work in progress, but I am excited for the next 10 years and look forward to continue sharing my lived experiences with you all.

Coda on Privilege

As we’ve stated before, we try to end every post reflecting on our privilege and the way our family gives back. This week, I want to highlight UW Foster School of Business and the opportunities to donate to the program that has helped me build the foundation to where I am today. We are annual supporters of Foster School of Business and encourage you to check out the program if you are considering an MBA.

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* The origin of the “TG” event name has been explained differently over the years, but it is most commonly explained as a shortening of T.G.I.F. (Thank goodness it’s Friday). These events happen monthly throughout the year at UW Foster and each one always has a theme associated with it.