The Biggest Thing I Got From an MBA

I didn’t really have a good reason to get my MBA.

I already had the CFA designation and going to business school wasn’t going to change the trajectory of my career all that much…or so I thought.

Business school didn’t teach me to be any better at running a business or leadership or financial theory or entrepreneurship.

I don’t believe you can learn these things in a classroom. Certain things can only be learned through experience on the job or under the guidance of a willing mentor. Textbooks and theory can only get you so far.

While business school didn’t directly change my business acumen I did have a teacher who believed in me and pushed me to take a chance. I took a class on social entrepreneurship that had one of the best professors I’ve had in all of my years of schooling. He taught me a lot about the intersection of doing good business and staying true to yourself by being a good person in the business world.

The biggest project we worked on in this class required us to come up with an idea for a business that would help others by using what we’ve learned in our field. Mine dealt with improving the financial literacy of others through the use of technology by explaining┬ácomplex financial topics in a way normal people outside the world of finance could understand them.

I never intended to actually do anything with this project but when the class was over my professor urged me to try doing something with this idea. The most I had to lose was some time and effort.

A few short months later I started this website.

*******

Business school is full of case studies about the characteristics of the most successful leaders, companies, businesses, and products. You’re taught that it makes sense to focus exclusively on successful enterprises but very few people are ever taught specifically about failure and how to deal with the hard things.

I came out of college with wildly unrealistic expectations about my career prospects. I had no idea what I wanted to do and knew next to nothing about the real world. Looking back on it now, it’s so clear but at the time I assumed the business world owed me something. My expectations of what my career should look like at its outset were completely out of whack with reality.

When things didn’t go exactly as I had planned it was easy to place the blame on others. Part of my problem was I should have had lower expectations from the outset. The beauty of lowering your expectations is you don’t put nearly as much pressure on yourself when you have the inevitable bump in the road. It frees you up from focusing on all of the things that could go wrong because you start with the expectation that things will definitely go wrong at some point.

With high expectations, it’s easier to give up at the first sign of trouble. When you start out with low expectations, you don’t go into things afraid of making a mistake or even failing. You can give yourself permission to try new things, explore, and go outside of your comfort zone.

*******

I spent three days this past week in New York City at the brand new headquarters of Ritholtz Wealth Management, the firm I work for remotely from my home base in West Michigan.

If you would have told me this when I was going through business school I would have said you were out of your mind.

I never intended for any of this to happen — the writing, the books, the new career path, the conferences, the interviews, the speeches, the podcast, the new friendships and business relationships. It still boggles my mind that things worked out this way.

Someone asked me this week how long it took for things to gain some traction here. I would say my readers for the first 6-9 months consisted of mostly friends and family. There were a number of occasions where I considered giving up because I didn’t really see it going anywhere.

Writing in high school and college was not something I excelled in. In fact, I hated it. So turning into someone who writes on a regular basis has been something of a shock to me.

But once it became part of my daily routine I found the writing process to be somewhat cathartic. My learning and reading ramped up big time. I enjoy the writing process immensely.

Once I came to that conclusion I knew I would continue writing if anyone was reading or not.

*******

I didn’t really read much (at all) in high school or college. So I had plenty of catching up to do when I finally realized I didn’t really know anything when I graduated. This was one of the best things that could have happened because it forced me to seek a self-education.

I asked everyone I came into contact with on the job what their favorite business, investing, or personal finance books were and I devoured each and every one. These books led me to explore other areas such as psychology, history, statistics, and human behavior.

You could probably put together your own MBA much in this same way by simply reading on a wide range of topics. I’ve always wondered why more business schools don’t assign actual books in lieu of textbooks.

Getting my MBA didn’t necessarily give me a better understanding of the business world than I got through this self-education. But without my MBA and my class on entrepreneurship, I never would have started this website and everything else that came along with it.

I was basically bored and needed something to scratch an itch and this happened to be it.

I guess my point here is that life doesn’t always give you exactly what you’re looking for at first glance. But occasionally it can give you something you never knew you wanted or needed as long as you’re willing to take a chance on something new to see what happens.

Life is random like that.

Further Reading:
What They Don’t Teach You in Business School
The CFA vs. MBA Decision

 

 
Download PDF

Full Disclosure: Nothing on this site should ever be considered to be advice, research or an invitation to buy or sell any securities, please see my Terms & Conditions page for a full disclaimer.