Hello All In community! Today’s wisdom comes to you from Desiree Leung, Director of Finance, Care.com HomePay. Desiree brings an intimate example of the power of education. Her words of wisdom are meaningful on many levels, as she also shares the power in doing really hard things – getting a graduate degree while working. Wow! Thanks Desiree!

Earning a graduate degree is worth more than simply “having” or “getting” your degree. When you earn your degree, you’re doing more than just showing up to class or going through the motions of being a student. As a result, your investment in higher education becomes about more than just the piece of paper you receive at graduation. The benefits from this type of investment come from being “all in.” There’s potential for high returns on your investment in higher education, but, unlike many other investments, you control these returns.


My Journey

After earning my undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, I began working for a small entrepreneurial firm. The company was growing at a steady pace and I was content for a while. Four years into my career and in my first year of marriage, I realized, though, that I wanted more for myself, career wise. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what that entailed but I knew that I couldn’t just wait around and possibly miss out on future opportunities. So I took control and committed to a three year MBA program. I felt like going to grad school would help me to figure things out and would at least give me comfort in knowing that I was doing something to move myself forward.


Nothing Good in Life Comes Easy

I opted for an MBA program that allowed me to maintain a full-time job and attend class in the evenings. Combining work and school created challenges for me both professionally and personally. To be honest, after a 9-10 hour work day, it was draining to attend class for a couple of hours. I struggled to bifurcate my work life and student life. While I was at work, I stressed about school assignments/tests and while I was at school, I worried about tomorrow’s big meeting. I eventually forced myself to cope with this challenge by making a conscious effort to mentally “check out” of work on my way to class and mentally “check in” when I walked into that classroom.

The challenges of the full workload obviously extended into my personal life as well. When I wasn’t in class, I spent the evenings and the weekends prioritizing myself and my schoolwork over my family. Selfish? Possibly, but with no children at the time and a very supportive husband (as well as a housekeeper to occasionally support him), we learned how to make it work as a family. We frequently reminded ourselves about why we were doing this (yes, I do mean “we” because it required full support from my partner). We knew we were taking a short-term hit in the hopes that this investment in me would pay off and that our family would be better off financially in the long-run.


Benefits of Earning a Degree

After 3 long years, I finally finished earning my degree and my investment was already paying off! I was applying what I learned in school well before I graduated and the co-founders of the company noticed. Shortly before graduation, I was promoted to a Director level position. I want to emphasize, though, that my graduate school experience only paid off because I invested myself 100%. Was I tired? Yes. But that’s to be expected when you’re working for something that really matters.

My graduate school experiences were instrumental in building both tangible and intangible skills that catapulted me into a higher level of thinking and doing. I became mentally and physically stronger during and after earning my MBA. The benefits of graduate school are different for everyone depending on where you are in your life, career, and experience. The things that still resonate with me are the following:

  1. A degree helps you get your foot in the door.
    Nowadays, HR professionals are looking for either extensive work experience or a graduate degree (sometimes both). A degree isn’t typically a substitute for work experience, but it is an indicator of what skills you may bring to the table. Once your resume has helped you to get an interview, the skills that you learned while earning your degree will help you to land the job.

  2. The intangible skills learned while earning your degree are the most important.
    Working on your MBA will help you to hone skills in areas such as working with groups, becoming a leader, compromising, juggling priorities, creative problem solving, etc. It also gives you simultaneous exposure to a variety of business areas such as Marketing, Finance, Operations, etc. that you may not be able to get involved with at your current job. All of this helps you to open your eyes and to see the bigger picture. You may not remember the tangible skills such as how to do a Box Plot from your Statistics class after you graduate but that’s typically ok. The intangible skills are what matter and are what will catapult you to the next role in your career. To gain these intangible skills and to incorporate them into your daily work life, you really need to embrace your educational experience and do more than just show up to class.

  3. Networking
    Grad school is one of the limited opportunities where you’re surrounded by a variety of people who are driven, passionate and hard-working. You all bring different backgrounds and skills to the table. While working through late-night cram sessions or preparing for presentations, you get the opportunity to create lasting connections. These connections build a network of people for you who may help you to land your next job or who will mentor you through some tough situations. The connections you make during your graduate experience are just as important as the skills you learn.


Importance of Continuing Education

Education isn’t just something that happens for a finite period of time. It’s important to continue learning and to continue honing your skills even after you graduate. As a business professional, it’s imperative that you expose yourself to new ideas, different ways of thinking, and new techniques. Take time to pull yourself out of the day-to-day and read articles. The Harvard Business Review is a great eclectic resource that can be not only educational but also inspiring. Take time to talk to colleagues in different industries or departments. This will help to pull you out of the weeds of your daily duties and to see a different picture.

Earning your degree is not easy, but most things in life that are worth having doesn’t actually come easy. When you do the hard work that it takes to earn your graduate degree, you’re investing in yourself and your career and, in return, you’ll experience exponential benefits.

By Desiree Leung


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