The Learning Begins After the MBA

12 Oct

From horses and covered wagons, to trains and Model T’s, to Porsches and planes, the United States has been thoroughly traveled in ever-speedier fashion.  If the point is to get somewhere, you may as well get there fast.  And remain comfortable in the process.

If the point is not arrival at a destination, but the “being in between,” then I think the best way to travel is by bike.  And hearing stories of the United States – the diversity and the uniformity of Americans – the vastness of the Grand Canyon, the thickness of the banyan trees, the flatness of the grain-growing fields – makes me want to see it all.  And not the way I see it now: a smidgen of Pittsburgh one month, a dollop of Miami another.  I want to experience the United States piece by piece but all at once, each experience building on the one that came before.  Until finally, the last piece is slotted in the puzzle and I understand (not fully, but better) what it is to be an American.

And I don’t want to experience this behind a window.  Or a computer screen.  I want to feel it, taste it, breathe it.  When I gave up what felt like my freedom to get an MBA, we were asked to write down where we saw ourselves in 3 years time.  I was supposed to write “using my MBA to manage some specific group of people in some specific industry” and then probably a side note about becoming wealthy and donating heavily to my alma mater.   (Apologies for the cynicism.)  Instead I wrote the truth, which is that after my MBA, I want to travel the United States by bike.  No more papers, just fresh air.  No more discussing personality types and leadership styles, I want to meet personality types and leadership styles.  And I want to meet them in a relaxed fashion, not when they are sent to Human Resources to sit across from me.  Not when they are a case study.  I want to meet people and experience their piece of America while I am sitting astride my beloved road bike, drenched with sweat, parched with thirst, ready to experience the hospitality of the happy and to converse about the commonalities of life.

After I learn about people and business and money and economics while sitting in an air-conditioned room with my peers, I want to see what people have used money to buy and to build and to invest in.  I want to see it slowly, while pedaling, both the infrastructure and the nature, both the loneliness and the crowdedness.  And the vastness.  And then maybe I will feel I deserve to graduate.  That I have mastered something worth mastering and that I have learned to listen and not preach, to empathize and not command.  To manage without stifling, to lead without suffocating.  The things that a business school should teach but so few really do.

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