Two Years of Work Beats a Lifetime of What-Ifs

HIs friends call him the "Happy Lawyer"

It was almost exactly two years ago to the date that I hit the submit button.  As I rested for a moment behind my computer, I imagined my application zapping across the Internet — in scads of little 1’s and 0’s, tumbling merrily along on their journey.  My application for the MBA for Executives class of 2012 was headed to the friendly people in the Admissions Office at Darden.  Truthfully, as I paused there, I had a moment of relief – quickly followed by fear.

Relief came first, immediately.  After the application disappeared into the Ether, I glanced over to my admissions application file, and I breathed deeply.  Putting my application together had been time consuming and completion afforded me a well-deserved respite.  Pulling together the paperwork for my application had required me to step out of my comfort zone.  Evening routines were disrupted as I found registrars’ offices emails, completed transcript requests, did test prep, drafted essays and solicited letters of recommendation.  I felt worn out; but, still I was relieved.  I figured I had a few weeks to rest before the admissions committee reported the worthiness of my application.

Then — without warning — the fear hit me.  Sure, I was done.  For now.  The many piles of papers and computer files surrounding me were evidence of the hours I had invested in the process.  It began to dawn on me that what I had just gone through was merely the prelude.  If I was this busy just applying to the program, how would I ever find the time to actually attend class, do readings, complete assignments and pass exams?!?  What was I thinking?  I was asking Darden to put me into the ring, to face two years of tangling with the bone-crushing contender named the MBA program.  The flying 1’s and 0’s flashed out Danger! Trouble!  Come back, come back to me, I pleaded with them.

“I don’t think I can manage it all,” I confessed later that day to my wife, hinting that even if I was accepted, I might not enroll in the program.  I told her about all doubts and fears that I had.  She listened intently.  But she had already noticed the beginnings of change in me.  Sure, I was spending a lot of additional time on this application process.  But with her keen eye, she also noticed something different.  She saw me rise to the challenge, to find creative ways to multi-task my day job and the application process.  She felt the energy that rose up in me when I talked about getting my MBA.  She asked me a deceptively simple question.  “If you don’t get your MBA, how will you feel in two years looking back to today?”

Two years ago, my 1’s and 0’s flew through the Ethernet to the Admissions Office.  As they bounced across the World Wide Web, the fear that I had felt melted into the calmness of perspective.  Yes, she was right.  Two years will pass whether or not I start my MBA journey.  And when I started thinking about the work that would be required, another involuntary memory erupted in my mind.  It was of me as a young college graduate in the US Marine Officer Candidate School.  We were on a long forced march, a “speed walk” carrying 60 pounds of gear, hurrying to finish within time.  I looked over to one of my fellow officer candidates.  “Why are you grinning?” I asked, trying to shift my massive pack to a place on my back that did not ache.  He didn’t break stride to inform me.  “No matter how big the total is, there are only a fixed number of steps you and I have to walk between now and getting our commissions. Every step we take is one less step we will ever need to take here,” he assured me.

If you are having second thoughts about your ability to find the time to get your MBA, consider this: had I not rolled the dice, taken the chance and put in the work, I’d still be two years older, and no closer to my MBA.  Sure, the program was hard, but now I am 95% done.  Two years seems like a long time when it stretches out in the future.  But for me two years have just passed away.  Had I missed taking the opportunity to get my MBA, I probably would have spent an infinite amount of time asking myself: “What-if?”

Peter Vanderloo is an in-house lawyer at a well-known tech company in the first year of the Executive MBA program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. His previous posts at Poets&Quants for Execs:

Meet Peter: He’s a Darden Student Blogging on his EMBA Journey

The Fundamental Value Proposition of an EMBA Program: Personal Transformation

Work-Life Balance in An EMBA Program? What Balance?

A Generous Gift in an MBA Experience: A Learning Team

On the Grounds

When You’re CEO for the Day–Or Class

The Mantra at Darden: “Trust the Process”

Things I Have Learned In the Last 12 Months

Going to the GEMBA

The Road Less Traveled To Charlottesville

The Molting of an Executive MBA Class

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