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December 22, 2009

1

Lessons Learned at Grad School: Part 1

by mikediliberto

About halfway through my coursework in the pursuit of my MBA, I remember pausing for a moment to take stock of where I was, had been, and was going.

In the one year since starting school, a lot had changed; mainly, I quit my job and moved to California.  I had left my former employer, as they were closing the office in which I had been working, and they wanted me to relocate to Siberia Minneapolis.  I decided that this was as good of a time as any to leave the company on a high note; I had just finished launching our most successful project to date, and I had no desire to live in Minneapolis. So with that, we packed up our things and headed out to San Diego, a place that I had been trying to return to for the past decade.

A short time later, I remember remarking that had I known a few years ago that I would resign from my job less than a year into a 2-year executive MBA program, I might have done things differently.  I thought that, had I known this early enough, I would instead have just taken a year off and gone back to school full time, or even considered going to INSEAD instead of Thunderbird (Gasp!), at least partially so that we could have a reasonable excuse to live in France for a year. I held this belief until I joined the team of my second startup, MindTouch, here in San Diego.

While I was coaching some of my colleagues here at MindTouch, I had an epiphany. I realized in that moment that in addition to all of the business knowledge that I gained over the past 2 years, I had learned another very valuable lesson;  I had learned to manage my time extremely well.  I had no idea what a valuable asset this was, both to my team, as well as to my mental health, until I came on board at MindTouch.

Enrolling in an EMBA program taught me to containerize my time very well.  Working at a startup, it is very easy to fall into the trap of working nearly every waking hour.  In having to balance school, work, and personal life, I learned to turn off “Startup Employee Mode” and turn on “Focused Student Mode”;  on top of that, I made sure to turn off both modes and turn on “Personal Life Mode” to spend valuable time with my significant other, which was very therapeutic.  For those of you that have worked at (or even with) a startup, you know how hard it is to turn off “Startup Employee Mode”. I was in a situation where I had hard deadlines created by others, as at work and school, which taught me to create some of my own deadlines, like scheduling date night, and workout times and sticking to these as unmovable commitments as well.  The truth of the matter is, if I didn’t schedule time for all of the other things that I wanted to get done, all of that time would be eaten up by my company  and my school.  Startup employees know this pain well;  you start work early in the AM and suddenly it’s 10PM;  unstructured environments like startups demand a great deal of personal time management.

Following graduation, I have continued to set deadlines for all of my commitments, personal and work related, and this time management has enabled me to get a lot done (or at least feel like I get a lot done) and keep my stress down to a reasonable level.

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