MSML, what’s next

I briefly mentioned this a few months ago, but I went back to school for a second master’s degree in April. I turned in my final capstone presentation on Sunday, and got back my grade yesterday. That’s one of several reasons I haven’t been writing much, and that’s done, so here we are.

The MBA program I finished last year overlaps the school’s MS in Management and Leadership program with three classes in common. That meant I would have six classes and the capstone project to get a second degree. The basic difference between the MSML and the MBA is the MSML is more soft-skill stuff around leading teams, innovation, and strategy. The MBA is more core business school stuff like finance and accounting, plus classes on project management and a taste of the leadership stuff. I liked the MBA, but figured as a manager of people, I could probably use more leadership work in a structured way.

I’ll be honest: I learned a lot of good stuff in the MSML program, but it was nowhere near as good or as challenging as the MBA. Part of the reason I did this back-to-school thing last year was I didn’t want my brain to go to mush, and crossword puzzles only do so much. I also needed to challenge myself and do something hard that I didn’t think I could do. Taking finance and accounting with absolutely zero background in either was a really big boulder to roll uphill. Getting past that gave me a real sense of accomplishment.

The MSML? Not so much. The most challenging courses were actually deep-dives on a couple of the most tedious classes in the MBA. One of the “tough” classes, Business Acumen, was basically a junior version of accounting, finance, econ, and marketing rolled up into one course. Two of the harder classes, Strategic Management and Change Management, had so much overlap, the papers gave me a constant “didn’t I just write about this?” situation. And this degree had zero math or Excel, but it had two classes that required a recorded presentation, three that involved Powerpoint, and it had a team project.

So, there were two proctored tests, twelve papers total. That includes the capstone, which was pretty eh. In the MBA, the capstone project was really cool. You played this simulation where you ran a business, competed against other players, and then did everything from pitch for venture cap to write a shareholder report, and that was a lot of fun, to be honest. The capstone for this was an annotated bibliography of three sources per class and what we learned from them, which was mostly tedious; then a giant paper on a training plan; then a speech on that paper. A lot of the papers in this class were pure tedium. A lot of people in this program are in HR, so maybe that’s the point.

The one unusual thing about this degree is I ended up working on it in six different countries. I was either cramming for tests or working on papers in Iceland, England, Qatar, India, and the UAE. I particularly remember being up all night in Dubai, sitting in an airport lounge and downing as many free Diet Cokes as possible while pulling articles for that stupid bibliography.

I hate to sound bitter about the experience; I’m mostly exhausted by it. I did learn a lot, although I think quantifying that is a bit out of this silo and bleeding into the Work Jon silo, which I don’t care to write about here. But I did pick up some stuff that will be useful in my career. I guess it just didn’t challenge me enough. I think I really phoned it in here, and part of it was the return to office, along with the travel. I finished the degree in four months, and probably put half the effort into it that I did last year.

Another thing… So, I would not say I was in a great place last year, for various reasons I won’t go into here. And as I worked through that Situation, I also worked hard on the MBA, and the two were very intertwined. So it was surreal sometimes to be sitting in a Hilton in Bangalore which looked identical inside to the hotel I was at in Denver last June, like down to the same paintings on the walls. And I’d be staying up late alone, working on the same kind of papers in the same templates and the same online library and the same learning system, listening to the same albums, and thinking back to last summer and thinking I really don’t need to be thinking about last summer. There’s a much bigger essay about nostalgia that needs to be written in short order, but let’s just say that whole thing was disturbing. And the good news is it is probably so disturbing because I’m in a much better place now and don’t want to be in 2022, or 1992, or 2002, or whatever else.

The big question is what’s next. I feel like this degree has been a big distraction in the way of what I need to be doing. Now I need to dust off the journals and the Scrivener things and figure out what the hell I am doing. I wrote about this in March, and I guess I was really thinking about it at the start of the year, and I was thinking about it last fall. And I need to stop thinking and just type. There are a lot of things in my way, and I need to ignore them, because they are all noise.

On my birthday, I wrote in my personal journal a big, raw, insane state-of-the-union, trying to put down exactly what I wanted to do next, along with a punchlist of what needed to be done to get Atmospheres 2 done, which obviously never happened. There was a lot of confusion and sorrow and anger in that entry. But there’s one paragraph I’ll leave you with, and I think I need to listen to what I said on 1/20:

I need to write. I need to write. I need to get on here every day and push it. I need to work harder. I need to capture everything. I need to riff, and slay, and build, and exercise, and work it out. I have no goal except everything. This is my life. This is what I need to do. There is no alternative.

When Ichiro Suzuki was in little league, he wrote the word “集中” on his glove. Concentration. I need to remember that.