Oxford, Covid-19 and strategic decisions

3 minute read

In March, I wrote about saying 'yes' to new challenges as Saïd Business School celebrated International Women’s Month. And here I am now saying 'no'. Well, 'not right now' to be more precise.

Let’s recap: I joined Oxford Saïd in January as part of cohort 1 of the Oxford Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation. Coming from the public sector in the United Nations system, I was full of energy to dive into new waters, meet people working in vastly different fields, read, discuss, be immersed and be challenged. That first week in Oxford kicked off 2022 on a high note and promised to be followed by ever more inspiration.

I returned to Vienna, where I work for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and promptly caught Covid-19 from my family. No worries, I thought. I was triple vaccinated and in good health. I had spent the pre-class early mornings jogging around Oxford the week before. According to the statistics, chances were good that I would recover quickly.

I did my best to motor through. Remember my opening line above? I applied to be a class representative, I organised my daughter’s eighth birthday party, and I went back to work. And each day has been a struggle.

I have long Covid, or post-viral syndrome. The doctor’s advice was clear: ‘patients who recover the best are the ones who pace themselves.’ For anyone who knows me, pacing is probably not something that comes to mind. I typically operate on high-energy as a baseline.

Faced with options, I considered the problem using similar strategic thinking learnt in module one of the Diploma in Strategy and Innovation. Should I defend my strategy of maximising the good days? Should I pivot and find new ways to avoid the famous Covid-19 crashes? Or, reading between the doctor’s lines, should I exit and learn to pace, plan and prioritise my life to have the best chances of recovering in a timely way?

I’m choosing to exit the current strategy – for now – because I will benefit in the long term. As soon as I even allowed the word ‘exit’ to be whispered in my thoughts, the air cleared a bit.

This isn’t the type of blog entry that I expected to write for Oxford. A blog entry about suspending my studies? What kind of a message is that? What I mean to communicate is this: being part of the diploma experience is a unique opportunity and deserves dedication. You will thank yourself for that dedication and your cohort will be all the richer for it.

From module one alone, I could tell that the diploma programme was going to be a life-changing experience. It was hard work. It was exciting. I scribbled countless notes in a side notebook when I thought of practical ways to apply business concepts to mission-driven organisations. After five days with Tim Galpin leading the way for our cohort, and weeks of ploughing through the assigned readings, I was having glimpses of what I would gain in the long term.

I joined Oxford with a clear plan to study hard, make meaningful connections, learn a million new things and come out inspired. I’ve had to pause for now, but I can’t wait to be back in 2023. Maybe you will join me?