Nearly two years ago now, during the midst of the pandemic, I was sitting at home feeling unhappy with my career. Although I was serving in the military, at the time I was in a technical/managerial role, so like many others I had been sent home to work from my laptop.
I had reached a point in my career where I felt I was really starting to find my feet – I was progressing well, I had some real professional achievements under my belt, and I was starting to develop real expertise in particular areas. Despite this, however, I wasn’t satisfied. The excitement and rapid acceleration of the early years of grappling with a new career – deploying around the world, facing new challenges, new experiences – had started to slow, as I started to move out of that early-career stage and into the long climb of mid-career progression. I knew that I was doing well relative to my peers, but all the same, I felt I could be challenged more.
To be clear: it’s not that I don’t love the Navy (I still believe that joining was the best life decision I’ve ever made), but I began to feel that if I was going to really stretch myself to my full potential, I was eventually going to have to make a jump into the unknown.
I remember walking around a park that winter with a friend (socially distanced, of course) relaying my frustrations and my feeling that I could be doing more – making a bigger impact. After I’d finished rambling, she asked me:
'Have you considered doing an MBA?'
To which I replied:
'What’s an MBA?'
I genuinely didn’t have a clue. I don’t come from a business background, and certainly it isn’t something that sailors sit chatting about whilst at sea or holed up in a survival shelter in the Arctic, so it was never on my radar.
She explained a little about what an MBA was, and it piqued my interest. I liked the idea of breadth and variety, and felt that coming from a non-business background, having a broad education in all the skills I’d need would serve me well in whatever I wanted to do outside of the Service. Still though, I was slightly uncomfortable. I had joined the Navy out of a sense of public service, and had always been afraid of the idea of leaving the forces only to disappear into some well-paid but completely meaningless job that I hated.
I knew I needed to do something though, so I started to look into it. An essential part of exploring your options (and eventually applying) is understanding the core themes about yourself that have brought you to where you are, and shape what you might do next. For me, they were a strong feeling of internationalism, and sense of public service & desire to contribute to society.
Whilst doing my research online, I came across the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Whilst obviously the Oxford brand is pretty potent in and of itself, what really piqued my interest was two things: it’s hugely diverse and international cohort (typically 90-95% international, with 64 nationalities represented in my cohort), and its all-encompassing focus on social impact and tackling global challenges.
Beyond just the business school, there was the university itself. At Oxford, as well as belonging to your academic department, you also belong to one of Oxford’s constituent colleges. These are multi-disciplinary groups of academics who live, study, and eat together. As an inveterate nerd, the opportunity to sit down to dinner and have conversations not just with other business students but also philosophers, theologians, physicists, and ancient Byzantine art historians (yes, that’s a thing) was incredibly exciting.
I was convinced. I applied to a couple of different schools (it doesn’t do to put all your eggs in one basket), and although I was fortunate enough to get into everywhere I applied to, it wasn’t really a contest. As soon as I received my admission from Oxford I accepted it, and I haven’t looked back.
Fast forward through what felt like an interminably long wait between getting in in Round 1 and actually getting to Oxford 10 months later, I’m here! I’m now about a month into the course, and what a month it has been. That will have to be for another blog post, however.
Until next time.....