Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Near Novel on my "Year of Change"

"Be ready for this year. Things are going to completely change for you."

With the risk of sounding ridiculously hokey, I "experienced" this message last year on my birthday.  To be specific, I was walking through the IKEA parking lot of all places, when I got this feeling that brought me to a stop. I just stood there and felt like some inner voice was speaking to me, and very clearly I got the message referenced above.  Don't ask me how I "got" it... I just know that I did and I somehow knew it was true.

Fast forward a few months, and there I was walking across Congress Avenue when Joe called.
J: "E. I may have the possibility of a job in Europe. Want to go with me?"
E: "Forget about me, that's great! You have to take it if you get it!"
J: "That wasn't my question. Do you want to go with me?"
E: Silence. (Combination of freaking out & total excitement ensues...)

To make a long story short, Joe clearly didn't take a job in Europe. Yet, the idea of moving there was definitely mind-opening & intriguing.  Plus, during the potential move research time, I realized that I wouldn't be able to join him unless I had a visa. The only visa I could see getting was a student visa. Well, that would be cool - I could use my MBA so why not get it in Europe?!

It quickly became clear that in order to apply to European grad schools, I would still have to take the dreaded GMAT.  I'm terrified of standardized tests, by the way, and that fact combined with my lack of formal study since 2001 was pretty intimidating.  Luckily, I had a completely random conversation with my friend Ben who had also been considering a European MBA (who knew?!) and we decided to embark on GMAT prep courses together.  We started the Princeton Review on November 2nd and spent every Tuesday night (and about 15 additional hours per week) reviewing verbal & quantitative problems and analytical writing. There was rarely a time I didn't have my study books in tow. By the end of the course, I was a mental headcase. (Which is pretty typical for me, honestly!) I felt completely unprepared, but I still took the test on December 30 and figured "what the hell. I can always take it again if I bomb it."

I am relieved to say that I did not bomb it. The GMAT is an adaptive test that plays mind games with you for 3 hours (meaning it gets progressively harder or easier based on how you are doing, although you have no idea if you are doing well and you start over-analyzing every question.) And after all of that, you can opt to see your score right there. Right in front of you. No hiding. Or, you can opt to delete your test and never see the score and have to start over again. Tempting, I tell you!! But I decided to keep the test, luckily. Upon seeing my score, I cried from the testing center, down the hallway, down the elevator, out the building, and on the way home. I called Joe, who initially was scared until I told him the number, and he kept saying, "E! This is a good thing! Stop crying!!" (Haha, poor boys!!)

You know me, I couldn't just relax upon finishing the test. I had to immediately start researching schools, looking at admissions deadlines, checking out programs and rankings, and come to the realization that if I really wanted to get my MBA, there was no reason I shouldn't start applying and start school in August.  (Except that I might have to face the possibility of rejection, which had me nearly as scared as taking that darn test. Headcase much?!) Ironically, all of this new found pressure to apply to US schools started with just a simple solution to living in Europe. Crazy how life works.

Then I had an idea. I love Seattle. I want to live in Seattle. Seattle is home to University of Washington, which has a great program. Why not go there? Then... I learned that the MBA Preview Weekend was in 2 weekends. Fate!? So I went, and fell in love with the city all over again, met some great people, really enjoyed the school, worked hard on my application, and applied and... then... a little voice popped up that said "Are you going to UW for the MBA or for Seattle?" Oh. Hmmmm. Wasn't there a smarter (and cheaper) way to get myself to Seattle rather than shelling out nearly $100K for my MBA? (Yes. But even so, declining my acceptance was heartbreaking for me.)

Meanwhile I had applied to Texas (because I had to apply to my hometown school) but I wasn't digging the idea of going there. In fact, I was conjuring up every reason I could think of why I shouldn't go to Texas. The red tape! The same program as my undergrad! Not taking a chance at new opportunity! For some reason, to be explained later, I tried hard not to go to Texas. I did still want to learn as much as I could about the program, and I went to a Texas Schools MBA Fair just to give Texas another shot.  While at the fair, I found TCU's accelerated (1-year) program and became instantly stoked about it. So much so, that within a month, I had visited campus, interviewed, applied, been accepted, and been offered a full scholarship. Clearly this was where I had to go, right? I loved the admissions staff and the alumni who had introduced me to the program. I felt like it was a great fit for me. I would be able to get my MBA quickly, while experiencing a new city that wasn't *too* far away from Joe or my family, and I would graduate debt free. How could I turn that down? So, I accepted in late February and started planning my life in Fort Worth.

Then came my acceptance to UT, which I received while in England. Yeah, well, good for me, right? I was glad to get in, but I had already made up my mind. Looking back to my conversations with Joe & his parents, I very clearly had not made up my mind, but of course I didn't realize it at the time. I kept bringing up all the benefits of UT, and how much I valued the professors, and how well the school was ranked, and the merits of going to school for two years instead of one... but then I would always finish with the price tag and recommit to TCU.

Then came a scholarship to UT. Oh. Wait. They actually want me to attend their program!? (Joe always rolls his eyes at this, because for some reason I still hadn't accepted that they had accepted me!) If I am being truly honest, it was perhaps at this point that the walls & barriers that I had put up to protect me from the assumed rejection from Texas starting coming down. (Yes, I really did that. I'm not proud, but it's the truth. Now the reason for my other-than-Texas school pursuit comes out.)

I realized I could easily attend UT's Preview Day and be sure I was making the right decision. Ironically, it was the day before I headed to Fort Worth for TCU's admit day. Perfect: Two schools, two days full of information, a deadline to make up my mind... Go!

Should I mention that I had rented out my house during this time? Seriously, as I was driving to Fort Worth, my new tenant was scheduled to move in to my house. My stuff had been furiously moved to Joe's over the course of two nights, all the the assumption that it was a temporary living arrangement.

Back to UT's Preview Day. I admit - I walked in thinking "I'm not coming here. I got a full ride somewhere else and they love me there." Then, the presentations started. Professor Doggett led a class that had me grinning from ear to ear. The conversations with new and current students were insightful and engaging. The burnt orange piece of my heart started to swell, and by the end of the day the little voice in my head was saying "pssst! go to Texas! it's where you belong!"

I won't go much into my final experience with TCU, except to say that it was incredibly painful to tell the admit director that I had changed my mind. They had been wonderful to me, and I have no doubt that I would had a great experience there. However, my gut was finally telling me "Stay in Austin & go to Texas!" and I had no choice but to listen.

So there you have it. Starting August 1st, I will attend the McCombs School of Business full time. I have no clue what the next two years will look like, but I know this is going to be one amazing experience.  It's also going to be insanely challenging, which is why I am taking the summer off and mentally resting and preparing for school.

Please know that I'm not trying to brag about scholarships or scores or anything like that. I hesitated writing about them, but I couldn't leave those details out and still be fully honest about this whole process.  I believe my experience with GMW was what provided me the scholarships, so I am grateful for that!

It's been nearly one year since my "IKEA Parking Lot Revelation." This surely wasn't at all what I could have imagined when I heard that things were going to change for me. But here I am, living at Joe's, no longer working at Southpro, and preparing to embark on graduate school.  I guess there's something to be said in opening oneself to possibilities and seeing what happens. This isn't a move to Europe (yet!) but it's the beginning of a whole new chapter for me. What can I say? I am open to all of it!

I will conclude by saying that being "Open" doesn't necessarily come easy to me. Without friends like ETG guiding my through the college admittance process, or Ben encouraging me to do the Princeton Review, or Melissa helping me to realize I am actually worthy of success, and of course Joe & my parents & the rest of my friends, I may have shied away from "open" entirely. I'm lucky I haven't had to do this alone, and for that - I am even more grateful.

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