Early Career

Finding My Flame

Kate-AnsariLike a moth, I am drawn to the glow of television. It’s my flame, and I’m not alone. According to the New York Times, the average American spends eight hours in front of a screen everyday.

Growing up, I woke up at the break of dawn to watch “Mr. Wizard” on Saturday mornings and stayed up past my bedtime to watch National Geographic documentaries with my dad on school nights. So when I discovered a major in college that could lead to a career in television, I made a beeline for my academic advisor’s office to switch to broadcast journalism.

I spent seven years in the television news business—all of them on the overnight shift. That meant waking up to a 2:00 a.m. alarm 52 weeks a year, even on holidays. At the age of 25, I was promoted to a position that put me in charge of a team of twenty employees, several of them decades my senior. I assigned stories, conducted performance reviews and even made hiring and firing decisions. My life was a thrilling adrenaline rush of deadlines, breaking news and celebrity interviews.

Finding Value in Myself—And My Time

When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer during my first pregnancy, I realized that my sexy job’s not-so-sexy salary wasn’t worth the crazy hours and stress. My health and my time were far more valuable now that I had a family. That’s when I decided that becoming a full-time mom was the right decision for me. Coming from a family of strong, powerful career-driven women made this decision a daunting one. In order to close the gap on my resume between broadcast news and my first job back in the work force, I applied to four different MBA programs.

I had been home with my son for about a month when I started getting antsy. I went from someone who planned 40 hours of live television news coverage a week to someone who planned her schedule around “The Price is Right” and my son’s naps. I still had months to go before I would find out which programs I had gotten into, and I was getting restless.

I started a blog and took up hot yoga. I learned how to knit. I started making my own baby bath products. Then something fortuitous happened. After realizing the demand for the kinds of all-natural, preservative-free products I was whipping up in my own kitchen, I started selling our homemade lotions and creams at local farmers markets with my sister.

The business grew and soon we were selling in local boutiques and online. Within a few more months Dear Baby Products were on the shelves of our local Whole Foods Market and on Etsy Wholesale. I had found my new flame.

Be a Moth

As my business began to take off, I started hearing back from MBA programs. I was accepted into three of the four programs to which I had applied. I also found out that I was expecting my second child in what would be my first semester of classes. In an instant, my number one priority in choosing a program became flexibility.

I chose the Online Hybrid MBA format at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, in part because it was the only program that would allow me to start that fall instead of deferring for a year because of my pregnancy.

I was seven months along when I met my classmates, and soon realized that not only did I stand out physically, but I also stood out when discussing our educational backgrounds. I was the only student who had never taken a statistics class.

Today, the pressure to keep up with my impressive colleagues provides the adrenaline rush of my days in TV, with the flexibility to both work on my business and on my classwork at my own pace. These days, the only alarm waking me up at 2:30 a.m. is my newborn daughter.

Don’t get me wrong – I still love television. Every week I watch “Undercover Boss.” Most of the time, the first words out the boss’ mouth are “I’m not your typical CEO.” But that’s where they’re wrong. Atypical is the new typical.

Today, more and more successful businesses are led by people like me who do not wear suits. So even if you aren’t the classic MBA candidate, you can still succeed in business school. You just have to be drawn to it, like a moth to a flame.

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