MBA - About the MBA

Perfection is Not the Price of Admission

This article is sponsored by the Kellogg Executive MBA Program.

I contemplated applying to business school for a decade.  Even though I had some solid work experience in my 20s, I always found a way to tell myself – I’m not ready.   Truth be told, I had secretly circled the Kellogg School of Management when I was 22 in a book called Top Ten Business Schools in America.  I looked at it each year and would think — not yet.

Each year, I stacked up a list of reasons why it wasn’t the right time or some reason why I’d never get in… I don’t have enough experience. I went to a state school.  I’m a first-generation college student.  There are no MBA’s in my family.  I don’t test well.  I can’t afford it.  How will I compete with all of the other students, who are so (fill in the blank)?

A decade later, I moved to Evanston and finally declared my MBA wish out-loud (for the first time) to my husband. After talking through what this would mean so early in our marriage, I took the chance and finally applied.  Over 20 years later, I can still remember proudly announcing the good news to my extended family at our backyard barbecue with acceptance letter to Kellogg’s Executive MBA program in hand!

Simply put, Kellogg changed my life; the first time as a student, and then the second time as a clinical professor.  I have climbed the corporate ladder, joined Boards, and now teach and head up women’s leadership programming.  I seriously wonder – what if I never took that leap and applied?  What took me so long?

I have seen, in myself and so many other women of all ages, that we often hesitate waiting for the right time and a more perfect self. I believe we, all too often, hold ourselves back preparing, perfecting, and even policing our actions especially in times of transition or risk-taking. It’s as if we cannot move forward unless we have achieved unrealistic expectations.

All too often, we are waiting – waiting in the wings, waiting for our turn, waiting for someone to notice our hard work.  It keeps us as the supporting player not the leading or main character in our story.  It quiets that little voice, that inner-knowing we have –that maybe we can be so much more.  It’s that inner-knowing that can provide us the courage to take center stage in our lives and create the careers we want on our own terms.

How did we get here?  I believe it starts early.  In school and sometimes in our family or culture, we were rewarded for good grades, modesty, polite behavior, helping, and being the good girl that didn’t make a fuss.  In past generations, women were protected, provided for, and put on a pedestal.   These societal norms no longer serve today’s times.  Yet, they sneak up on us and are still part of our underlying culture and conditioning setting up crazy expectations.  This contributes to us believing this myth that perfection is our price of admission.

To be sure, there may be areas to develop and prepare for the next promotion or for business school. With so many resources, like Forté, available to guide, encourage, and find funding, women are far more ready for their MBA than at any other time in history.

Sometimes our hesitancy is fueled by self-doubt that keeps us stuck. I call it the “Mirrored Door,” which keeps us focused on ourselves with a self-critical eye, looking for perfection, stopping our momentum.  When we recognize the messages that hold us back, we can reframe them to something more empowering.  There is power in shifting our message from “I can’t do this” to “I’m going to figure this out.”

Are you contemplating an MBA?  Here are three things to consider:

  • Have you built basic workplace skills, working relationships, and organizational knowledge? How could an MBA accelerate your learning and development to enable you to shift into business, a new function, or a higher level in the next 2-5 years?
  • How might an MBA create options for you over the long term?
  • What is stopping you? Is it self-doubt, others’ expectations, or a true need for more experience? How might you reframe the conversation in your head and with others?

Let’s stop fooling ourselves into believing that we are not ready or worthy enough.  The reality is that we are far more ready than we realize. The reality is that we need women’s voices in the business world and we need them at higher volume and greater frequency now more than ever. The reality is that taking the risk of a new job or an MBA is how we can build our learning, our grit, and our future.

Ellen Taaffe is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Kellogg School of Management, an Independent Board Director, Leadership Coach, a former Fortune 50 Executive and a Kellogg MBA ‘97. Hear more insights in her TEDx talk, Taking Center Stage can change your life, or follow her on Linkedin. Ellen is also the director of women’s leadership programming at Kellogg including the Women’s Leadership Seminar and a “Women’s In” series this year. Learn more about Kellogg’s commitment to accelerating the careers of high-potential women.

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