As a full-time marketing professional and mom of two little kids, pursuing my master’s degree was not high on my list of priorities. Although I never ruled it out, I always wanted to be sure that if I went back to school it would be for personal achievement and growth rather than simply getting a piece of paper. This past year has been a learning experience in how to balance work, school and home life but, with the support of my friends and family, I can confidently say that I have found that balance and the rewards I’m reaping are more than I had ever imagined.
After starting my position as a marketing director a few years ago at Brandman University, I soon noticed that many of my colleagues were both students and staff members at the school. The way they talked about their education and how they were able to implement what they had learned into the workplace captivated me. One day one of them asked me why I wasn’t enrolled in a program, all I could come up with was, “I don’t have the time.” Becoming a part-time student meant about fifteen hours of school work a week and I didn’t know where I would find those extra hours. But with the support of my co-worker I explored this excuse and began to find ways to make fitting going back to school into my schedule.
At the time, my daughter was one year old and my son was three. They still took naps and, for the most part, my weekends were free except for house cleaning and hanging out with friends and family. After a few weeks of pondering my new found time, I talked to my husband about going back to school. I explained that in order to free up time, I would need his help. He agreed to take on dishes and laundry exclusively. That in itself was motivation to go back to school! In addition I wanted to invest in a housekeeper so I did not have to spend my weekend cleaning. He agreed to help me with whatever I needed and was proud of me for my decision to start school.
The next step was to determine what I wanted to major in. With extensive experience in the field of marketing, an MBA would be the obvious choice, but my bachelor’s degree was already in business and I wanted to explore something new. Of course there was the added benefit of not having to take accounting courses again or go through the process of reinventing a business from the ground up. I wanted to be passionate about what I learned and be able to translate my education into work as well as my personal life. I started researching different programs at Brandman and realized the master’s in organizational leadership was the option for me.
I hired a housekeeper and a few days later I started class at Brandman. I was terrified my first session since I had not written a paper since I was an undergraduate student ten years prior. I was afraid that my peers would judge me in some way during my contributions to class projects and discussions. Thankfully my experience was the exact opposite than what I feared.
My instructor was amazing and spent extra time with me and other new students to make sure we were comfortable with the online learning platform, Blackboard, and the process of submitting assignments. As I looked around the classroom I saw that many of my peers were in the same boat as I was – adult students with full-time jobs and families. This inspired me and gave me the confidence to know that I could do this.
Of course with any new experience there is a period of trial and error, and for me this mainly landed in the realm of time management. I felt guilty trying to read when the kids were awake and felt bad that my husband was doing all the housework. I tried to jump in and do the dishes a few times and was told to sit back down and study (thank you husband!).
I needed to compartmentalize. Giving up time with my kids was not OK but giving up TV was. My new routine now consists of coming home from work, eating dinner, playing with the kids, doing bedtime, then reading and/or discussion board posts. TV and a glass of wine are my treats only when my homework for the night is complete. During the weekend, I do my homework early in the morning, during nap time and bedtime. When I have a big paper to write, I enlist the help of friends and family to take the kids for a day so I can knock out the assignment. I find it truly amazing how much my kids, family and friends actually came to enjoy our new schedule which ultimately allows them to spend more time together. This is how I have been able to find my school/life balance.
Throughout all this I still had a career to manage and that portion actually fell into place pretty seamlessly. The lessons taught in class challenge me to assess my current leadership style, ethical framework, problem solving tactics and communication style. The blank whiteboard in my office is now filled with reminders of how to conduct effective meetings and work more collaboratively with others. In addition, the organizational leadership courses are designed to have students self-reflect, which has taught me a lot about myself personally including how and why I do the things that I do. Being able to recognize my strengths and identify areas of opportunity has helped me adjust my communication effectiveness both at work and at home.
Looking back to when I began this journey, I can’t imagine how I would have been able to move up in my organization or grow as much as I have as an individual without going back to school. I’m proud to say that my passion is contagious. My best friend is now talking about finishing her degree and two of my co-workers are planning to enroll next session. Although my house may get a little messy and I may not see my friends as much as I used, I still feel like I’m able to spend quality time with my family while excelling in my job and doing well in school. I am grateful every day to my wonderful husband and best friend who help me balance it all and allow me not to feel guilty when I ask for help. I am happy that I can be an inspiration to others and hope that one day others can feel the sense of pride that I have experienced since starting my master’s degree. Not only have I inspired others to go back to school, I’m becoming a better boss, co-worker, friend, wife and mother.