To (M)B(A) or not to (M)B(A)

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Alright, Post #4! We’re doing this thing! So yeah, despite the fact that I’m late on this post (fell asleep reading work stuff last night…), I’ve been thinking about, playing with the idea of, and dreading this exercise all week. This post is also going to be my most -stream-of-consciousness style to date.

The reason why has a lot to do with the particular decision I’m going to analyze and how I’ve been trying to avoid analyzing this decision as of late.

Because I resent unsolicited suspense-building, the decision is:

To accept an offer to start an MBA on September 2020, moving away from Miami for 2+ years

OR

To stay and see my current social impact work to the end (CPA very much included, by the way).

The vision for CPA Miami has actually been a pivotal factor towards actually making this a decision I’m struggling with.

So, more context – Since January of this year, I’ve been preparing myself to apply and begin to work on an MBA degree. This involved over 10 months of work with varying intensities, involving:

  • Doing a surprising amount of research
  • Paying for and studying 3 months for the GMAT exam (traumatizing experience, by the way, especially when you’re not satisfied with your score like me)
  • Apply for an MBA prep service for minorities (and get rejected…)
  • Wrestling with whether to retake the GMAT or not (and eventually deciding not to).
  • Pestering my universities in both Chile and Australia for my official transcripts (again…ugh).
  • Applying to 6 schools, which means:
    • Including researching schools
    • Paying and using a web-service to help me prepare my pitch to the schools
    • Adapting my story for each school
    • Writing multiple essays for each
    • Harass my recommenders for letters
    • Record videos
    • Pay application fees (6 schools add up)
    • Travelling to the campuses for interviews (4 schools so far, could be 5)

I’d only heard from people how exhaustive and stressful this process could be, but I admittedly shrugged it off by thinking “oh please, how bad can it be? write a couple of essays, prepare an interview and get over it”. Nope. Lesson Learned.

So far, I can’t complain with the support I’ve gotten along the way and my results so far:

  • My boss has been incredibly supportive, both in being my recommender, advising me on how to shape my story and my vision for the degree. Hats off to him, especially considering that he’s helping me make a decision that involves me not working for him anymore.
  • My other recommender and network have also been super supportive, allowing me to bounce ideas off them and refine my stories.
  • So far, I’ve secured 4 interviews with schools comfortably within the top 10 in the world and an offer letter from 1 of them (the interviews for the other 3 have yet to happen at the time of writing this post). I’m waiting to hear back from the last school.

Further considerations on this include the fact that I’m evaluating whether to apply for a public policy dual degree as well. However, since the timelines for both applications do not overlap, I’ll probably only apply to the public policy program of the school that I actually end up going to for my MBA (if I go…more on this later). Still, its very painful to write yet another application and especially one focused on something so different to my background.

Given the results so far, I have the very real option to go back to school, starting August/September of 2020 (the lag time is pretty wild, right?).

Al throughout writing this recount of everything I’ve done, I can’t help but feel very victim-y for all the work as if it justifies a potential decision, but then have that wrestle with the notion of sunk cost. In other words, all that work and money is done and paid for, so all I really have to evaluate is whether to go or not (as opposed to having to decide between applying or not, which is wildly different because of the extra work and uncertain outcome).

Nevertheless, there are still very real costs for doing the degree even after having gotten the acceptance letter(s):

  • Tuition, ranging from $0-160k, depending on school, fellowships and merit scholarships. Expected value as of right now is about $120k
  • Living costs for 2-3 years in a new city which will probably be around $50-60k per year
  • The opportunity cost of NOT working for 2-3 years (and at 30 years young, that’s a big thing)

Anyways, let’s get down to applying the decision making process in the prompt and see where that goes.

  1. Write down your goals, the outcomes this decision is supposed to produce. What is this for? You’re putting time and effort into this choice, why? What outcome do you seek?

Alright. Even though the whole process of preparing for and doing an MBA requires that we develop a vision for ourselves in the future and eloquently articulate the reasons for undergoing such an investment, I’m going to shy away from regurgitating that version of the pitch and I’m just going to stay higher level simply because, for the purpose of analyzing outcomes, the why is more important than the how. Also, I’m not going to go into detail analyzing which school I’d go to. The outcomes I’m looking for are:

  • More opportunities to develop and grow into my leadership potential.
  • Ability to command a higher pay, so that raising a family becomes financially feasible in the medium term.
  • A process of intense intellectual and experiential growth and renewal.
  • The opportunity to participate in an experience and environment of constant growth and reflection, outside of my traditional comfort zone, geography and people, regarding my path moving forward.
  • A solid network that includes an inner circle of like-minded professionals who have similar passions, lived experiences and ambition.
  • “Insurance” as I call it. Having a big brand educational institution in my resume also protects me, in part, from professional upheaval and opens doors.
  • Peace and fulfillment with my professional life.
  • Another idea I’ve been playing with is potentially transition out of consulting in general. Maybe I’m just ready to be part of a “thing” and not just an adviser/hired hands to other “things”. This goal is the opposite of why most people do an MBA. Many want to transition into consulting through an MBA as a stepping stone. Honestly, I’m a over the big brand consulting and ready to go deep.

I realize that some of these outcomes are kind of like matryoshka dolls in the sense that they are intermediate outcomes that could lead to the final outcomes.

Distilling only to final outcomes, then I end up with 3:

  • Money to raise family and stay independent
    • as a single father, since I am not looking to have to depend on anyone else, financially, to do it. If someone comes along who wants to do it with me and we get to that place, that’s a different conversation.
  • Peace and fulfillment
  • Constant growth
    • this might not sound like a final outcome, but for me it is important to cultivate a lifelong habit/ mindset of growth.

2. Aggressively and promiscuously list every possible choice that’s available to you. Not just the few that fit your current frame. By writing down something like, “quit and go home,” it opens up options you were ignoring. Force yourself to unframe the problem before framing it.

  1. Do the MBA and transition to something else entirely (probably govt, NGO or something along those lines) in Miami or not (2 choices)
  2. Do the MBA and work on social impact but not CPA (in Miami or not).
  3. Do the MBA and work on CPA somehow (Felipe has expressed openness to this possibility, so that’s something that could be explored) and after graduation continue in social impact (in Miami or not).
  4. Stay and continue to work at Future Partners and CPA.
  5. Stay and quit Future Partners and just do CPA.
  6. Defer the MBA and do option 4 or 5 for a year and then do the MBA*
  7. Quit and do something else entirely, probably in Miami.
  8. Quit and go live a simple life working at a hostel at a beach in South-Eastern Australia called Byron Bay (if you’ve been, you’d know it’s totally THAT kind of place).
  • * This one is very tricky. Many schools will not even consider this unless there are exceptional circumstances. Also, I am not even open to the possibility of not doing it now and having to reapply all over again some other time. NO.WAY.AM.I.GOING.THROUGH.THIS.AGAIN. It’s now or not in the foreseeable future (executive MBAs don’t count right now).

3. For each option available to you, list the dependencies, the things the outcome is contingent on, the events that have to happen for that option to be a good one.

Alright, 8-ish options, some will have overlapping dependencies. Let’s see:

For my desired outcomes to be realized under option 1 and 2, I’d need to:

  • Choose an MBA that is a good fit for me and make good use of it (likely)
  • Land a good internship and job coming out of the degree (this becomes less likely if I narrow my choices down to only Miami in the field I’m interested in, I’m not considering the possibility of working for the multinationals in Miami or the cruise lines).
  • Do well at this and subsequent roles (completely unpredictable, but I want to be optimistic).

For the variant that any CPA related option provides, the dependency is that CPA is successful here in Miami (which I attribute increased probabilities if my current boss is involved) and that it and my job in general provides me the financial resources for my other life goals.

4. [Optional and advanced, but worth a glance] The Decision Tree:

Alright, for the first version of this one then I’m going to stick to my 3 final outcomes as variables that will determine which options are better. I’m assuming the first two outcomes ($ and happiness) are equally weighted and then the 3rd one of life-long learning is weighed at 50%, because having the other 2 at the expense of the third might not be that bad of a trade-off, at least for now. I’m also just going to consider the % chance of things going my way and some ranges. I’m also not going to branch out the possibility of everything blowing up and ending up a hippie pariah somewhere…oh wait, Australia….that’s plan Z.

In the spirit of Halloween, I will now summon a power point slide (boo! I’m sure Jonathan is cringing! ha ha):

Legend: $ is money, heart is happiness, brain is growth, calculator is probability and the = is the final score. To reach the final score, I kept the number values of the scores but without being percentages. I then added the midpoint of all 3 indicators (but the second weighed by 50%) and then multiply the summation by the probability of success.

For example: For the first row we’d do 135 (midpoint between 120 and 150) + 70 (midpoint between 60 and 80) + 35 (half of the midpoint between 70 and 80) * 0.75 = 180.

Obviously, and as is evident by this process, we humans are (I am) awful at calculating expected values from any potential decision because:

  • We can’t reasonably assess the probability of practically anything meaningful happening or not
  • We can’t reasonably size the impact of anything even remotely complex. Especially a decision like this whose results can be measured through many variables, many unmeasurable (happiness, fulfillment etc.)

The value I did find from going through is that there is a scenario in which I could “have it all”, but it would require that I double down on CPA for these next 10 months. However, and I’ll risk saying this publicly, but we’re undergoing turbulent times at my job right now (a coworker just quit, certain recurring frictions with a certain someone, general stress and nervousness at all levels etc.). In this scenario, the MBA also serves as my insurance should things take a turn for the worse there as well.

Also, this makes me realize I don’t have a clear idea on what the potential upside for people working in/on CPA is. Probably need to find out/think how negotiation could work for the scenarios (PS: my boss tried to convince me to not go to the MBA today…again…but he’s been my #1 support to get this far. Hats off to him on this, right?)

Also, a critical thing I’ve realized while going through this exercise is how important the timing of this decision is. I don’t strictly have to make this decision until like, July of next year. I could, in theory, pay all the deposits and make all the arrangements to go and decide last minute that I don’t want to go.

Also, the fact that class starts in July/August of next year means I still have another 9-10 months to set up CPA here in Miami and leave it in a place where it can continue without me (and maybe that’s enough for the universe right now). I could also continue part-time either supporting Felipe with something else or supporting CPA Miami remotely (I can imagine training or other kind of remote consultant-like support).

It also seems that writing this post has inadvertently trapped me in a travelling gravitational anomaly that seems to have moved me 8 hours into the future… what did I get done today? ugh…

Hmm…Looks like maybe the running decision is that I should take the plunge and get my degree while trying to support CPA Miami from behind the scenes while I’m away….

What do you all think?

RS: alright, so it was really fun and heart warming to read all the comments from my cohort (also now friends 😍).

If I go to the root of their comments, it was all about ditching the numbers and thinking about what I’m feeling and what I want truly.

what will make me happy and why? I honestly think an MBA is one of the biggest gifts I can give myself and I am fortunate (privileged) enough to be able to consider it, apply, get in and then actually go through with it. I also think I deserve it (I say this completely without arrogance).

I deserve the opportunity to undergo a new process of intense intellectual and emotional renewal, a new adventure. An adventure where I will make deep friendships, discover new interests, contribute in new ways.

Even if I consider some of the absolute worst case scenarios (like being stuck with debt for a loooong time or failing at work or not enjoying the experience that much), I’ll at least won’t be stuck with the “what if”.

I’ve heard a lot of things about people reaching the end of their lives and regretting more the things they didn’t do than things they actually did. I don’t want to be one of those people.

I think that, no matter what, I’ll be happy I did it. I’ll be happy I took the risk and saw the possibility and decided to play big. There is no reason to engineer smallness in my life.

I’ve often considered that much of my professional life is marked by a series of repeated “failures”. That I’ve come up short over and over again. That I try and constantly punch above my weight class and pay great prices because of it. But one thing no one can say about me is that I’ve been risk averse or a coward. If anything, it’s because I’ve been brave and willing to put myself out there that I’ve failed spectacularly, but I’ve picked myself up and found other successes that o couldn’t have imagined. Today, I’m undoubtfully better because of it, even though it has hurt like HELL.

This is how I’ve grown and this is what feels right. Even if I never make it, I will never be among those who didn’t think they could try. Maybe one day I’ll realize what my place actually is and that feels right, but until I get there I want to follow my heart. And my heart says I’m ready for a new adventure and level up this way.

And by the end of it, who knows? Maybe find a special someone. 😬

7 thoughts on “To (M)B(A) or not to (M)B(A)”

  1. Hi Juan Francisco!
    I 100% appreciate the very important distinction you made between applying to b-school and choosing to go to b-school. It’s so noteworthy that you are able to make this decision independent of the sunk costs you reference – you’re making moves regardless of the tremendous amount of work you put in to get here!
    Fellow engineer, my question to you is – when do you defy the numbers? 🙂 You did the extra credit and prepared an amazing decision tree (it was optional AND advanced!). Looking at the chart alone, it would be easy to justify the “have it all” option. You added considerations that could affect the outcome – timing, the need to assess the upside of working on CPA – however, what could veto all of that? When do you tell yourself you don’t need to make a data-driven decision, especially if the data is presented in a very visually appealing and mathematically defensible PowerPoint slide? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely loving this! Ha so much rigor and fidelity to the method – wow, Seth is impressed, I’m sure. And that slide. Who’s your graphics team 🙂 What is probability again?

    The strain of a decision like this is no joke. I face something similar in 2013 when deciding if and what grad school. I did not have a method, or neat slides, or really even the honest conversation about whether grad school made sense. Enough peers were on that wagon it felt necessary and desirable to do grad school along with them.

    I ultimately chose HKS after I visited SAIS in DC, my last grad school visit. I went for a run on a warm Friday afternoon in April. I almost literally ran into my former boss’s boss from the Obama 2012 campaign, Chris, who was also on a run. As we ran together through Rock Creek Park, dodging tourists, I told him about the decision facing me. Then he told me a story that helped me decide to go to HKS.

    In 2001 Jeremy Bird went to Harvard Div where he took a class on community organizing with Marshall Ganz. 6 years later, what Jeremy learned in Marshall’s class became the basis for the field game strategy for Senator Obama’s campaign for President. Jeremy was Obama’s national field Director. Marshall was lead trainer. I learned the same methodology (neighborhood teams, snowflake model, self-us-now) in 20å12 as a regional field director in Ohio, where I met Chris.

    If HKS is the place where people meet people who go on to get elected future presidents – the first Black president, nonetheless – I decided that’s where I needed to go. I submitted my deposit that day.

    After months of careful research and conversations and visit, it was hearing about a fateful connection while I was wiping sweat out of my eyes that determined where I wound up. My reaction to that story has taught me about how I make decisions in terms of process – based on feelings, mostly – and also in terms of content (e.g., I value being at the center of the action, I want to be a school that offers stuff like organizing).

    May you find a compelling reason for your decision as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Juan Francisco, I’m pretty sure your post earned you an honorary MBA, at a minimum. So thorough and well-organized; an amazing chart! I hope this is not presumptuous on my part, because I love the careful order and structure with which you have written this post, and, I wonder if you would also answer the question: “What would a person who loved themselves do?” regarding this decision? (It is a thought/feeling experiment recommended by a whacky guru but I think it is one helpful way to access the content/feeling levels that Jonathan aptly described above.)

    I hear in your post a lot of thoughtful consideration of the needs and desires of others (ahem, the boss…). And while I understand that this is completely logical and judicious and even generous, I really want to know how your decision might be rendered clearer by that loving but pointed question: What would someone who loves themselves do?

    (I’m not trying to suggest you do not love yourself! I am imagining you as the endlessly patient, loving, generous parent to your future children and invite you to shine that unconditional positive regard on yourself in this wonderful, elusive, exciting decision-making process! I am cheering you on all the way!!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A very impressive post with a wonderful chart! I’ve considered b-school multiple times and your thought process is very helpful. I echo Sheila’s question above, in large part, because this feels like a deeply personal decision. I took the unusual route of getting a master in fine arts instead of going to law school. It made no sense financially and it pushed me more personally than a law degree. But I remain grateful that I did it, even if this decision making process would never have led me there. Thanks for all that you’ve shared here!

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  5. Oh my goodness do I relate to (reading this post both smilingly and also cringingly and with deep empathy) the important-ness and difficulty of this choice! I think you might also be an enneagram type 7…or maybe a 3. I don’t know, you’re not supposed to type people but when I get into this type of exercise so intensely it’s usually because I’m trying to maximize joy and good things with every fiber of my being.

    So, a few thoughts and a few questions:
    1. Have you considered applying and going to the Woodrow Wilson School (WWS) for public affairs? They do have a joint MBA option if you are also in another MBA program but I mention it because that’s the masters’ program I did and it has the unique and wonderful quality of being TOTALLY FREE and not only that but PAYING YOU A LIVING WAGE to attend. So, if skipping the MPA route becomes the winning option, or if you want to avoid debt but still get a masters of some kind, just let me know and I’m happy to provide you with folks that did the joint program to talk to, or talk to you myself about the program.
    2. I remember the day I was accepted to the WWS and having both an elated sense of “Holy shit I did it!!” (who wouldn’t be thrilled at a full ride to a big name school?) and also a weirdly tragic feel of grief and powerlessness. Because who turns down a full ride to a big name school? Which is to say. It felt like the decision was already made for me. Like I couldn’t say no even I wanted to. So I just want to name and repeat in case you don’t have this message deeply enough ingrained in you: You can always say no. You can always chose. Australia is HONESTLY NOT A BAD OPTION.
    3. I just want to challenge you to think about whether the option that receives the highest score would still receive it if you made “Having free time” or “having time to do nothing” or “having time to navigate the adoption process” into the equation. As someone who tends to say yes to adding responsibilities if they seem worthwhile, I understand the “more is more” approach to life all too well. It’s a continuous struggle to remember that “doing nothing” and “life” are sometimes sweetly overlapping categories.

    Lastly, I just want to say that knowing you the little I have through this incubator, I’m confident you will make a good choice and that whatever choice you make goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life. 🙂 I mean that genuinely. And I’m here if you ever want to talk through any of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jess! I’m so so grateful for your kind words and offer! I did a quick research and found that WWS is in Princeton and that they don’t have an MBA program and couldn’t find a joint version.

      I haven’t been open to considering Princeton for that reason, but happy to see if you can find something. Thanks!

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  6. Hi Juan Fransisco! I appreciate how you approached the prompt with such rigor, really seeming to turn every option, choice, and contingency over in your mind! Thanks for putting your process out there for us to reflect on with you 🙂
    A few reflections:
    1. How confident are you about your assumptions? Context always matters, but how confident that spending $x dollars on an MBA will result in a salary increase that’s large enough to let you see a significant increase in income once you account for the debt + interest that you’ll be paying back? [See: https://www.freep.com/story/money/personal-finance/susan-tompor/2019/10/18/how-to-handle-tens-thousands-college-debt/2384068001/%5D, for reference. How can you do some bench marking to check and see how alumni from these schools tend to fare financially? Or, looking at people in positions you admire, how many of them have MBAs, how much did it cost them, how long did it take them to get rid of the debt, etc. Also, how confident are you that you’ll encounter like-minded professionals in one of the MBA programs to which you’ve applied? Have you done bench marking with current or past students from these or other programs? I only ask because the one friend who I have who’s done an MBA at a pretty elite university, who is also happens to be participating in this Incubator, definitely didn’t feel like her classmates were kindred spirits demographically or in terms of wanting to use business to advance social good.
    2. I love option #8! Reading that made my heart smile. In 2016, I left my job and moved to London to get a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics. Towards the end of 2017, it was time to come home (most master’s programs in the UK are 1 year). I remember talking with a friend whom I’d met in London who was born in Ghana, raised in the UK. She was planning to move back to Ghana to build up her family’s business running a beach house. She didn’t feel fully equipped to do it on her own, but she was going to give it all she had. How I longed to go to Ghana with her to help her make the beach house a destination! But, alas, I had just taken on $50k in debt to do the master’s program, meaning I needed to go back to the States and find work with much better pay than I’d be getting working at her beach house.
    2. From what I’ve seen, your network, your experience, your confidence, how you express yourself, how people perceive you, where you apply to, your network (I know, I put that twice), are at least as important as the degree that you have. Especially if you’re a POC. My own case is distinct in some ways and Detroit is a distinctly insular place, but I would go as far to suggest that this holds true anywhere.
    3. What’s your north star? What do you see when you envision your ideal personal, professional, social, etc. life 5, 10, or more years from now? If all of the options seem to be potential pathways on the road to that vision, you can’t really go wrong, at the end of the day. 🙂

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