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The Gift of a Year

For Alvira Fisher, a Women In Finance Network member, and year-long MBA student, a landmark event inspired her to sign up to study full-time. The greatest lesson of this journey surprised and transformed her. Here is her account of this life-changing experience.

Last year, I turned 40. This birthday is right up there with the major life milestones, and the gift required serious upfront consultation and financial planning; it took unconditional and unwavering support from my husband, children and the wider family; it was also the first time in my life that I studied full time.

It was my gift of a year.

For as long as I can recall, I have been studying while working, completing every course I thought was required for career progression. Relentlessly, and even on occasion unquestioningly, I followed manager after manager’s advice on the next short course to tick off the list.

Then I signed up for my MBA … My sabbatical was courteously embraced by my employer despite today’s tough economic climate, and my family willingly weathered a year with no income contribution from me into our household.

So, filled with gratitude, I set off to learn about business. There is much to say about the value of an MBA programme, and for me, the greatest is the change you experience when afforded the time to focus on yourself.

The journey starts with you

Armed with my many colour pens and blank notebooks, I set out to gather and record in numerous notes the best practice business techniques that successful companies have mastered. On reflection, the lessons were far more significant; it was about me and my role in the business arena: whether it was considering my worldviews or my responsibility in this world, my past skills, company exposures or experiences or how I managed others or influenced peers. The focus was on me!

Interrogating your past actions and planning for future actions as intensely as I did transforms you and, in some ways, finds you!

Over this year, I grew, learned and was tested. I could also collect my kids from school when the schedule allowed and give some dedicated time to my retired mom. Conversations with my life partner deepened into mind-shifting and often controversial topics about life, love and our marriage.

With my new neuropathways that formed, this sabbatical became more than year of study: it turned into life learning, business and economic epiphanies and deep-deep personal reflection, even measurable maturity.

Rewards reaped from the sacrifice

The privilege of being in a full-time classroom means that everyone in the room has made a similar sacrifice: economically extracting yourself from your societal contribution and leaning on your support structures for this time. True to what is said about the MBA, your classmates become “your people” in life through this testing and sharing. These bonds, formed through classroom debate and collaborations, gave me the chance to observe, and then note that, in our busyness, we often fail to hear each other … even worse, we forget to listen and process and appreciate other’s contributions. Our daily bustle somehow hampers our ability to welcome lessons offered by maturity and diversity; when we truly receive from others, the racial diversity in our country becomes a powerful opportunity and an exciting avenue to rebuild the broken parts in society.

One resounding message was that we all want a better future for our children and their children. Humans don’t wake up resisting change – they long for things to improve!

Being blessed to intensely evaluate our purpose rewards us both in the workplace and in our personal space. Emotional and social intelligence tools allow us to test those “value words” we associate ourselves with daily. The year is well spent on finding the answer to “who am I” and if you’re unsure when you start this journey, at the end, you will absolutely have a decided view on “who I will be when I show up” and how people will begin to see what matters to you.

Some say I sound different; others have expressed that I have become more economically and societally aware … almost connected to all humans.

Perhaps this year had such a resounding effect on me because of my age; or maybe it was a time-gift to me, a mom, eldest daughter, big sister and career-focused colleague. Whatever it was, I found that the role I play and my contribution as a female in South Africa acquired new words and intentions. It was a chance to dream about the business world I want to be a part of. The year in a full-time classroom gave me a voice; it allowed me time to breathe even when months felt like minutes.

It was a profound year, one that boosted my confidence and humbled me at the same time. It taught me how to identify with my inner compass and equipped me with techniques to connect with those around me.

I am deeply grateful for the guidance of Professors and masters who filled our classroom time with, yes, academic knowledge, but far more importantly, a wide window on reality.

It’s a gift that all should experience.

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