The Right Way
When I still worked for Banana Republic, I was selected to participate in a program called ASCEND, in which diverse management candidates were groomed to become tomorrow’s top tier leaders. We were paired with mentors who were considered the cream of the crop, we rubbed elbows with company execs, and we even flew to San Francisco occasionally for meetings. During one of those meetings, I participated in a Q&A with the company’s vice president. Once I was given the floor, I asked if I needed an MBA to reach his level. His reply? No. He didn’t have an MBA, and he thought there was no better teacher than experience in the field.
It was a seemingly simple question, with a simple answer. But it was a significant moment for me. Just a few years prior, I’d jumped through hoops (including studying for the GMAT in a single weekend) to get into grad school and earn my MBA. I dropped out after a semester of juggling a retail schedule with graduate level business statistics. I didn’t see myself engaged in that tug of war for 2, 3, or even 4 years. And I didn’t even know why I was there, other than to please my father.
For a while, I’d felt bad about dropping out. But during that Q & A session, I felt vindicated. See dad, you don’t need to spend another $40,000 on education to reach the C-suite.
Well, I don’t think I ever aspired to reach the C-suite. But I was inspired by that VP’s story. He circumvented the advice that everyone gives, and he made it. Quite often, we’re taught that there’s a right way to do things. But there’s plenty of proof of the contrary.
I’ve spent the better part of the last week writing a pitch and pilot script for a TV series. I don’t have an MFA, I didn’t go to film school, and I’ve never worked on a film or TV set, outside of a couple news internships during college. My only screenwriting experience comes from a 2-month Gotham Writers Workshop class that I took last year. Yet still, I didn’t feel unqualified to enter this contest. I felt that my ideas and my industry knowledge and my writing ability were strong enough to compete. I didn’t feel intimidated, as though I should clear the way for all the people who racked up thousands of dollars of debt learning to do this the right way.
It’s not to say that their experience and education isn’t valid, because it most certainly is. Should I place in this contest, I’m sure I’ll face a learning curve that they could navigate with ease. But this is to say that their way isn’t the only way.
I believe in the value of college—there are skills I learned, people I met, experiences I had that are tied specifically to my education. But my belief waivers a bit when I think about grad school.
Even in undergrad and high school, I wanted real-world experience. I reported for a small-town newspaper while I served as editor of my high school newspaper and yearbook. I reported for a city paper while editing my college’s newspaper. My education was always supplemented with work in the field, just as that VP shared.
So now, as I do my damndest to break into the publishing industry, and possibly TV and film, I’m going to keep pushing for real world experience. I believe in learning in a formal setting, but I believe more in learning through experience. At this stage of my life, that’s where I choose to focus.
Let’s hope that focus gets my book on the bestseller list or my credit on a show…