I am sitting in the Hamad International Airport in Doha, waiting for the connecting flight to Chicago. It has been a flurry of activities in the last few weeks and this Is the first time I have truly had the opportunity to sit down to reflect on my decision to go to the US for my MBA amidst the worst pandemic we have seen in our lifetimes. Was that smart or really foolish?
It started with a dream.
We met for lunch at Privé Grill at the NUS Guild House. It was supposed to be a regular catch-up gathering, but it turned into a farewell lunch after Professor Tambyah and Camillus realized I was leaving today.
“You’ve been wanting to do this for a really long time haven’t you?”, Prof asked.
I have. I don’t even remember when and how I got convinced that Kellogg was it. I do remember reading “Principles of Marketing: An Asian Perspective” by Philip Kotler, Gary Armstrong, Ang Swee Hoon, Leong Siew Meng, Tan Chin Tiong and David K. Tse, and thinking, “this is what I want to do”.
As it turns out, Kotler was a Distinguished Professor at Kellogg. As fate would have it, my MKT1003, Mickey, was also from Kellogg.
What I was drawn to, was the conviction that a brand has an impact beyond simply driving profits for a firm. Through Marketing and effective brand management, the firm could have real skin in the game in making the world a better place for people and the planet because well, it makes better business sense. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
What I did not expect was how difficult it was for everyone else to understand this passion. I spent the next few years dreaming, training in the areas of brand, digital, analytics, insights and strategy, understanding how companies worked, all the while keeping that dream tucked safely at the back of my head.
I was lucky too, that I worked in brands people were crazy about – be it being convinced that the serum that they were using would keep them looking ageless, buying cookies because they were just fun to eat, or spending for a priceless opportunity to meet their idols across the world.
And then I had the opportunity to observe how a company that was truly passionate about making the world a better place for animals went about trying to communicate and live out that mission through conservation. It is definitely not an easy thing to do as a company, but it sure is inspiring that they are trying – and succeeding.
It is in the trying.
When it finally came to a time when I felt I was ready to take my GMAT and try for Kellogg, I almost didn’t do it. My whole life is in Singapore. People I love are there. I have a good job and great colleagues. Why would I want to move myself halfway around the world just to attend school?
The person who convinced me otherwise was Monica. “If it was always a dream of yours, why not just try?” It was a simple sentence, but it really woke me up. If you knew me personally, you would know that I am not a fussy person. I just don’t have too many preferences or insist on that many things. This was the one thing I really wanted to do, and I was ready to give up on it because I thought it was the dutiful thing to do towards my family, my friends, my significant other.
And so, I just tried. And that started a journey of self-discovery. There were so many things I just didn’t think too hard about that I suddenly had to examine. My motivations, my strengths, my past experiences, my core beliefs, my values. And it was heartening to realize that the nagging feeling of not knowing what I had been doing for the last few years was just me waiting to rediscover myself. Things came together in unexpected ways. My colleagues and friends gave me feedback that made me think that perhaps there are things I can do that not everyone else can.
When I finally got the letter of admission, I was beyond elated.
The courage to exercise an option.
But of course, there was the background issue of the pandemic. COVID-19 was spreading like wildfire, and the US fast became one of countries with the most number of cases. I watched the number of cases climb each day. Then, there was the issue of President Trump fanning tensions with China that made my family worry about retaliation against anyone who looks Chinese. After all, not many people know of our tiny island state, no matter what we would hope others believe.
I tried doing the MBA remotely for the whole Summer, and my conclusion was that it just did not make sense from a learning perspective, or from a networking perspective. It was difficult to form organic relationships when I am just a face on the screen with so many other faces. It was also difficult to stay concentrated in class when I had to battle 2am classes that lasted till 5.30am. Throughout all this time, I was also paying full tuition for Zoom classes.
I had the opportunity to go to the US when the embassy finally reopened visa interviews in late July, and I took it.
But what if things went horribly wrong? What if I got COVID-19? What if I was a victim of racial violence?
If I were to tell you that I was completely unfazed, I would be lying. But as we were taught in strategy class, the good thing about volatility is that the upside of returns would be immense, and there were ways to limit the downsides. In my luggage is a year’s supply or surgical masks and wet wipes. I also upped my insurance and bought an overseas students insurance before I left. I will also be really careful to not get myself into any untoward situations.
Despite the pandemic though, this is still an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t let slip. I just couldn’t let the fear of ‘what-ifs’ run my life. The upside of being physically in Evanston is to be able to genuinely connect with my peers on a human level and to know people in a meaningful way. It is also to be able to learn in one of the best business schools in the world by being in the same space as brilliant professors and teachers. Perhaps more importantly, it is also an opportunity for me to experience the United States and reflect on what I truly want for my career.
Sometimes in life, we all need to decide, rather than waste our optionality and potential.
A heart full of thankfulness.
While preparing to leave, I have to thank God for the outpouring of well-wishes and farewell lunches and dinners. I honestly didn’t think I had so many friends, but apparently, I did! I don’t know what I have done to deserve such love, but I am thankful for the opportunity to catch up with everyone and to hear that everyone is doing well. I am thankful for the support from so many people for this little adventure of mine. It gave me the courage to take that step out and affirmed my decision to chase this little dream of mine.
I had often wondered whether it was too indulgent to try to go for a Masters just for the sake of learning without regard for the other factors like networking, or recruitment, or ROI. But you people have shown me that it’s okay to be yourself, and everything else will follow after that. I am going to try my best to do that in my year here in Kellogg.
Here’s to more adventures along the way!