Why I’m getting my MBA

The day after my father died, I got an email from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) that their Scholarship Committee has nominated me for the Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Scholarship. If accepted, the Abdul Latif Jameel Group — a group of diversified businesses headquartered in the Middle East and operating in at least 30 countries — will be sponsoring my 16-month MBA. I was at the airport en route to my home province to attend to my father’s remains when I got the news from AIM. And I was crying hysterically when I read the email.

My father, a successful businessman despite being a college dropout, had always wanted me to pursue business. Or at least take business studies in the hopes of sparking my interest in doing business. He was a natural, starting his own mini-businesses and selling various goods as early as high school. I was told that he had a consuming desire to improve his lot in life, and he was so sure that the only way he can do that is by being successful in doing business. Formal schooling probably bored him so he dropped out, and instead started his own business in buy and sell of agricultural products.

I, on the other hand, didn’t inherit the inclination for business. I pursued engineering and luckily, from the looks of it, I excelled at it. Having my own business, much less getting an MBA, never appeared on my horizon. Not until this year.

I recently finished reading the book “Ahead of the curve: Two years at Harvard Business School” by Philip Delves Broughton. This book is basically a memoir of the author’s experience while taking his MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS). I read the book to have an idea on what the entire business school experience looks like, and to somehow glean something about HBS as I’ve read that the Asian Institute of Management was established in partnership with HBS and uses the HBS case study teaching methodology. According to the author, people go to business school for all kinds of reasons, but they usually can be placed into two broad categories: those who know exactly why they’re going, and those who just sort of do.

People in the first category can tell you with exact precision what they want out of their MBA education, and boy they can give you a convincing justification as to how the outrageous cost of taking an MBA would eventually yield a handsome return on investment for them. They have a plan in place, and they know where they are going. I wish I belong to this category, but I don’t.

The only thing I know is that after six years of rising through the ranks in a renewable energy company in the Philippines, starting as a reservoir engineer to being the head of reservoir engineering, I feel like I wanted to do something new.  I feel stuck, and my work doesn’t excite me anymore. I want change, but don’t know exactly what kind.

While I believe I have pretty good shot at being accepted in a scholarship for a Masters degree abroad in a technical field —  I could take a Master in Energy or Master in Engineering — the thought of specializing further in a technical field doesn’t seem appealing anymore. I feel that my Fellowship in Iceland, specializing in reservoir engineering, was already enough to satisfy my thirst for the technicalities of engineering. I now wanted to expand my horizons. But what and how exactly?

The answer arrived not through a voice from heaven, but through Google, of course. Just like what any crisis-stricken millennial would do, I searched Google and asked “What to do with my life?” 

I was relieved when I found out that I wasn’t alone; the sheer number of individuals from different age groups and nationalities who have also asked the same question was staggering. There was an ocean of online articles, interviews, videos, and books which tried to answer the question. In the process, I’ve read the book “Springboard: Launching your search for personal success” written by a Wharton professor, and came across the idea of applying Design Thinking in personal life.

As I was searching for answers from these outside sources, perhaps all of them pointed towards a common direction: to search inside, to probe the inner recesses of one’s self. I asked myself difficult and admittedly, corny questions like: “What it is that makes me feel alive?” or “What would I like to learn more of?” or “If I have infinite time and resources, what would I want to do?”

I can’t recall when it dawned on me to explore the possibility of getting an MBA. Perhaps I heard a colleague mention it. I don’t know. But when I caught the idea, it somehow made me excited. Weeks of soul-searching brought out to the surface the epiphany that the world of business and finance now intrigues and excites me. I want to enter that world of shining possibilities. And getting an MBA is a door to that world now beckoning to me.

But why would I want to enter that world? Could there be more than the feeling of intrigue and excitement as motivation for entering that world? Could there be a higher purpose? Perhaps there is. Perhaps there should be.

I remember my father telling me when I was young that no one gets rich by just being an employee working from 8 to 5. That I must have my own business so I can take control not only of my finances but of my time as well. That business grants you the freedom to live the life you want. That business grants you the opportunity to create jobs, to help people, to change and uplift lives.

We had our differences, my father and I, and it took me a very long time — more than twelve years — to finally forgive him for abandoning us. But I’m grateful we were able to reconcile just before he died about a month ago. I’m glad I was able to tell him that I was applying for an MBA scholarship. I could still remember how happy he was upon hearing that news, and how he always prayed for me to get accepted in the scholarship.

I wish he’s still alive now so I can tell him that despite the fierce competition for the full scholarship, I got accepted. I wish I could take him with me at the Asian Institute of Management for him to see the school for himself and see his son studying business at arguably the best business school in the Philippines and one of the top tier business schools in Asia. I wish I could tell him that someday I plan on having my own business to create jobs and help people and make a difference in our society.

I wish he could see how I’m fulfilling his dream for me.

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