Escape Blog
Opportunities Looking to hire? Events Courses Escape Stories Escape School Blog About us Join Login

How Do You Make Big Decisions?

This post originally appeared on July 19th, 2013.

I spent last week in Manhattan; detached from my regular day-to-day context in London. When I’m in travel mode, I find it way easier to spontaneously zoom out on what it is that I’m actually doing with my life. Like, long-term. One specific debate I’ve been having with myself is whether or not to go to graduate school.

I’ve been flirting with the idea for awhile, but recently shelved it as an option because of an argument with my Dad during which he made some annoyingly excellent points loosely mirroring those of blogger Penelope Trunk. (In a nutshell: she thinks that advanced degrees can be a colossal waste of time and money.)

Since I designed and run Escape the City’s Startup MBA program, it’s pretty obvious that I too am a big believer of traditional graduate degrees having specific limitations when it comes to navigating certain industries. I totally buy into what Penelope Trunk (and my Dad) are saying.

However, over a Thai meal in the West Village, I unexpectedly found myself strangely jealous of my friend Stu as he told me about his PhD studies in computer science at Columbia. Envy is a powerful tool in pointing us towards what may be missing in our own lives and hanging out with Stu reignited the graduate school debate in my head.

I often talk to Escape the City members about this topic because many of them are considering doing MBAs. When it comes to making pivotal decisions, I really don’t think that anyone else can give you the answers that only you are best placed to address, but I do think that there are three helpful questions that can help when wrestling with a major career decision.

1. Will this help me to stay upwind?

When Paul Graham (the founder of the Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator which birthed Airbnb and Dropbox) talks about what he wishes he had known in high school, he talks about staying upwind. He rallies against the “don’t give up on your dreams” advice that is so often touted at commencement speeches:

In the graduation-speech approach, you decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.

Instead of trying to predict what you’re going to want in twenty years, he talks about giving yourself the best skill-set possible by always selecting the more difficult problems to work on. Those tougher projects sharpen your skills and therefore inherently equip you best for whatever you work on next (which you can’t necessarily predict from here in the present).

To continue reading, check out the original article here on the Huffington Post UK

————————————————————————————

If you want to receive new Escape the City blog posts directly into your inbox just click here. We write about leaving big corporates, pursuing alternative careers, building businesses, and going on big adventures. We are hard at work over on the main site building Escape Profiles that help people make big career changes and find jobs that matter to them.

Want to chat? Best place to reach us is @escthecity on Twitter and www.facebook.com/EscapetheCity on Facebook. Follow both accounts to hear about new job opportunities and inspirational / useful career change resources.

www.escapethecity.org - Do Something Different!

  • Jerry

    As one who faced the same decision 6 years ago and got an MBA: In reality the decision is more complex and weighty than it appears on paper. Below I offer some questions and observations that I hope might help you and others reach a decision.

    1) Do you envy Stu’s credential for a valid, durable reason? Envy is not always well placed or well understood.

    2) If you are very happy and learning lots in your job, you have already achieved what many grad students aspire to.

    3) Is it best to leave the ground floor of ESC now, when the company has good momentum? Grad school will always be there. The start-up atmosphere and opportunities won’t.

    4) If you plan to earn the degree while working, as I did, be prepared to substantially give up your “fun” time. Don’t extend your study to preserve “free time” or “life balance.” Stick to the standard schedule, or complete the degree ahead of schedule. One of my classmates completed his 2-year MBA in 1 year while working full time. He was highly stressed, but I wish I had done the same. Go as hard and brief as you can. Anything else just prolongs the burden (it will be one) and delays your life advancement.

    5) There is always a price. Attending grad school involves significant sacrifices, and you may not realize how significant until they have been made. If you were hypothetically, heaven forbid, hit by a bus halfway through, would you be satisfied to be in grad school or would you rather have spent your remaining time doing something else? How badly do you truly want it?

    6) If you attend grad school, take care of your health – healthy food, exercise, and a reasonably human schedule under the circumstances. If you chronically abuse yourself with sleep deprivation, junk food, and lack of exercise you may do meaningful damage that takes years to repair. This is the actual experience of a widely diverse group of grad students I have known. Don’t get yourself into a similar situation.

    Best,
    Jerry

    • Adele Barlow

      Hey Jerry – thanks so much! Really appreciate this. Answers below.

      1) “Do you envy Stu’s credential for a valid, durable reason?” Yes – I asked myself this (he asked me too). I envy his opportunity to focus intellectually on a question in so much depth. However, I question whether I couldn’t also get this from writing a book (and keeping a job simultaneously).

      2) “If you are very happy and learning lots in your job, you have already achieved what many grad students aspire to.” Yes – I feel v. grateful for this.

      3) “Is it best to leave the ground floor of ESC now, when the company has good momentum? Grad school will always be there.” Yes – only issue is that the further I get into the commercial world, the more I can see that there’s never a ‘right’ time to do grad school either – I find myself getting distracted/excited by commercial projects and the academic world holding less and less appeal. Yet the opportunity to learn underneath my favourite academics, at grad school, is huge motivation for my pro-grad-school self.

      4) “If you plan to earn the degree while working, as I did, be prepared to substantially give up your “fun” time.” Noted!

      5) “If you were hypothetically, heaven forbid, hit by a bus halfway through, would you be satisfied to be in grad school or would you rather have spent your remaining time doing something else? How badly do you truly want it?” It’s about trying to conceptualise who I’d become / what I’d be able to contribute through either experience and realising that both options are vehicles for some form of professional and personal growth – it’s just tough to know in advance which provides the ‘better’ outcome and the values dictating that judgment.

      6) “If you attend grad school, take care of your health – healthy food, exercise, and a reasonably human schedule under the circumstances.” – Great advice. Important for those who work in startups too!

  • Jerry

    Meant to say Penelope Trunk’s blog, not “Foley’s.”