• Perspectives
  • 17 May 2018

Working mum + EMBA student. A workable equation?

Investment and Advisory

As I threw my mortar board into the air, I not only celebrated graduating with an Executive MBA (EMBA) from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, but also from two of the hardest years of my life.

Yes, I want to celebrate the two years of struggle, jet-lag, tears and guilt while I juggled multiple roles as a private banker, mother and student.

My reward was that for two crazed but fantastic years, I did – in all that cliché – have it all: a terrific job, a beautiful family with two thriving kids, and a Master’s Degree (Honours) from a renowned graduate school.

My struggle is not a unique one. But I hope that by sharing, I may inspire other mums who may be on the fence – can you be a great mum, a dedicated student and work full-time all at once? Yes, you can.

The secret to success is something mums are already good at – sacrifice. The other secret is to tell others about your goal – you will be surprised how many people around you are willing to help you succeed.

I have spent my career as a private banker. However, the evolving global environment and banking industry made me realise that there was a need to broaden my horizons and gain new proficiencies to meet the changing and increasing complex wealth management needs of my clients.

More importantly, I wanted to invest in myself and fulfil a lifelong dream, one that took a backseat as I focused on work and being a mum to my six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son.

In 2016, I decided to take the plunge. The thought of asking the Bank’s CEO and my managers for approval to pursue a Master’s Degree while still working full-time weighed heavily on my mind.

But the saying is true: if you never ask, you never know. This is my goal, I told them, please help me aim high.

My bosses did not even bat an eyelid. They approved my attending the programme while still working full-time, provided me with powerful reference letters and, together with my colleagues, gave me the support I needed. Many a times, a colleague would step in for a client meeting when my flight back from attending a class overseas was delayed.

For sure, I was nervous about whether I would have the time to get all my work done and be able to stay motivated. Exhaustion was a constant partner and every day became a battle against the clock. I was overwhelmed with the sapping desire to go to bed at 9pm.

Did doing an EMBA take a toll on my family? Yes.

There were many times I could not participate in family events or spend time with my kids. To be honest, there were days I wanted to quit; especially those days when I thought of what a horrible mum I was for spending less time with my family, shuffling my kids to the care of my family members or siblings.

There were even days when I questioned what this additional piece of paper would really do for me. The guilt of not being the "perfect" mother, daughter, colleague and everything else in between sometimes brought me to my knees.

Looking back, somehow, I persevered. My motivation for the two years was my family and my kids, the very people I felt the most guilt towards. I wanted my family to be proud of me and for my children to see that I did not give up and that they too are capable of anything. My colleagues also played a part in my staying the course. They willingly put in extra hours to cover my work duties when needed; I could not let them down.

I was asked recently if, given a choice, I would make the same decision and embark on an EMBA while being a full-time working mum? The answer is a resounding yes. It has benefited not only me but it had a ripple effect as well.

On the work front, the EMBA has sharpened my negotiation and decision-making skills, and my improved proficiency in financial and management knowledge enable me to have more fruitful discussions with clients that help them make informed decisions.

My daughter, who did her homework next to me while I was doing my assignments, has told me that she realises the importance of studying and working hard. She tells me that she will also strive as high like Mummy.

This alone made my last two years of struggle even more worthwhile.

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