3 things I learned after a decade at University

Paul Myers MBA

A story about life-long-learning

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Image: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

For some reason or another, I spent an outrageous amount of time in third-level education — 12 years to be exact.

Did I learn anything? Yes and no. By ‘no’ I mean that much of what I learned did not take place in a classroom, rather a byproduct of being immersed in an environment that was pivotal to shift my mindset.

Why did I do it? That’s the million-dollar question. A question that I know the answer to now, some 4 years after I submitted my last academic paper.

Before I answer the questions above, allow me to share what 12 years of third-level education looks like on paper:

  • 3 Degrees — Communications, Engineering, and IT
  • Post-Grad Certificate— In Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Master’s Degree — MBA to be exact
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Image: MBA Results by Author.

We all know that a University parchment does not put food on the table.

The fact is that fancy sheets of paper just don’t pay the bills. But Education does open your mind to discover and create ways to generate revenue streams. I can testify to that.

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." — William Butler Yeats

This article will share the three life lessons that I learned during my life-long-learning journey as a mature student so far, and three recommendations for those keen to invest in their own personal development.

Education

By no means was I the academic-type when I embarked on my life-long-learning journey as a mature student 8 years ago. Far from it. The truth is that I was smart enough to pass, or not fail.

In 2012, having already completed a BA in Communications (1998) and a Bachelor of Engineering (2005, part-time) in my 20s, I recognized that upskilling offered a pathway for radical change, for anyone. I was on board.

The desire to expand my mind, develop my thinking, burned inside me like an untamed furnace.

During the second wave of my educational journey I pushed myself to complete the following in just 4 years:

  1. MBA — Two years part-time from 2012 to 2014
  2. Bachelor of Science (Hons) — One year part-time IT transfer Degree from 2014 until 2015
  3. Post Grad Cert in Innovation — One year part-time from 2015 to 2016

By no means was it an easy journey. Not at all. At times I had to dig deep to stay on track. There were many ups and downs. While I rarely recall the downs, the ups are forever impressed in the pages of my memory.

During my BSc. (Hons) I achieved a perfect score, seven A-grades:

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Image: BSc. Results by Author.

In Ireland, the third-level grading system is:

  • A grade = 70 to 100 percent
  • B grade = 60 to 69 percent
  • C grade = 50 to 59 percent
  • D grade = 40 to 49 percent

Trust me, anything over 80 per cent is exceptional and takes a monumental effort to achieve this. It took me a decade to learn how to do this.

Soon after I received the results for my BSc. (Hons) in 2015, I attended my MBA graduation ceremony, completed the year before. I was shocked when I discovered that my lecturers had chosen me for the ‘MBA Student of The Year’ award for the class of 2014.

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Image: 2015 MBA Student of the year award by Author

The bottom line is that I made the right choice in 2012. I know that now. I knew it then. Plus, my upskilling journey didn’t stop in 2016, it continues today.

Are you investing in your upskilling journey?

In response to the first question I asked at the start of this article, ‘did I learn anything?’ Absolutely. So below are the 3 life lessons that I learned during my 12 years in College.

Life long learning lesson №1 — Courage

Education builds confidence, a trait nurtured by one key ingredient, courage. Courage spawns confidence, underpinning self-esteem, and belief.

When the financial crisis took hold in 2008, it soon became clear that Ireland was banjaxed. Unemployment skyrocketed as GDP collapsed. Our banks were bust, broke to the tune of €90 Billion.

Economic activity shuddered to a halt.

Looking back, I’m not sure if I was fortunate, or just agile. Possibly both. Anyway, I continued to work from 2009 to 2012 in the built environment, an industry that was on its knees, so pickings were slim. As a result, my income plummeted by over 40 per cent.

I was disillusioned.

My soul screamed out for change, in silence.

I sensed the turmoil of my inner voice from the knot in my gut. I tossed and turned at night as I struggled to articulate this anxiety.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us." — Marianne Williamson

By mid-2012, I’d had enough. In June of that year I set about executing a 3-step plan that I wrote about in "How to change your career”, summarised as follows:

  1. Get fired
  2. Upskill, and
  3. Network

There were no guarantees. Risk lurked in the shadows at every juncture. But I was committed, driven by blind-courage.

My inner conviction for change pulled me from dark moments at times when I needed it most. I could always see the light in my mind’s eye as it approached closer each passing day.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage." — Anais Nin

Some of my friends worked in the eCommerce space at the time. The recession had little impact on their careers, or their industry, except for a minor hiccup in 2008.

It caught my attention.

Looking back now I’m happy that I listened to my inner voice. It guided me to unlock my courage that lay dormant, a trait that resides in all of us. To take the first step on a journey of personal transformation. A momentum that continues today.

Since 2013, I’ve worked in the eCommerce industry … and … I love it!

Recommendation #1 — Find your inner courage and never let fear get in your way in the pursuit of your dreams.

Life long learning lesson №2 — Initiative

Education ignites a ‘Purpose of Self’.

What is a "Purpose of Self" I hear you ask?

Let me explain:

A ‘Purpose of Self’ is an all-encompassing expression that I use to describe, speak about or think of:

  • Personal development
  • Mental health
  • Emotional health and intelligence
  • Hierarchy of needs — achievement or roadmap towards self-actualization
  • Health and physical wellbeing

As soon as I started my first semester as a mature student in 2012, I was overwhelmed by the amount of content I had to consume. To digest. To understand intimately in order to critique academically.

The sheer volume was unnerving. But I knew it was possible. If others could do it, I could too, and so can you.

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." — Calvin Coolidge

My initiative led me to undertake various extra-curricular activities, motivated by an inner drive towards self-improvement. I wrote about one such example in the article ‘Why I learned how to speed read’.

Learning to speed-read was a worthwhile pursuit. One of many. A skill that I’d highly recommended for everyone to learn.

Recommendation #2 — Take the initiative to invest in yourself… your purpose of self.

Life long learning lesson №3 — Awareness

I learned that Education builds confidence. When combined, self-exploration is mobilized — the doorway to self-awareness.

Awareness is a journey of discovery. We learn as we go. As we traverse this knowledge pathway we tend to go through phases. Here’s what this looked like from my experience.

  1. We learn from others — I wrote an article ‘The 7 mistakes I learned from hundreds of Entrepreneurs’ about what I learned from others. A type of journal, recording valuable insights to share with others.
  2. We learn from experience — It took a decade for me to learn ‘How to ace your thesis with these two words', namely, “impact” and “implications”. As we learn we refine our ability to predict impact and implications.
  3. Then we share with others — Reading is crucial in Education. Over the last decade, I’ve read 100s of books, and discussed three favourites of mine in the article ‘Must-Read Books That Can Change the Way You Think’.
  4. And share more with others— When you have something to share, write about it.

Courtney Ackerman wrote that self-awareness is “the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.”

"We can go about our day without giving our inner self any extra thought, merely thinking and feeling and acting as we will; however, we also can focus our attention on that inner self, an ability that Duval and Wicklund termed “self-evaluation." (Ackerman, 2020)

Engaging in self-evaluation heightens our thinking and feelings. We choose to follow our own rules, those principles governed by the value-system that we set for ourselves. In doing so we influence those around us, giving them permission to do likewise.

Recommendation #3 — Listen to your inner voice, trust me, it has your best interests at heart.

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Final Thoughts

At the start of this article, I asked a question.

Why did I do it?

The answer is simple. I did it for me. So that I could have a greater impact on the direction of my life and open the doors of opportunity.

When I made the decision to upskill back in 2012 I just about had enough funds to finance my first year as a mature student. I was made redundant during my first semester, so had no means to pay for year 2, let alone the two other courses that followed.

I didn't let future cashflow worries get in my way. Nor should you. Be brave enough to take the first step.

I put my trust in the universe when I set out on my journey into the unknown. As it transpired all my courses were paid for by various sources that I could not foresee in 2012.

Initially, I bluffed my way to a better me and the universe delivered. On that note, allow me to summarise three key takeaways:

  1. Courage — Have the courage not only to listen to your inner voice but to act on it with desire and purpose.
  2. Initiative — The only one who can change you is you. What you do, how you spend your time is entirely up to you, so invest it wisely.
  3. Self-Awareness — Education enhances our thinking and, as a result, our feelings through deeper introspection.
"Ultimately, there’s one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself. Nobody can take away what you’ve got in yourself, and everybody has potential they haven’t used yet." — Warren Buffett

No matter where you are in life, you’re always able to learn and apply newly acquired skills to benefit you and others. The more you know, the more can achieve in life when you apply yourself.

Come join me … the University of life is expecting you!

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Innovative Entrepreneurial thinker & Dreamer. I write about Leadership, Startups, Business, & Personal Growth. Connect with me here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-m-ecommerce/

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