My Learning Equation: Simplicity + Enjoyment = FUN

3p-chalkboardBy J Fristad

The life of an individual pursuing a Master’s Degree parallels anyone taking on a complex professional endeavor; there can be many competing demands for attention, time, and energy. This is knowledge I am gaining first-hand as a student in the MBA in Design Strategy program at CCA. Juggling the competing demands of work, family relationships and school is a serious challenge.

It is also a lesson in time-management, with an even greater inherent challenge – how to have a fun time while doing it! This is a learning experience that reaches beyond just graduate studies and into professional life as well. It applies to anyone who finds their daily experience becoming less enjoyable as their responsibilities increase.

Often, those individuals who pursue a Master’s degree already have many years invested in a career. Many have spouses/significant others, children, financial commitments such as a mortgage, car payment or undergraduate school loan. Whatever the particulars, each requires significant attention and resources that have the potential to distract from graduate studies.

To manage these puzzle pieces I have come to understand there has to be a certain seriousness present; a focus and determination that gives one the drive to manage an extraordinary level of stress. The danger is the seriousness overwhelming the experience. Thriving becomes coping, and the enjoyment is wrung out of the degree.

I speak from experience when I say this. My initial quarter was filled to overflowing with school, to the point where nearly every available hour was spent working on coursework or group project material. A wife and young children are part of the experience, with a strenuous full-time job completing the picture. These three elements have filled my life for the past six months; my too-serious approach to the experience became merely coping without enjoyment. What does one do? What should I have done? What should I do?

First; simplify life. What is one willing to give up to keep the dMBA experience fresh and joyful? Ideally the graduate degree and professional life have a quality where each new challenge and discovery is seen through sparkling and un-jaded eyes; a healthy perspective that will keep one growing and expanding. This becomes difficult with too much to focus on. Something must give, either in part or its entirety. What will it be? The answer will be different for each individual, and discovering it will enable one to become more fully saturated in both the dMBA and professional experience. The answer for me? It will likely involve reducing some aspect of my employment situation.

It might be a job downscaled with fewer work hours, or a career put on hold. Perhaps a relationship put on the back-burner until the degree is completed. My assessment is that individuals who are able to answer this question and simplify their lives in some way will have a more joyful experience.

In our program these “enlightened” individuals are easily recognizable; their contribution to discussion and projects are relevant, insightful, and full of passion! They benefit from the extra effort and time spent in the specific topic and tangential pursuits. These individuals have given up some significant segment of their life to focus more on the dMBA degree, and are now able to maximize their enjoyment of it.

An example within our cohort is an individual who sold his home on the East Coast, liquidated a decade-old design business, and relocated to the Bay Area. This move had a single purpose, and it wasn’t for a new career, relationship, or even our beautiful weather. It was to attend the CCA dMBA program. His focus on the program is evident in his excitement about the coursework and his involvement in its every aspect.

Second; enjoy people and their diversity. The individuals encountered in graduate studies (and professionally) are from every imaginable demographic, ethnicity, personal and professional background. Each brings a differing perspective to every discussion. The personalities behind these perspectives infuse the present experience with a marvelous spice and flavor. Learning to appreciate and enjoy these personalities brings needed freshness and levity to a stressful circumstance. One of the students I had the opportunity to work with was a designer from the East Coast, with a markedly different upbringing and cultural experience than myself . The presentation we developed together was a success; but better than the presentation was the working relationship that came from it. Our meetings we filled with fun, sharing and honest communication; the working relationship became a friendship. As shown in this instance, one’s peers in the cohort become a community of friends who sympathize with and support one another.

Camaraderie develops among those who actively participate; there is an ease to communication and a compelling attraction to the group dynamic. This is beneficial on two counts. The first; familiarity with each other delivers results more easily on group projects. The second; one has a GREAT time. Enjoying these relationships make the hard work of the degree that much more meaningful and memorable.

To observers, enjoyment in others and in the experience points to a lighthearted approach to learning that suggests openness, fun, and creativity. This optimistic flair is contagious and compelling; an attitude that should be considered by those seeking to foster a loyal, creative and sustainable organizational community.

As my first semester in the dMBA nears its conclusion, I am learning that the program is about more than just the degree earned at the end of two years. It is about the process; not the end result, but what happens in between. Observing, participating, and enjoying the journey; embedding oneself to a level where one is saturated in not only newly learned skill sets and information but in people and relationship.

I am learning to personally evaluate what is truly important. Going forward I must work to excise extraneous/lower-priority concerns and dive head first into the community! Time and task management are the keys to unlocking a manageable graduate studies experience; relationship and community make the journey a fulfilling and satisfying one. The same criteria apply to any professional endeavor. I look forward to embracing this ethos more fully as my personal journey takes me further into the dMBA experience.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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