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Maybe I’ll start a school?
An MBA didn’t fit for me. I've been thinking...maybe we need a new school?
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Maybe I’ll start a school?
Aren’t there plenty of schools?
I went to some, and they were great. They’re an integral part of who I’ve become, and where I’m going.
But, when I left my job at the end of last year, well...I didn’t go back to school.
There are plenty of components of an MBA experience that are appealing - like the melting pot of dynamic, driven, intelligent people, and the space, time, and support to bolster their path forward. In fact, I think I would, all-in, really enjoy the experience.
It’s just that, when I look at the entirety of the experience on offer, it didn’t quite match up with what I was looking for. Something felt like it was missing.
But what was missing?
Did I even know what I was looking for?
These questions have stayed with me, and the more I’ve let them simmer, the more I’ve felt compelled to explore them more.
So, here it goes.
What was I looking for?
I wanted to move away from a life that I came to feel trapped by.
It’s as if I had been sauntering along my familiar, well-trodden track, and finally picked my head up, only to realize that I was no longer heading in the right direction.
With the sudden realization that, “Wait a second, I don’t want to be going this way anymore,” also came the abrupt confusion that, come to think of it, I couldn’t even remember how long I had been trodding along this track, why I had gotten on in the first place, nor whether I was the one that even chose it.
What happened here?
I had the job! The potential! The opportunities ahead of me! The prestige! The life in the city! I was on the way!
But why did it feel hollow? Why was I feeling exasperated, like there were other parts of life, and myself, that I wanted to experience but felt impossible to incorporate?
I was left wondering if this was the only way.
I had this sense that anything worth pursuing came with a cost - but was this really it? Not simply dedication and hard work, but in fact shoving away and writing off other elements of myself and life that felt natural, easeful, peaceful, rich, good for their own sake?
Is the cost of a good life some degree of emptiness? Is wholeness not an option?
These options didn’t sit right.
When I picked my head up and paused, I felt clearly that this way of being and striving wasn’t working.
I was struggling, and confused. What used to feel clear and simple, though challenging, now felt invisible. I could no longer see where I wanted to go, nor how to get there. It was like a thick fog had rolled in, hiding the world all around me.
It felt dim and chaotic. But one thing was clear.
I knew that I wanted change
And I wanted it to be authentic.
I wanted the change to be an expression of who I am, internally.
I wanted to move towards a life built from the inside-out, lived in a way that felt balanced and integrated. Where who I am, what I do, and how I do it felt aligned and without tension or conflict.
I wanted to move towards a life that felt, in a word, congruent.
It’s not that I wanted to be different for different’s sake.
It’s that I felt different, like I was wearing clothes that no longer fit, and the longer I kept walking this well-trodden track that I was on, the more this deeper angst, an exasperation that fought me from my core, grew.
And I wonder if it’s not just me that feels this way.
How would I get there?
I didn’t know where to go.
I didn’t know how to unearth that internal sense of clarity that I so deeply desired - the clarity of knowing the answers, first, to who I was, and then to what an authentic life looked like.
In not knowing the answers, I came to see that what I could know is what I felt.
The more I paid attention to what I felt, the more I came to believe in the wisdom of the body. I came to feel the peace that accompanies acting more in alignment with intuition, however small the step.
In the dense fog, these felt insights were a guiding light - and this from someone who has really struggled to identify what my intuition was telling me.
So, what did I feel?
I felt that I needed empty space, and time.
I felt that I needed a break from the structure and prescription of the tracks in front of me.
I felt that I needed quiet, stillness, solitude.
I felt that I needed a blank canvas.
I felt that I needed to be in charge of my own life.
Time for an MBA?
I sounded like a great candidate for an MBA program.
But somehow, I also felt that an MBA wasn’t right for me.
It’s not that the components of the MBA experience were a mismatch for those I wanted in the next phase of my life.
It’s that I felt that, more importantly than building a schedule full of what I wanted to do, I needed to first get in touch with who I am, and how I wanted to be.
It’s that I came to see that a key reason for my struggles was that I had become a human doing, and had left the human being behind.
I came to see that this way of living by doing kept me in a life influenced from the outside-in, living a story that felt like it was mine, yet was truly written by another hand. Yes, I was making my own decisions, but often guided by a values system and aspirations that I hadn’t even realized that I had taken from the world around me, rather than searching, interrogating, and building my own.
It was time to build a life from the inside-out. A life on a solid foundation of, first, exploring and coming to know who I truly am at my core, unaffected by external factors, then self-authoring a life that’s an extension of that foundation.
An authentic life.
One of integrity and congruence. Of connection.
The MBA track felt like the next step on the one I was on. The one that wasn’t working anymore. The one I needed to move away from.
I came to see that I needed to grab a machete, make a leap off of the well-trodden tracks into the dense forest, and start hacking my own.
What about those of us that don’t want to get an MBA?
I believe an MBA is right for some.
I simply came to know it wasn’t right for me.
But, I’ve been thinking - just because I’m striving to make my own track, does it have to be so lonely? Is this something that has to be done in isolation?
I don’t believe it does.
I believe that we each have to do the work.
But I also believe we don’t have to do it alone.
In fact, I believe that we can’t do it alone.
So, I’ve been thinking - what about the other people like me?
What about those of us who are making our own track, and don’t want to do it alone? What about those of us that don’t want to get an MBA?
I’ve been thinking...
Maybe I’ll start a school?
Maybe one that’s...
A Master’s of Leadership, not a Master’s of Business.
A physical space, not a Zoom room.
For the leaders, not the followers.
For the independents, not the dependents.
For the seekers, not the choosers.
For the scouts, not the captains.
For the builders, not the renters.
For the renaissance person, not the one-trick pony.
For seeking, becoming, and serving.
For creating, not consuming.
For making our own track, not choosing someone else’s.
For changing our trajectory, not simply taking the next step on offer.
For life that includes work, not work that dictates life.
For “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I’m going to get there.”
Where it’s about the student, not the school.
The person, not the credentials.
The process, not the diploma.
Growth and becoming, not arriving.
Turning inward, not outward.
Wayfinding, not turn-by-turn instructions.
Curiosity, not curriculum.
Questions, not answers.
Partnership and support, not advice.
Coaches to walk with you, not teachers to talk at you.
Practitioners, not academics.
Together, not alone.
Maybe it’s a school rooted in the process
Here’s one attempt to pin down the value of an MBA:
Access: to information and people
Credential: opens doors
Process: learning and development
Because of the internet, access to information and people is near-infinite and permissionless. Anyone can assemble their own curriculum from sources including (but most certainly not limited to) books, podcasts, YouTube, essays.
Credential, while still valuable today, is worth far less than it used to be. Because of the permissionless nature of the internet, we can do our work and share it without asking anyone, opening up possibilities based on substance and quality, not whether we were let through the gilded doors of the gatekeepers.
It’s never been more possible for uncredentialed people to succeed. In fact, some of the most successful people in today’s world are the most uncredentialed (see: Mr. Beast and other creator-entrepreneurs).
This one is a bit less evident today, as I can’t deny that credentials still hold a lot of value.
I do believe that having an MBA from Harvard or Stanford today has the ability to get a person into rooms and opportunities that others don’t have access to.
I also don’t believe that credentials are evil. I’ve benefitted greatly from whatever credentials I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to acquire.
But I do believe that in the future, credentials will continue to matter less and less. Part of why this idea of an alternative to today’s schools has stuck with me is because I’m fascinated by where the world is going, not just where it is today.
I also found that in my story, the pull of chasing credentials ended up being one of the main reasons I found myself feeling lost, disconnected, and needing change.
In a way, this new school I’m imagining is one for myself, and others like me. A big part of it hinges on fostering a pursuit of life, unencumbered by credential. If credential is what you’re solving for, this new school probably isn’t the answer.
It’s just that I came to find myself in a place where credentials felt as though they were in the driver’s seat, and it led to a life that felt misaligned with what I truly wanted.
So, if you’re still with me, we’re at the process.
I believe this is what a new school should be about. I believe the process should fit the person and how they view the world, not the other way around.
MBA programs provide a specific type of process, and are right for certain people.
I imagine a different type of process, right for different people.
I imagine a school for leaders - those people already in the process of seeking to make their own track. Those in the process of seeking to understand themselves and the world, to know truth, and to build a life that’s authentic in its expression of who they are.
In a sense, this year of sabbatical has been my way of piecing together this school for myself. I’ve been building my own curriculum, assembling my source material and teachers in the form of podcasts, books, essays, Twitter (X?), coaching, therapy, travel, writing. It has felt interesting, energizing, and enriching.
But I have also often feel confused, aimless, lost, and lonely.
I imagine this school as a better way of doing this process. One that retains independence and self-authorship, but wrangles some of the chaos. One that offers support with some structure, and partnership with some coaches and peers.
Perhaps it’s a new form of SaaS - sabbatical-as-a-service. For people committed to this alternative process, but also for those interested but desiring some structure and support. For people interested in back-country skiing, but also those who want the ski lifts and people to ski alongside.
This school would be built on one of the core underlying principles of the coaching process: that the student, not the coach, has the answers.
It would be built on the premise that growth and learning comes only from the student uncovering answers themselves, not from receiving them in a lecture. That it’s about the journey, not the information.
It would be built on a premise that I’ve come to believe - that in much of my life, I have a deep, embedded sense of what I need and where I want to go. That truth is like a magnet. That it takes a constant and patient pursuit to uncover these insights.
It would flip the way that school often felt for me - from top-down, teacher-led fill-in-the-blank answers to given questions to bottom-up, student-led process of pursuing answers to chosen questions.
The coach’s job would be to walk alongside the student, to support, encourage, and offer a pillar of accountability as they do their work to uncover insights. To create the space, and ask the questions needed to help the student along the track.
Where we create containers for leaders to do leader things. To step further into self-leadership, and connect with others doing the same. To spur possibilities, expand and actualize potential.
As Casper ter Kuile, a Harvard Divinity School professor says:
One of the things that really strikes me is that we’re all drowning in content, but what we need are containers for connection.
It would be a school to foster the process of discovery and self-actualization. Of leadership.
A leadership academy. Or is it an institute? A fellowship?
Honestly, it may not matter.
What matters is that it’s for people who think “You’re talking about me. I’ve been waiting for this.”
I think we need a new school
A landing place for anybody that’s like me, and wants something different.
A place to lead ourselves, become who we need to become, so we can lead others.
A place to connect with others doing the same.
So, I’ve been thinking, maybe I’ll start a school?
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