‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it’ – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
More than a year ago, I decided to take a leap of faith and undertake a massive career change while continuing to work on my own journey of self-development. My admission to the Executive MBA (EMBA) at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford was not only a cause for celebration but a key life moment that upended my sense of self.
So, what have I learned? Below are some of the most important lessons that I’ve taken away from the last 12 months of learning and growing as both a professional and an individual.
1. Find the time to reflect, question, and discuss
Since joining this programme, I have gained brand new perspectives on my business and career. These have allowed me to draw parallels between my own experiences and others, opening my eyes to new ways of problem-solving issues that are becoming increasingly prevalent – things like stakeholder capitalism, AI, system thinking, and the climate crisis. The network that we become part of on this course (and beyond), along with the invaluable experiences and resources at our disposal, have all established an environment for self-reflection and self-discovery, as well as embracing different perspectives and engaging debates in a way that’s both considered and compelling.
2. The inclusive diversity is real
In addition to robust, in-class conversations, the EMBA journey offers the opportunity to take part in team-based projects. These are all enriched by a group that’s both gender diverse and culturally and ethnically diverse – with 36 nationalities partaking in my course, from 28 different employment sectors and 41% of my fellow students are women. Experiencing tasks from many perspectives has nurtured an atmosphere of support and inclusion, anchored by my cohort’s incredible leaders.
3. The best leaders are truly humble
Over the last 12 months, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some amazing professionals, from my incredible classmates and Oxford alumni to industry-leading experts and, of course, best-in-class professors. All of these people, though often wildly successful, are also incredibly humble – something which has really encouraged me to be myself, show up as I am, and engage.
4. The Oxford experience is more than coursework
Taking the time to immerse yourself in it is essential! Of course, the academic excellence on this course is second to none. But beyond this, the University encourages us to partake in social activities, including special group dinners where friendships are forged and meaningful conversations flow. There are Oxford initiatives organised by multiple teams that enrich the learning experience: the Entrepreneurship Centre is responsible for projects such as the Ideation Lab and Liber Project. The Careers team offers conversations with industry leaders as well as presentations and career workshops; there are dedicated special events such as Women in Leadership and Leadership in Extraordinary Times, which are invaluable ways to learn experientially. Oxford opens the door to an entire world of opportunities that can uplift us, build our confidence and break down barriers – it’s our responsibility to make the most of these.
5. Being a Forte Fellow and Keble College member is an incredible opportunity
This EMBA programme has opened so many doors for me, offering new opportunities and establishing meaningful connections outside of the main cohort. As a Forte Fellow, our motto is ‘more women leading’ and this has helped me, and other fellows, to reimagine what we can achieve. Originally started to broaden the social depth of the student body, Keble College uses the mantra, ‘we respect our past, but also seek to inspire the future’ – words which have inspired my learning, as I build on experience while simultaneously looking to stay ahead of new developments and insights.
6. Strong women support each other
Being part of the J21 tribe, and studying as part of other EMBA cohorts, it’s been my privilege to join an extremely welcoming community of highly successful women. The inclusivity in this community has been incredibly meaningful and has established a network of support that extends across multiple cohorts to help all of us learn and grow together. As a team of strong women, we’re supporting each other, not competing, and breaking down barriers for future generations.
7. There is a ‘virus’ called impact
Being an EMBA student, involved in such an amazing journey, I’m consistently reminded that all of the work we deliver has an impact and that the ripples of our learning may generate waves in the future. This purpose fuels passion, and being exposed to a diverse number of thoughts and experiences has helped me and my fellow colleagues to find mutually beneficial solutions to complex business issues: from ESG and the climate crisis to AI in space and social impact. As Dr Martin Luther King, Jr said: ‘life’s most persistent and urgent question is, "what are you doing for others?"’
8. Practice the ‘Art of now’
This has been the fastest year of my life. In the last 12 months, I’ve witnessed first-hand the effects of a pandemic, started traveling again, taken incredible, insightful classes, and connected with friends. As we take this EMBA journey together, it’s important to savour experiences and make memories as we go. Be in the moment both in and out of class, meet for that glass of wine, share your personal experiences, and join that ‘5 am club’ (IYKYK)! Focusing on the coursework side of things at the expense of everything else means that you’ll only ever experience one side of this course. Poet and activist Maya Angelou said, ‘the wisest thing you can do is to be present in the present. Gratefully’ – and this resonates with me on a daily basis.
9. It’s OK not to be OK
In the last year, I’ve learned how to push myself and find creative ways to juggle work (and the creation of a new business), courses, and assignments while maintaining a personal life. At times this has proven harder than others, but learning to be vulnerable when struggling has brought me closer to people – both colleagues and friends. The safe space you create when you open up to someone encourages real conversations and understanding; it also teaches you how to lift each other up.
10. Education is the most enriching gift you can offer yourself
In 12 months, I’ve had a truly global experience, discovering personal stories from inspirational leaders from more than 40 countries: anecdotes and lessons that I will treasure forever. This course has been culturally diverse, highly inspirational, uplifting, and immensely rewarding. I’ve learned an awful lot and it has reinforced to me that life is all about the journey, not the destination – learning to enjoy everything that it has to throw at you is essential to growth and happiness.
Taking the first step onto a journey of education may be daunting, but it sets you on the most incredible path. Forget stereotypes, avoid biases, and be curious about people and their stories. You never know what you’ll learn.