I graduated from high school in the top 5% of my class. When I went on to college at Northern Arizona University, the “pond” got bigger, and I was no longer one of the brightest students. I still managed almost all A’s. But there were lots of smarts kids in college. I did, however, work very hard and graduated in only three years. When I went on to graduate school at Purdue University, the “pond” became even bigger. All of my classmates were very bright and had an impressive background.
The first year of the MBA program was one of the hardest years of my life. I spent more time at school than at home. I ate almost all of my meals in the "Drawing Room" at school. The studying never stopped. I was pushed and challenged and exposed to concepts I had never heard of. Math problems had answers that took up pages and pages in my notebook. I remember an exam in my accounting class that had only one question. But it had so many parts to it that it took up a stapled book of computer paper. And the worst part was that half of it I had to leave blank. Did we really learn this stuff?
Like most MBA programs, we were assigned to a team of four or five students to complete projects and papers. Each class project would require analysis, Excel spreadsheets, comparing data, making projections, writing up our findings, and then creating a Power Point presentation to “wow” our class and professor. This wouldn’t be so hard if it was just for one class. But these assignments were happening for 5 classes, simultaneously. That is why I often found myself eating a sub sandwich at the Drawing Room table at 9:00 at night.
One of the biggest life lessons I learned during business school was that it was impossible to do everything perfectly. When you are an MBA student, a business owner, or an entrepreneur, you are juggling so many responsibilities. You are the accountant, the marketer, the sales force, the social media specialist, the web developer, AND you are also the one providing your service or producing a product. You do it all. You are constantly thinking, creating, and learning.
One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, recently said, “If you’re the CEO of a company, or an entrepreneur starting a company, you cannot optimize for any one attribute. The minute you do that, you compromise your ability to perform at a high level in another area.” Gladwell and Lance Armstrong compared this with triathletes, explaining that they have to perform three very different sports at an extremely high level. They cannot put all of their training efforts into running and fall short on their swimming or cycling. Instead, they train at a less-intense level (which, compared to most people, is still at an intense level) for all three sports.
The same is true in business. If you put all of your efforts into one aspect (like marketing), your other responsibilities will suffer. And what’s a company with lots of great marketing and no widgets to sell? Malcolm Gladwell said, “The job of running a complex organization or starting a business is all about four or five different things that have nothing in common. Pay too much attention to any one aspect of your job, and the other aspects suffer.” That’s why being an entrepreneur can be so challenging. It can also be very rewarding. There is nothing like creating something, nurturing its growth, sweating, and worrying over it, and then reaping its sweet rewards.
As an entrepreneur, you must not be the best at one thing, but good at many things. And that is what makes you great.
(If you want to learn more from Malcolm Gladwell, click here.)
I'm Erin! I'm an MBA graduate with nearly 20 years of experience in HR, small business management, academia, and social media. I am an author, wife, mother, half marathon runner, and lover of the outdoors.