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The poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson advised that one should “always do what you’re afraid to do”. On September 1 2007, I got off a plane in Auckland, New Zealand, with an oversized backpack and the plan to live abroad for a year.
I had very little money, no friends in the country and a return ticket I couldn’t use for a year. I was following the advice of Emerson, and I was in equal parts afraid and excited.
I wanted my first year abroad to be the year I began a new career. I had a BA in English literature from the University of Puget Sound in Washington state, but my alma mater was virtually unknown outside the US.
I did not know how to measure my worth to an organisation, and each application felt like a gamble.
Within six months I was working as a product manager for a big publishing house on a marketing campaign for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. The job required problem solving, relationship management, number crunching and constant creativity. I now knew what I wanted in a career: something that challenged me daily and opportunities to solve complex problems.
Fast-forward to 2013. After five years in New Zealand, I was back in California working with senior executives at publishing houses to increase sales. My career so far had given me an insight into the rewarding side of strategy development, as I identified sales opportunities and outlined key tactics to turn those opportunities into revenues.
However, the scope of my work was limited and I did not feel the challenge I once had. I needed to grow professionally and personally once again. I asked myself: if I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? The answer was an MBA and a career transition into consulting.
My liberal arts degree taught me how to analyse concepts across disciplines and integrate the information into meaningful insights. But to capitalise on this strength in a future position I needed a more sophisticated understanding of business practices, theories and methods.
A career in consulting requires mental flexibility, discipline and leadership, and I sought a programme to develop these skills further. In an MBA, international context was key, both in my fellow cohort members and the programme itself. Finally, the programme needed to be internationally well regarded. Melbourne Business School (MBS) ticked all the boxes.
A quarter of the way through the MBA, I am immersed in lectures and syndicate assignments. We are a close group of 42 young professionals from around the world with diverse experience across cultures and industries. Each class is as much about learning from other students’ experiences as it is about the lectures and case materials.
At first I worried that my experience in publishing limited my ability to contribute. Publishing houses are foreign to most of my classmates, but they face challenges like any other business. My professional experiences related directly to class topics and enabled me to provide unique insights. I soon found myself sharing stories and solutions — it was empowering.
While the professors help enhance my analytical abilities and provide methodological tools for strategy development, the steepest learning curves are outside the classroom. The programme has helped define further what value means to me professionally and personally, to refine my priorities and appreciate the value I bring to a situation.
The most valuable performance measures are the ones that display the impact I have in the MBS programme. A mediocre grade in a quiz is trivial compared with the final exam, and the letter of commendation for leadership seems more significant when classmates give you their individual appreciation.
The journey I started by getting on that flight to New Zealand that led me to MBS represents a life philosophy. By stepping outside my comfort zone, I face challenges with enthusiasm and a sense of security in myself. The MBA helps me quantify and understand the value I bring to projects and the people around me as a recognised leader, idea integrator and team member who always asks: “If we weren’t afraid, what would we do?”
Candice Vallimont, who grew up in California, will complete her MBA at Melbourne Business School in September 2015. She has worked in publishing, fast-moving consumer goods and the not-for-profit sector with clients in the US, UK and Australasia.
As a product manager, she managed the regional execution of global marketing campaigns for Stephenie Meyer and JK Rowling at Hachette New Zealand.
In 2012, she returned to California and expanded her experience, working in client account management with an emphasis on sales, marketing and strategy implementation at Chronicle Books.