First Day of School

When I decided to go back to school to get my Masters in Business Administration, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

There are two standardized tests for grad school, the GMAT and the GRE.  For no particular reason I decided to take the GMAT.  Once I registered for the test, I began to research and study what was involved.

I saw very quickly that there’s math on the GMAT.  HARD math.  Algebra and geometry and statistics and ratios.  I hadn’t done anything harder than balance my check book in twenty odd years.  I bought The Idiot’s Guide to Statistics, Accounting for Dummies, and a GMAT prep book, and proceeded to try to learn and relearn four years’ worth of math in about six months.

One Saturday, my family is watching a college football game and I’m holed up in the bedroom, trying to work my way through some math problems.  My husband came in to find me crying my eyes out because I had come to the realization that I was stupid.  I knew what the problems were asking, but I had no idea how to set up the math problem to get the answer.  I was scared and frustrated and upset.

Standardized tests have come a long way since the days of the number two pencils and filling in bubbles.  Now it’s computerized, and the test is set up so if you get an answer right, the next question is a bit harder, and if you get an answer wrong, the next question is a little easier.  The test is designed to find your proficiency range.  They also give you a preliminary, unofficial score at the end so you know immediately about how you did.

I failed it.  I did well on the verbal and the essay, but I failed the math.  I e-mailed the lady at the Executive Development Center I’d been working with, told her my score, acknowledged that it was below their minimum requirements, thanked her for her time, and wished her well.

She e-mailed me back, “Whoa whoa whoa!  You have a WEALTH of work experience.  Don’t count yourself out quite yet.  Would you like to continue the process?”

I believe my exact words were, “Eek!”

I submitted my essay, had the interview with the dean, and got accepted.  I had orientation, then came the first day of school.  I thought I was a charlatan.  I felt like I had bamboozled my way into the program, that I had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes.

First day of class, Managerial Economics.  No more paper and pen, we take notes on laptops now.  I was furiously typing away the first day of class, taking notes on a funny  story the professor was telling about how the Rothschilds cleaned up financially during the Napoleonic War because I had NO idea what he was going to test us on.

There’s a book I read in high school, you may have heard of it, by Richard Adams, called Watership Down.  You should read it, it’s a good book.  It’s about rabbits.  The rabbits have a saying…because you know, rabbits have their own language, called going tharn.  Basically, it’s deer in the headlights.  A rabbit is by the side of the road, a car comes roaring by, rabbit freezes up.  The rabbit goes tharn.

I was going tharn the first day of class.  I understood logically what the professor was talking about, supply and demand curves and price elasticity, but you throw a bunch of numbers at me and I had no idea where to start.  During the break I’m on the patio, eating my banana, pacing back and forth, thinking I should just go in, shut down my laptop, and go home.  I didn’t know what I was doing and pretty soon everyone would know I had bluffed my way into this program and I would be humiliated.

I realized that was a pretty drastic step, considering all the work I had done to get here, so I went back into class.  Then a wonderful thing happened.  We broke out into our study groups.

At orientation the university had assigned us study groups, to change each semester, with the idea being by the end of the program we would have worked with everyone in the program.  I had two ladies and two young men in my study group.  One gentleman worked in finance, the other was an engineer.  We had to do some problems in the back of the book.

The first two were easy, true/false questions.  The third one was a math problem.  By this time I was sick of feeling stupid and thought, well, I might as well let everyone know I shouldn’t be here.  I said, “I don’t know how to do this.”

The two young men both said at the same time, I’ll never forget this, because it saved me, “Just solve for zero.”  I looked at the problem and said, “OOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH!”

I drove home that night in a daze.  I knew I had the support of my friends and family, but I learned that first day of school that I also was with a bunch of very smart people, and we could help each other.  I didn’t have to do this by myself.  I might be able to help them as they helped me.  The other class that semester was Integrated Business Systems, and the three people in my study group in that class were all from Latin America and English was not their first language.  They relied on me to help them with their portions of our group’s papers, with grammar and syntax and “you used this word, but the word you need is this.”

And that’s when I finally learned that it’s okay not to know something.  You just have to be okay with asking for help.  Chances are you’re going to get it.

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