In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped. (M. Gladwell, The Tipping Point)

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I’m of the mind there are things we do in life because we have to do them—we can’t even explain why at the time—because we’re driven from within. For me, the EMBA was that kind of thing, and I’ll explain why with hindsight. I’m also a believer in the notion of the psychological, or personal tipping point—the moment when experience, skill, drive, dreams, fantasies, and patterns converge, emerging in one’s life with such force as to demand or even create action—choices and decisions—and from which vision results and change begins where none was thought possible.

My first wife and I dissolved our marriage in 2002 (in California a divorce is called dissolution). Both her and my parents had divorced in Canada during the 1970s, and the pain of our dissolution was magnified by its symmetrical generational legacy. Those were long, dark fall months when I couldn’t see my way forward at several levels—in relationships, in my career, in my ability to feel happy and fulfilled. My vision was gone.

The spontaneous decision to visit my uncle in northern Canada late in 2002—a place and man I knew well and loved from my youth—was a personal tipping point whose effect I immediately felt as the jet broke free of the clouds. As we rushed toward my forgotten treasure of youth in the wilderness, I began to regain my personal freedom and vision.

I sensed confidence return to me, envelop me as we flew into North Country—great satisfaction as I approached the place deeply explored in youth, the moment of confluence when Curiosity and Instinct for me assumed the name and essence of Vision (Dila, personal journal, November 2002).

Four years later, I applied for a spot in Pepperdine University’s EMBA program. During my interview, one of the two professors asked, “Is your wife supportive of you doing this program?” The question was stark and sobering, and I felt the weight of the commitment placed squarely in front of me.

B-Schools keep statistics about their cohorts’ actions and decisions as they progress through the program: Number of students who get divorced; number who have a child; number who quit their job; number promoted; number that quit the program; and so on.

Tricia—my love, friend, wife, and mother-to-be of unborn Finn—was supportive.

The EMBA is a twenty-month family meg-athalon with three gnarly, integrated events:

First, you keep working full-time at whatever crazy job you have (mine was at eBay, and my peers came from bleeding edge startups, The Gap, Apple, IBM, HP, P&G, and so on).

Add to that a weekly regimen of two business books, a few Harvard cases, textbook assignments, core work-group prezo meetings, and quarterly doses of writing a great term paper. Class convenes every third week for 48 hours to vigorously discuss all of this, and more. This pace goes uninterrupted for almost two years.

Finally—and this part is important—keep your life balanced.

The financial cost for my program was USD$90K (I hear it’s gone up for the Recession). The emotional, professional, family, and personal cost is difficult to calculate.

The rewards? Hmm. As they say in business school: It depends.

Business schools keep quantitative statistics on this, too. Here are some from Harvard, but they all gather and publish the same kind of information: Percent of class that accepted an offer by graduation; percent of class that accepted an offer 3 months out; median base salary; median signing bonus; function (business development, marketing, etc.); and industry.

The Industry statistics are a snapshot of our times:

Industry (Class of 2009) % Median Base Salary
Manufacturing 8% $112,500
Financial Services 31% $110,000
Consulting Services 26% $125,000
Other Services 2% $100,000
Non-Profit 5% $90,000
Government 2% $79,648

On a personal level, if an EMBA happens to be one of those things you have to do, the lessons are invaluable, even—especially—the balancing your life piece. No one in my class had an easy go of it. Some relationships ended. Some jobs were lost. Others were found. Promotions happened, as did marriages and births. Basically, life keeps happening, and it expands to accommodate in direct relationship to the Life’s willingness and curiosity.

The EMBA was something I just had to do, and here’s why. Henry Mintzberg—Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill—says:

“There are no natural surgeons, no natural accountants…Leadership is different. There are natural leaders. Indeed, no society can afford anything but natural leaders. Leadership and management are life itself, not some body of technique abstracted from the doing and the being. Education cannot pour life experience into a vessel of native intelligence, not even into a vessel of leadership potential. But it can help shape a vessel already brimming with the experiences of leadership and life.”

I was brimming with life and experience and I wanted to shape and hone these gifts. The EMBA was a real social network, a structured community—and a natural extension—of learning, focused on leadership, management, business techniques, and life balance.

In early 2008, when I walked across the stage, I experienced another personal tipping point.

© 2009 John Dila

To be continued.

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