Was One Of My Reasons For Attending Grad School Slightly Irrational?

In 2000, I decided to take the plunge and attend grad school.  Specifically, I was going for my Masters in Business Administration, or MBA.   My college degree was in Economics and Management, so I had a good business background.  I was a professional in the IT industry and wanted to get a better handle on the business side of things, because I quickly saw that IT was filled either with techies who didn’t understand business or businesspeople who had no idea about how IT worked.  I figured having the knowledge of both would give me a leg up.

And it’s served me well.

That was my main motivation for attending.  Other reasons are as you might expect;

  • Standing out – I figured that all things equal, if I had a Masters and someone else didn’t, it would help me in my career.
  • Money – I wanted access to better opportunities and promotions that I hoped would come from an MBA
  • Education – I’ve always enjoyed learning and wanted to learn more.

All of these reasons played into it, but there was another reason that I had for wanting to attend grad school that I’ve never told a single soul.

Until now!

Don’t you feel lucky?

It was so that I could have a happy graduation ceremony.

See, my college graduation ceremony in May 1996 kind of sucked.  Not because of the weather.  That was great.  Not because I didn’t pass.  I did (with honors).  Not because anybody was missing (my family was there and very proud).  All of those things made it a good graduation but I wanted one that wasn’t tainted by an awful surrounding experience.

What was the experience? Well, it was of course, related to…a girl.  Her name: Jen.

Back up to 1993.  I was a sophomore and had found a group of friends that was quite large.  So large that we didn’t all know one another.  I knew few people really well and they knew a few people really well that I might have just known. I’d seen Jen, who was a freshman,  around but we never really talked other than to say hi.  One  day we ran into each other and started talking.  An instant connection was formed.  I was pretty conservative at the time, and she was kind of a wild child, but we clicked.  There was an attraction there but nothing happened because she was seeing someone else from back home.  After a few months, I started dating someone else, my first real girlfriend, and we were together for almost two years.  Through that time, Jen and I remained close though not as close, mostly because my girlfriend was kind of jealous.

When that relationship ended, Jen and I reconnected and this time she was single.  So, a couple of months later, which coincided with the start of my last semester of college, we got together and formed as an official couple.   Things were good for the most part, but the last few weeks, I started freaking out a bit about being done with college, and she was freaked out by my freaking out.  She was spending more time hanging out with her roommate and a few friends, one of whom was a guy that I remember from freshman year that I didn’t like at all.  I call him Chump.

I’m not going to go into the details, but long story short, two days before graduation I went out with some friends, had a little too much to drink and didn’t call her when I got back to my room, simply going to bed. When I woke up the next morning, she’d disappeared.  It took most of the day but I found her hiding out in Chump’s room.  She didn’t deny what I already knew, that she’d cheated on me.  I spent the remainder of that day and night wondering what I was going to do.  She begged for forgiveness.

Graduation time rolled around.  I saw my family, was happy that they were there, I appreciated the great weather, was thrilled at the speaker, and I tried to enjoy the whole thing.

But the whole time, I had this emotional weight hanging over me.  I had no idea what I was going to do.  I hadn’t yet really processed the whole situation.  And, it definitely hurt the entire experience.

So much so that, four years later, when I started thinking about the possibility of attending grad school, one of the pluses in my mind was that, when I finished, I’d get a true celebration of a graduation ceremony.

And I did.  Two years after starting, I finished my last class.   I sacrificed nights, usually two per semester, and also did some online classes.  I did tons of reading, wrote  papers, and participated in more group assignments than I ever had.  Luckily, my employer paid for a good chunk of it, but books and such still cost a lot.  I held off social activities with friends so that I could finish up.

I did all this for the normal reasons, but also to erase the bad memories.  The graduation ceremony for my MBA was not as good in many other ways as the first one had been.  The speaker was incredibly boring.  It was indoors in a stuffy building.  Not as many of my family attended.

I didn’t care.  In my mind, it was awesome.  It was all worth it for the fact that I got to truly celebrate my accomplishment.  It was all worth it.

Oh, and for those who are wondering what happened with Jen: After graduation, I packed the rest of my stuff, went over to her place, dumped her, and went home.

So, considering that my main reasons for attending grad school were the rational, to-be-expected kind, I think it was a solid choice.  But, was my, until now’, hidden reason rational or irrational?


When Getting A 20% Raise Kind Of Sucks

Just to start things right, I haven’t gotten a 20% raise recently.  The one and only time, and the focus of this story, was in 1999 I think.

But the lesson learned is still applicable today.

My first job out of college was working in a call center.  I started at a pretty low salary, but the company I was working for had a great reputation in the IT industry, and many an IT professional used them as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

After a couple of years there, I was itching for more and ready to be one of those ‘stepping stone’ stories.  I would have stayed there, but they stopped my training path and they declined my request for anything more than a 3% raise.  So it was time to jump.

If you go back and recall, that’s right around the time when the entire Y2K thing was heating up.  Companies were basically prepared to address anything on the hardware side of thing by replacing everything.  So, it was a good time to be an expert in Windows server, desktop, and networking technology.

I interviewed around, and I happened across a very small company, just growing in that area, looking to hire their third person.  They were a company of about fifteen people, with most being on the application development side of the fence, but they wanted to grow the hardware side of the fence, so they took a look.

Being that the company was so small, I was a little leery, as I was coming from one of the biggest IT companies in the world.  Yet, the minute I sat down with the owner, I knew I had a great fit.  We clicked and the interview was more of a talk.  He was someone that really earned my respect, and he still has it today, even though I haven’t worked for him in a number of years.

When it became clear that it was a fit, we started talking salary.  He asked what I was looking for and I threw out a number that was roughly a 40% increase over what I was making.

He didn’t balk and agreed to the number.  I was ecstatic as that was a pretty huge raise.

After about a year, we sat down for lunch for my review, which was great, and at the end he handed me an envelope that included my new compensation number.  I about fell over when I saw it was 20%.

Another year passed, another lunch, another envelope, and this time it was around 15%.  I’d over doubled the salary I left my last job for within two years.

Around the time of the second salary increase, I offhandedly mentioned that I was looking to start my MBA.  I told him simply because I wanted to give him a heads up that I’d be focused on other stuff after hours (and being a small place, there were many times when we were needed after 5pm).  He offered to pick up the tuition.

At that point, I was still only around 25-26, so I didn’t see the flip side of this. While the salary increases were great and getting a free MBA where I’d been all set to pay the roughly $10k, it only took until I got a few years older to realize that I’d likely underpriced myself from the beginning.

I likely lowballed myself when I asked for the initial amount.  He knew, though, that eventually I’d learn my market value, so the initial two increases were to make sure that I was still happy, and let’s face it, three big raises (including the ‘jump’ raise I got when coming aboard) in that short of time was going to be seen as great.

Did I feel taken advantage of?

Not a single bit.

After all, I got exactly what I asked for.

By the time I got the second increase followed by the roughly $5,000 per year in MBA tuition, I was right in line with what salary comparison websites were saying was standard, so while I likely undercut myself, it was only for two years, and the gap definitely narrowed the second year.  All in all, I probably could have gotten $5,000 – $10,000 more those first two years had I gone in with a better number.

But, since I loved the work and loved who I worked for, I never have felt bad about it at all. Still, it serves a lesson to make sure you know your value going in.  I fell trap to the big increase I was getting, not really believing that I could have gotten even more had I asked.

So, while I look back at that 20% increase as the pure awesomeness that it was, a part of me looks back and realizes that a portion of that was making up the fact that I undercut my value.

What was the biggest raise you ever got?  Did you ever feel that a big raise meant that you’d been working below value prior to the raise?