Fridays from the Frontline: Tips for MBA Students and Their Partners from a Kellogg Spouse
Business school often turns one’s life upside down—whether interrupting a career, requiring relocation, or balancing professional goals with the needs of a burgeoning family. The greatest shockwaves, however, may be felt by one’s partner.
Samantha Dorsey—a member of the Joint Ventures (JV) club and whose husband attends the Evening & Weekend MBA program at Northwestern / Kellogg—is intimately familiar with the challenges an MBA lifestyle can bring. So, she took to the Kellogg blog to help incoming MBA students and their partners smoothe the transition to a hectic, but ultimately rewarding, lifestyle change.
The following piece has been republished in its entirety from its original source, the Northwestern Kellogg Blog.
Tips for MBA Students and Their Partners from a Kellogg Spouse
by Samantha Dorsey, JV 2020
My husband was accepted into Kellogg’s weekend MBA program during a period of acute transition for our family: We had a new baby (our first child and oldest son), we were planning to move from Houston to Kansas City in order to be geographically closer to family, and Todd was in the process of changing jobs. There were a lot of reasons for us to cite poor timing as justification for putting off the MBA, but I tend to believe that perfect timing is a myth. More accurately, there is a willingness to create and embrace opportunity, or not. Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend Program made sense for our family and goals, and it is a decision that I have not once regretted (even with two young sons just 17 months apart). I believe the same can be true for you, especially with the right perspective and strategies in place.
Three tips for prospective MBA students
Tip #1: Before you apply, earn your spouse’s vote
Like marrying someone and blindly believing they’ll change later, it’s imprudent to “marry” the idea of a weekend or part-time MBA program and hope that your spouse will eventually share your enthusiasm and rationale. “Hope is not a strategy,” so don’t overlook the importance of this process. After all, your spouse’s support will ultimately be an important variable in your success (more on this below), and this is a decision that will affect them as much as it does you (albeit in different ways).
Tip #2: Invite and encourage your spouse’s involvement in the journey
There is a substantial shift that happens when we possess a sense of ownership. (For example, think about the mental shift that happens when someone goes from being an employee to part owner of a company.) Involving your spouse and giving them opportunities to take ownership in the collaborative process of your MBA is a must. I have flown and road-tripped to Chicago with Todd and the kids on several occasions for DAK, Manager’s Ball, campus visits, and quality time with dear Kellogg friends. Even while living out of state, I have been able to learn from my husband’s coursework when topics are of particular interest to me, and he has actively involved me in relevant conversations (regarding topics like OCR). We have even been able to collaborate on the launch of our own business, ProACTIVE Pregnancy Fitness, during his time at Kellogg. All that to say, figure out what matters to your spouse, and invite their participation.
Tip #3: Acknowledge and authentically communicate appreciation for your spouse’s contributions often
It is challenging to raise a family, manage a household, and drive a business without my husband’s previous level of involvement. You may assume that your spouse knows how much you value their support, but assumptions are of course risky in that they create space for unintended and avoidable frustration, resentment, and misunderstanding. The good news is that it’s relatively simple to proactively protect your relationship by voicing your appreciation for the sacrifices and work ethic that fill the gaps during your absence. Gratitude is good, communicated gratitude is even better (“I appreciate you”) and being specific is best (“I appreciate that you did XYZ to make it possible for me to travel to Chicago and help set up our family for a better future”). Practice the habit and hone the skill of doing this on a regular basis.
Three tips for the spouse of a prospective or current MBA student
Tip #1: Embrace a “big picture” perspective and long-term vision
Yes, things will be different for awhile, but it is temporary. The question is whether you are able to see past the immediate challenges and sacrifices, and envision the future you are actively building together. Contemplate the ROI (both quantitative and qualitative) of your spouse’s Kellogg MBA: things like career path, compensation trajectory, professional network, personal friendships, professional and personal growth and development, and don’t forget about the growth that your own relationship will undergo as you navigate the program together. Instead of focusing on what you’re giving up during this season, choose to focus instead on what you are gaining: your family is joining a larger family—the Kellogg family. And I encourage you to make the most of the exceptional opportunity: get to know people, participate in events, even visit your spouse’s classes if your schedule permits and they are of interest to you.
Tip #2: Stop keeping score
There is a hand-painted sign that hangs behind my husband’s desk in our home. “We are Team Dorsey,” the script lettering reads. “Together Everyone Achieves More.” I stay home with the kids full time, manage our household, and am building ProACTIVE Pregnancy Fitness. Todd works full time, is earning his MBA on the weekends, and is a loving husband and present dad. Sometimes I feel like my contributions are less impressive than Todd’s, and other times I feel like our two kids require far more energy than his boss and professors combined. (Can I get an amen?) Sometimes I feel jealous that he has more time away from the kids to focus on his career and professional development, and sometimes he feels jealous that I have more time with them. (Funny how that happens, isn’t it?) But here’s the thing about a team:
- Everyone contributes.
- Everyone has their own role to play based on their unique gift-mix and where they’re most needed given the situation and circumstances.
- Everyone’s contributions are important and valuable.
- Together you will accomplish far more than you ever could apart.
So lose the score card, and choose instead to be incredibly appreciative of what your “teammate” brings to the table, and also be incredibly proud of what you bring, too.
Tip #3: Own your role and contribution
“You are living your dream, babe! Remember that this weekend,” I say to Todd as I watch him pack his bag for Chicago for what feels like the hundredth time. You see, it takes a truly impressive amount of fortitude to be an active contributor to family, career, and Kellogg (including classes, community, and extracurriculars—because being a student at Kellogg can and should be about so much more than just attending class). It’s natural for the initial excitement and enthusiasm to fade given the grind of early-morning and late-night flights, days and weeks filled to the brim, and responsibilities waiting back home. Given this, I have realized that I have an important decision to make, and it’s one that I have to keep making every week: I choose to be a steady voice of encouragement and support so that my husband can effectively manage and maximize his extremely full plate, and so that he can maintain his excitement and enthusiasm for the opportunities that matter to him and our family.
Although you are not the one flying to and from Chicago each week, physically attending the classes, and leading group calls, I firmly believe that your role is significant (for numerous reasons), and there is one reason in particular I want to emphasize here: Your support and encouragement matter because they will inevitably impact your spouse’s overall experience as a member of the Kellogg community in terms of the amount of value they both contribute and extract from the program. That being said, there is a crucial distinction between being resentfully sacrificial, and being a strategic partner and advocate. Decide to be the latter, and watch the magic happen.