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The 10 most valuable lessons I learned during my MBA

Written by Zeek Cooper, Master of Business Administration alumnus.

When I first enrolled in Bond University’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, I thought it would be an easy task, given that I had previously studied at Bond and had completed my Bachelor of Business degree. However, I soon learned that undertaking an MBA would not be easy, especially amidst raising a young family, looking for work, living off a student budget and surviving a global pandemic. Upon reflecting on my journey at Bond, some major life lessons stood out. Here are 10 things I learned while undertaking my MBA.

1. Learn as much as you can from the people around you. You will be surprised at the knowledge and experiences others have to offer.

In the classroom, I found myself surrounded by people from all walks of life, varying cultures, and different levels of experience and industry backgrounds. As my classmates each took turns to answer various questions, I was pleasantly surprised by their depth of knowledge and experience. Knowing this, I made sure that I learned as much from my classmates as I did from my lecturers. Taking an interest in each of my classmates’ lives, I was able to learn so much more than just what was taught in class.

2. Be kind to everyone even if you do not get along with them.

As anyone who has been to university will know, group work is a must and learning to work well with others whilst managing conflict is a valuable skill set to learn. There will always be people that you get along with and others with whom you do not. In my experience, I have found that treating everyone the same, regardless of whether you get along with them or not, will pay you dividends in the long run. The respect you earn from others will often show when it matters the most – and you never know, your peers could become your colleagues or clients one day.

Zeek Cooper graduated from his MBA and learned some life lessons along the way, despite a challenging year

3. Not everyone will believe in you, so make sure that you believe in yourself.

I have come to learn that not everyone will see the vision you have for yourself, nor will everyone believe in you, so surround yourself with people who encourage you, who believe in you and who support you. As Steve Harvey once said, "If you want to kill a big dream, tell it to small-minded people”.

4. I have learned that learning means nothing without doing – so be a doer, not just an active listener. 

As I progressed throughout my degree, I realised that many of the things I was learning in class could be immediately applied to my studies. For example, whilst undertaking a subject about managing people, I realised that I could implement what I was learning in my other assignments and group work.

Taking lessons from conflict management strategies and theories of motivation, I was able to help improve group cohesion and performance throughout my degree. As I applied what I had learned in class, I discovered that learning by experience is where you truly learn the lessons taught in class.

5. It's not about working harder; it's about doing better. Work at being better, not just at working harder.

I have always been a hard worker, but if there’s one thing I have learned from doing an MBA, it’s that working harder doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will get better results. In fact, working harder for me often meant putting more time into an assignment just to be disappointed in the end with my results.

What I quickly discovered was more effective is working on being better rather than trying to work harder. I did this by talking to my professors regularly and asking them for feedback on what I could’ve done better in my assignments. The more regularly I did this, with an open mind for constructive criticism, the faster I could apply this feedback and get the results I wanted.

6. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

In a world of instant gratification, we can often feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness, when in reality, asking for help is a strength. I often found that my classmates who improved the most were the ones who were utilising Bond’s learning services and resources, such as the Academic Skills Centre. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with accessing help, especially when it’s free like at the ASC, and ultimately this can give you edge when it comes to your studies.

7. Ask questions and be inquisitive.

Looking back, I realise that I have always learned more (and more effectively) by asking questions. Asking questions throughout my MBA helped me understand the subject content better, it helped me remember more, and it added value to my classes by giving everyone an opportunity to learn. In the classroom, no one else is in control of your education but you, so you might as well make the most of the money you’re paying for your degree by asking questions.

8. Acknowledge the efforts of those around you.

When it comes to group work and leadership, I have found that few things can make you more likeable and respected than acknowledging the efforts of those around you. Whether it's a staff member, a lecturer or a fellow student, helping others feel appreciated for their work often makes them work harder; it gives them a sense of pride in what they have produced and motivates them to do better.

9. Life can be challenging, so don't overexert yourself. Take time to relax, recover and revive.

During my MBA, I found that pushing yourself to the limits can only be sustained for so long before you either break or are rendered ineffective and incapable of going about your daily life. Bond has so many support programs on offer to help students alleviate stress, gain some peace of mind and enjoy life, but ultimately, it’s up to you to participate in them. That starts with acknowledging that your university experience should be about balance, not excessive cramming that ultimately just leads to burnout.

Whether it’s going to the gym, attending yoga classes, playing sports or joining a student club, there’s lots on offer at Bond to add a bit of balance to your lifestyle.

10. Doing all-nighters only gives you eye bags.

As I am sure many students – Bondies and otherwise – will agree, study often means late nights, early mornings, and lack of sleep. On one occasion, I worked on an assignment so long that I was there from early in the morning till late at night, until I was the only person left in the building. This was a turning point for me. You can truly know you’ve been working too long when the sun goes down and starts to come back up again!

I hope that the lessons I have learned throughout my time at Bond and during the MBA program will be useful to you as you navigate through your student journey. As you move ahead with your studies and fill your mind with knowledge, do not forget to take the time to reflect on what you are learning not just about your area of study, but about yourself.

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