So I went to this conference yesterday.* I am terrified of conferences. I love the bit about sitting there and listening to (hopefully) interesting people speak, but as I have been told countless times by well-meaning others, that’s not the point of conferences – networking is. Conference networking – the dreaded combo. Even writing about it raises my pulse (no, seriously!). I usually dread it even more because, as a lawyer, I am by definition fairly low on most people’s list of “who I would like to talk to” at conferences: usually right below the person serving the finger food.
In short, I feel about networking at conferences the way most people seem to feel about public speaking – “No no no, please, not me. Make the other guy do it.” Except, it turns out, I kind of have to do it. A lot. So as tempted as I was yesterday to bury my nose in my macroeconomics book over the various breaks, I pushed myself to go out there and talk to people I didn’t know. My first attempt was not encouraging: the two people I joined greeted me warmly in Romanian, then proceeded to continue their conversation in Hungarian (no, I don’t speak it, thanks for asking). They then left the table without even saying goodbye. Sad as it is, I must admit I was secretly relieved. Over the next two breaks, however, I met quite a few people who would actually talk to me.
Nobody seemed terribly excited about the fact that I was a lawyer, but everyone was very curious about my EMBA. And the one question everyone had was, of course, “But is it worth the investment”? Which to me, especially when it comes to an EMBA, is similar to somebody asking you if it’s worth having kids. The price is fairly obvious and easy to measure: increased costs from tuition fees and travel, time away from your friends and family plus lack of sleep in one case; increased costs from diapers, clothes, child care, education, toys etc etc etc, time away from your friends and, at least initially, any semblance of a social life plus lack of sleep in the other case.
Do I know for sure that the EMBA will result in an increase in income, as compared to the “base case” (no EMBA) sufficient to offset the investment? Not really, not least because I can’t determine the base case without setting up two different universes, one in which I go to LBS and one in which I don’t (guess what, I learned that in my macroeconomics class last week – it was in the context of GDP growth, but the same principles apply). Do I know for sure that I will be happier with kids than I would have been without? Not really – in fact, according to Harvard happiness guru Daniel Gilbert, the happiest people are those with “approximately zero offspring”.
Why then, am I sure that I made the right decision about both kids and the EMBA? That’s not quite as easy to explain to people who are keen to weigh the pros and cons objectively. The way my daughter purses her lips when she tries to pronounce her brother’s name. The whole new understanding of the world that I already have, barely four months into the EMBA, and how the various courses I take complement each other and make me feel like my brain is expanding every second. Watching my son sleep. Being surrounded by incredibly accomplished people who inspire me to be better and at the same time make me feel like they’re all rooting for me to succeed. Her arms around my neck when I get home. Feeling energised after a weekend at school, even when it ends with an 8 am flight out of Luton. My son asking if it’s always summer on Tuesdays. Experimenting, safely for once, with different ways to work and lead. Knowing that it’s impossible to love someone more. These are the things that make it all worth it for me. That and, of course, that both the EMBA and kids give you something to talk about with random people at conferences.
* “Yesterday” was sometime in spring 2013, while I was in the first year of my Executive MBA at London Business School.