I BLEW OUT MY KNEE when I was 14. Doctors told me to concentrate on academics, as my days playing sports were over. I had no control over my injury, but I could control my response. I decided to focus on academics—and also return to the sport I loved.
My new goal: Play soccer the following fall and make varsity as a sophomore. With my parent’s guidance and support, we found a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon close to my hometown.
This shift in attitude heralded a newfound drive and desire to bet on myself—an attitude that carried over into my adult years. I knew other situations would arise over which I had no control. It made sense to arm myself with an advanced education, so I had the best chance of success. My father’s rise from extreme poverty to a PhD provided a front row seat to observe the power that education has to transform lives.
Pursuing an MBA didn’t come without risks. There was the related education debt, two years of lost income and no retirement contributions, and a substantial investment of time and energy. There was also no guarantee that a cushy, high-paying job waited on the other side.
I hedged these risks by attending a business school with a positive overall return on investment. This calculation weighs the projected compensation five years after graduation against the cost of attending the program and the wages that are foregone. With only about 70 schools offering a positive ROI, it was a key consideration. Other factors included small class sizes, location, international exposure and related experiential learning.
Also don’t underestimate the lifelong relationships and camaraderie. I learned more from my MBA cohort and favorite professor than any financial calculation could ever account for. The quality of people added to my life, thanks to business school, will never be lost on me.
To make the most of my investment and education, I was often the first to arrive and the last to leave. You name it, I was there: Professor office hours. Guest speakers. Too many group projects to count. Networking opportunities. Education is often what you make of it.
In the midst of the financial crisis, I graduated with honors and secured an incredible job with a Fortune 50 company.
The dedication and hard work of business school was not unlike the long, slow process of physical therapy and recovery from my knee injury. There were times I wanted to quit and moments when I questioned my drive. Still, I kept showing up, not for glory or prestige, but for myself. My advanced education doesn’t guarantee anything. It may be the most expensive experience to date, but it’s morphed into the biggest asset I have.
For those keeping score, I did make the varsity soccer team as a sophomore.
Anika Hedstrom’s previous articles include Along Came Sheila, Gold Dust and Growing Up (IV). Anika is a financial planner with Vista Capital Partners in Portland, Ore. Follow her on Twitter @AnikaHedstrom.