why I am a strategist

I’m brushing up my quantitative skills in preparation for my first semester of MBA classes this fall, and it’s led me to one of the best and most encouraging AHA! moments I’ve had in a very long time.

Despite what my undergraduate degree says (I majored in Geology), I have never been as in love with the quantitative side of things as I have with the qualitative side. I’m really more of a languages-and-writing kind of person — when I fell in love with paleontology in an intro class I took to fulfill a requirement, I had most recently been contemplating majoring in Greek.

So when I went to take the GMATs last year, I had some serious review to do. I did it, and I learned (or remembered) a lot that I didn’t know (or had forgot), and I actually did rather well on the test.

Now I’m getting ready for the first-year “quant” courses by taking an online course in statistics, finance, economics, and accounting, called MBAmath, and I’m really enjoying it so far.

in fact, I’d even say I had a little breakthrough last night.

The first section of the class focuses on using Excel to get things done, and although I consider myself a pretty old hand with the whole spreadsheet-and-formula deal, I decided to take the “beginner” class demo, because you can always learn something new on things like Excel.

Not surprisingly, I learned one or two keystroke shortcuts that instantly made it worth my while, but I found most of demo to be reassuringly familiar.

But then we started using Excel to calculate complex formulas, and AHA! was the result.

Let’s call a spade a spade: I tend to avoid math. Despite my better-than-decent grades and test scores in the subject, I continue to have little confidence in my abilities to add large figures in my head, or figure percentages, or anything else that involves calculation without mechanical backup.

But I am excellent at spatial relations, geometry, algebra, problem solving — especially problem solving: I am fantastic at figuring out what needs to get done to answer a problem.

It’s the execution of the calculation that gives me the sweaty palms.

GUESS WHAT

Excel rewards exactly my type of skill set.

Set up the problem right, design the formulas right, be patient and meticulous and thoughtful and logical and everything that gives me joy, and Excel will do the rest.

It’s one of the things that I truly love about technology — if it’s well designed, it can help you do those things you don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, or aren’t sure how to do, and it lets you concentrate on the things you ARE good at.

Me? I’m a strategist, an analyst, a synthesizer of ideas.

I’m also incredibly detail-obsessed, logical, and consistent.

Some of the best career advice I ever got was to play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. Which sounds simplistic, but many, MANY of us make more, THINK more, of our weaknesses than we do our strengths.

How do you play to your strengths? Do you really know what your strengths are?

2 Thoughts.

  1. My degree is in geological engineering, which my mom tells me I have wasted. I loved the geology side because it wasn’t quantitative like the engineering. I tend to make intuitive jumps to the solution, which is not good when you’re building a bridge but great for geology. To me, geology is my philosophy of life. No better way to put daily problems into perspective than to contemplate the geologic time scale.
    I often wonder what the heck I’m doing founding a music ed non-profit. I can’t play and I’m not a teacher. And it’s difficult to put a title on what I do. But the organization wouldn’t exist without me.
    Having just coached my children through the headache that is now the senior year in high school, I think too many try to make the final decision on their life’s work too early. It takes time and experience to discover one’s strengths and then to find a way to leverage them into a worthwhile vocation.

  2. Beth,
    RE: on “why I am a strategist”
    I can totally relate to the comments about never feeling confident about adding large figures in my head.
    I have two teaching certificates. While the current day job that pays the bills is teaching art, I have also lurking in my not so distant past the distinction of having taught sixth grade mathematics for 4 years…..with a B.F.A. no less! (Seriously, I am also certified “Teacher of Middle School 5-9). I realized as the teacher, and began to teach my students, that just because one can’t see and hold the numbers in one’s head, it doesn’t mean “you’re stupid” or “can’t do math”, etc.
    Being an artist first and foremost, I am naturally a visual learner. Many people, artistic or not, are primarily visual learners. I realized, and shared with the kids, that I needed to write it down and SEE it. As long as I did, I could do calculations well and correctly (even the dreaded long division). But if I tried to hold it in my head like some (my husband is one) can, I would be sunk every time.
    Long story short: you need to know and accept your individual learning style. When you do, you realize that, while you may not be destined to be a rocket scientist, you can do math.
    On another note, congrats on the MBA acceptance.
    I was accepted to the Masters of Painting at Savannah College of Art and Design. I start my e-learning program with a 5 week residency in Savannah June 19th.
    Guess it’s the year for alot of us to be going back to school.

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