Homesick Halloween, 1993

Happy Halloween 2014,

It’s an overcast afternoon in Los Angeles, with a slight chance of rain. I’m leaving early today to get home to my two trick-or-treaters: my S.W.A.T.-team costumed second-grader and my little puffy-penguin two-year-old.

21 years ago–in the fall of 1993–I was a first-year MBA student at the University of Chicago. I was 24 years old and having my big life experience, starting grad school in the big city. One of the youngest people in my class, I was clueless about how to best leverage a top-tier MBA experience. It was like someone gave me a Ferrari, when all I wanted was to go to the store for a gallon of milk.

I had a History degree with honors from Texas A&M, but in the two years since graduating, the world hadn’t beaten a path to my door. Getting my MBA from Chicago was my attempt to make something happen, but I really couldn’t tell you what that “something” was.

That Halloween night the temperature was cool and brisk, but not bitter. I had no idea how much colder it would get, when winter really reached Chicago.

A festival was happening out on the Midway, a carnival/fair-like atmosphere with families and children in costumes. The trees had the last of their fall foliage and the air smelled damp and musty.

The six weeks leading up to Halloween had included two weeks of orientation and then the first month of classes. I’d probably been living mostly on adrenaline up to that moment: moving to Chicago, meeting my new roommates, buying my computer, doing orientation and then delving into the first four weeks of business classes (as a History major, I’d not seen Statistics, Economics–any of it–before). I barely had any work experience and I was quickly coming to feel like the “little brother” to most of my classmates.

That Halloween night, getting out of the b-school-bubble, seeing the little kids in their costumes, it all caught up to me. A wave of homesickness caught me off-guard.

What was I doing here?

I had a girlfriend back in Texas. We’d met the year after I graduated. She was smart and pretty and I thought she was awesome. But I also felt like there was no way I could ever support a family. Even if I’d had the guts to propose to her, there was no way I felt like she could say “yes” to me. I was going to Chicago to figure out how to make a living, so that someday I could be a husband.

That Halloween night, I saw all these families and thought about the small town of Denison, Texas, (population 21,000) where I grew up. I thought about what was happening in Denison that night. I thought about my own mom and dad and how they fell in love in college and got married directly afterwards, no MBA but they made it work somehow.

What was I doing? Borrowing $100,000. Living in Chicago. Taking classes with no background. Chasing something, and not having any real clue what that ‘something’ was.

The homesickness followed me as I wandered around the festival, eating a carmel-candied apple and feeling jealous of all the couple I saw with their families, their own little S.W.A.T.-teamers and their own little puffy-penguins.

21 years later, I am probably similar now to many of those parents I saw that night with my own two-year-old and seven-year-old. I know how to make a living now. My MBA paid off. It has given me two careers so far, the first with Siemens and this current, second career with UCLA Anderson.

That girlfriend from way back then? She and I didn’t make it.

But the woman I share life with now, my wonderful wife Marisa, she and I are living the life now that I could only dream of then. Am I grateful for my education? For sure. Am I glad I never have to do it again? Yes, that too.

It takes guts to pursue graduate study. It’s a leap into the unknown. I’ve been watching part-time MBA students here at UCLA since 2002. They juggle work, life and school in pursuit of their dreams. They inspire me to work hard every day to make sure UCLA pays off for them, the way Chicago paid off for me.

I’m going to pass out candy tonight from my porch in Culver City. I’m going to smile and laugh and be grateful.

Happy Halloween.

 

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