Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Week 7: Midpoint

from Zazzle.com
This  has been a week of regrouping.  Work has been so busy this week that I found it very hard to find enough time to keep up with reading and project research.  Unfortunately, that reading and research doesn't go away and I will have to double up next week.  This is the busiest time of year in our business as we prepare, edit, and publish the Dallas and the Austin Seniors' Guides.  So, this week, day and night was spent working on the Dallas Seniors' Guide which I sent to the printer on Saturday morning.  That left Saturday afternoon and Sunday to catch up as much as possible.
The marketing assignment this week was to find an ad that represented "poor ethics" and report on it.  That was difficult to find, but finally found one on a particular franchise that promoted a "$1.5M opportunity", but the fine print at the bottom clarified that $1.5M is not income, but gross revenue.  

Reflections and Expectations:
I've found that during this time of year when you combine our busy season of publishing with the work required for grad school, the main word that comes to mind is margin.  Typically, February and March are months that I've always just written off as all work and no play.  Play time or at least much more free time would come in April. 
According to Webster's Dictionary, margin is "a spare amount or measure or degree allowed or given for contingencies or special situations."  This week contained no margin and a special situation did arise.
Shortly after my father passed away in December, 2009, my mother was diagnosed with vascular dementia.  This has the same characteristics as Alzheimer's disease except that it's progression is more of a step function whereas Alzheimer's disease progresses gradually.   My mother lives 600 miles away and my brother and his wife live with her.  I am my mother's guardian and manage her care from here.  That is usually not a problem as I visit her about every 6-7 weeks, but am behind on visits due to school.  I believe she has experienced one of those declining steps this week and she experienced a major meltdown for a couple of days requiring lots of phone time with her and with my brother along with a slight change in her meds.  When it comes to my family, if there's no margin left, then something else will have to give, because family is my priority (and responsibility).  Hence, I've moved some reading and research to Tuesday.
I'm curious to find out about the Economics test, but have a good attitude since it's done and we can't go back.

Class Time:
In marketing, we were given the opportunity to present our ads to the class.  Many people's ads revolved around clothes (or lack of clothing) and the audience that these ads were reaching.  I realized when looking at some of the ads how desensitized I've become to how suggestive these ads really are.  I'm not sure if I would have even given them a second thought had I seen them in a magazine and that's not good.  The rest of class time was spent discussing the 4 chapters we read in the extra book on social networking and public relations.  Good discussion and a wide variety of views, especially on Facebook.
In Economics, class time was spent discussing briefly our last exam and then we got bogged down on the schedule of our SWOT papers/presentations and our next test.  Once we got that settled, Dr Estrada spent time letting us know the expectations of our SWOT analysis and how we are to critique one of the other learning team's SWOT.  This will be a great exercise, but it should be interesting how the critique portion is carried out.

Personal Thoughts:
With each class's test behind me and doing better on both than I had expected, I've really got to get focused on my personal project for marketing and finish my portion of the group project.  Although there were no exams this week, I felt like the week itself was one big life test.  As the week progressed, I became grumpy and tired.  Then, Thursday's "mother meltdown" threw a curveball in the mix.  About halfway through Thursday, I had to go back to the hurricane analogy and just step into the eye of the storm - back into the calm, peace.....for me, that's where I find solace with my Lord.  The storm still raged, but I was better prepared to step back in and ride out this storm.  Thankfully, things did calm down by Friday afternoon.  Lesson learned for me this week:  margin is really important.  Even when there seems to be no margin, sometimes you have to create margin by reprioritizing and allow God to "direct your path".
A final note, I am really proud of and thankful for my learning team, "Paradigm Shift".   The next three weeks are going to really test our ability to work as a team (as it will with the other teams, too).  But, I'm much more confident heading into these next three weeks with them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Week 6: Economics Test

With the marketing test behind me, this week's time was primarily spent preparing for the economics exam.  I still had reading, project work, and current events assignments to do, but foremost on my mind has been this first economics exam.  One member of our learning team, Randa Scott, did an excellent job of summarizing her notes on what topics Dr. Estrada had said would be covered on the test.  Four of our learning team members met this week at a classroom at Concordia to study together (one member had decided to study with another learning team starting a couple weeks ago).  We spent five hours reviewing each chapter's concepts, working chapter problems on the dry erase boards and then working the sample test that was provided.  This preparation was not only beneficial for the content, but really took our team to a whole new level.

Reflections and Expectations:
Last Tuesday, with the exception of finishing last week's blog, I did nothing else that day relating to my MBA studies.  For some reason, I came away feeling so down about the marketing test, because I had spent so much time preparing for it.  Grades were not released till the end of the week for the test and I was actually shocked that I had made an "A" on the exam.  I was so tired that evening of the test, that I could not even remember what was on the test and felt that I must have done horribly.  I guess I was just over-reacting to the test since it has been so long since I have experienced this environment.  I usually find myself to be more realistic about everything, so my reactions this week have thrown me off and require much more introspection.  It is not my intention to share my grades regarding each test to have anyone think highly or lowly of me, but this week I share the results only to show how much I overreacted this past week and that going forward, I really need to gauge my reactions to tests and just trust that God will honor my preparations and efforts.

Class Time:
Marketing tonight was interesting in that Professor Warren seemed genuinely interested in what we thought about the content or the first exam - too much, too little, too deep/shallow, etc...  There were mixed reviews, but overall I think the consensus was it was about right.  Tonight, Prof Warren also allowed me to share some cover ideas for our next Dallas publication and I was able to get feedback from my classmates on the covers.  I was surprised at which photo they liked best, so I am rethinking the covers again!  But, so glad to hear and I appreciate them sharing their thoughts.

By the time Economics started, I could feel myself getting tired again, but overall I knew that there was nothing else I could do or read that would prepare me for this test anymore than I already had.  There were 20 questions on the exam and they all fell right in line with the material and concepts we were to study.  Regardless of my grade, I know I did my best, so hopefully I can get at least a 90.  I don't think it will be higher than that because as I was walking out of class there were 2 questions that I realized that I likely had answered just the opposite of what they should have been and I've confirmed that to be the case.  So, here's hoping for a 90.

Personal Thoughts:
As stated, there was nothing more I could have done to prepare for the test this week, so tonight was actually a stress free night for me.  Bummer on missing two questions :-)
At this point in the journey, I'm starting to really get in the groove of the subject matter and format of the classes and I'm enjoying this lots more than I thought I would.  My only source of stress now is the thought of the next 3 weeks, which includes 2 group projects, another marketing exam and a personal project presentation.  This happens to be the busiest time for me with my business, which usually requires lots of evening work as well.  So these three weeks will be challenging at best.
I've incorporated more exercise into my routine to help provide an outlet for stress release, so I hope I can continue this routine and realize its benefits!
Lastly, I must thank my wife for being so supportive and understanding of this journey.  Tonight is the first Valentine's in 16 years that we did not go out.  She ate alone at home while I was in class tonight, but was up when I came in and wanted to know all about the classes and the test.  I'm a very blessed man!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Test Time.......

Read, read, read.....Marketing Management test preparation this week.  I realized halfway through this week that there were two chapters that I must have missed.  No highlighting and I couldn't remember anything from it.  So, reading 2 new chapters along with studying for the full test on 11 chapters was just time consuming.  I'm not whining, but hey, cut me some slack.  For an old guy, this is going to be the first exam that I've taken in 22 years.  Man, that sounds like a long time!!

Reflections and Expectations:
In the middle of preparing for this exam this week, I have to admit, several time I asked myself, "What do you think you're doing?"  Undergrad was easy for me, because I was blessed with close friends that I studied with whose study habits fit with mine.  I retain so much more from what I hear than what I read, so this will be an interesting exam.  And, for that reason, I'm anxious.

Class Time:
The Marketing Management test was made up of 33 questions pulled from 11 chapters that covered 315 pages.  Even though it was open book, I was surprised at the number of questions that I had trouble finding the answer and how quickly our time to complete it was over.  I honestly have no idea how well I did, but I do know that I'm definitely going to have to change my study approach for the next test.  What change?  I don't know yet, but it's going to have to be different!
Economics consisted of finishing the review of chapter 4 and an overview of the first 3 chapters that we'll be tested on this week.  I found it interesting how the emotions/attitudes are all over the map with regard to this class.  Some are very concerned about the class/test, which I think is partly just fear of the unknown, while others are very confident and sometimes cocky about their subject knowledge.  I'm not too anxious about this exam, but I'm definitely not over confident either.  Dr Estrada seems to show genuine interest in helping make sure people "get it".

Personal Thoughts:
Since I'm writing this before I even know how well (or bad) that I did on the marketing test, I'll just be transparent and say that I've beat myself up quite a bit overnight.  I had trouble sleeping last night, because I was trying to figure out what I should have done different in studying.  I assumed that my testing skills would be at least as good as when I was in college and hoped they would be even better now that I'm more mature (really??).  That's one reason this blog posting is a little later than usual.  I usually post the same night of the class, but was just not into it last night and am only doing this today to fulfill my personal commitment to chronicle this journey while being transparent.
So, I end this week's post by coming to the conclusion that the marketing exam is behind me and there is nothing I can do to change the results of that test.  All I can do now is prepare for the economics exam this week and determine my best approach of studying for the next marketing exam.  Humbling week...... but, strangely, I am glad I'm here.  Sometimes, it's during this little dip I see who and whose I am.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Week 4: Storms......

Wow, we are already four weeks into this journey!  Another tough week, but only similarity to last week is allergies!  On the homework front, this week was relatively light.  Lots of reading was required this week and only one written assignment.  But, this was one of those weeks where life enters and takes over for a few days.  My brother-in-law was rushed in the hospital this week and required a pacemaker and a couple of stints.  He is the epitome of health, but yet, he's one of those outliers that just can't outrun his family genes.  By God's grace and mercy and the talented doctors at North Austin Medical Center, he is still with us.  He flat-lined four times and once his heart was stopped for 20 secs before they got it going again.  Amazingly, he's home and back to normal.  Needless to say, our time at the hospital was time not spent studying (but no regrets at all there - family is much more important).

Reflections and Expectations:
This week, in the midst of storms raging all around me (allergies, family emergencies, reading assignments, team dynamics, etc...), I had to somehow find some quiet moments and dwell on Ps 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God".  I cannot change the circumstances, but I can ask God to change me in the midst of those circumstances and ask for wisdom and discernment to navigate through the rest of the week.  There was seemingly no way to get everything done this week, but somehow everything was completed.
In the midst of all of this, our learning team had a breakthrough this week.  I think we're all moving in the same direction with better understanding and trust of each other.  Our time meeting together and conference calls are clicking much better now.
With everything that transpired this week, I have actually not set any expectations for class time this week.  So.....surprise me!

Class Time:
Overall, this week's classes were indeed surprising.  Both classes seemed as if the time flew by so fast!
In Marketing, we covered branding and positioning.  Had great discussions, but mainly it was just lots of material to cover.  I think this particular topic is more interesting to me, because of my business and the sheer number of ads that I have to look at from many small businesses.  I am always looking at the consistency of their brand as well as how they are positioning themselves in the senior market.  It seemed as if we were only in class 15 minutes when the reality was it had already been 2 hours.
In Economics, Dr Estrada wanted to make sure that everyone was comfortable with chapter three and answered questions at the beginning.  When he was satisfied that all our questions were answered, he began an introduction to chapter four.  I've probably said this already and will probably say again - Dr Estrada has such a unique way of telling you an personal story either of a work example or life example and then draw the application of economic principles to that story.  I'm not sure how others are relating to that, but it just works well for me.

Personal Thoughts:
Reading back over the reflections I had from the week, that pretty well sums it up.  Growing up in south Mississippi allowed me to experience many hurricanes over the years.  And on two occasions, the eye of the hurricane passed over us.  With this incredibly violent storm raging all around and spawning off tornadoes, when the eye passes over, the sun comes out, the birds begin singing and it's just peaceful as if there is no storm at all......until the backside of the hurricane comes.  Life will throw hurricanes at us at times and sometimes we just need to step out of the storm into the calmness of the eye.  That's where Psalms 46:10 always comes to life.