Asia School of Business

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How I Am Leveraging My MBA to Learn with Purpose


In our lives and careers, we are surrounded by reward systems that shape our behaviors—maybe you can qualify for commission if you hit a sales target, or you’re trying to get the highest grade in the class. But the trickiest reward system that might be influencing your decisions is the praise and validation you receive for good work.

My decision to join Asia School of Business was a choice to break away from that system of motivation—one where I was exclusively focused on pleasing others—and join a community where I could take an active role in shaping my career and become uncompromising in defining my path.

Rediscovering my intrinsic motivation

Before coming to ASB, I was the third employee at a property management technology startup, growing into their Detroit Head of Operations, and was later the third operations person at an autonomous-vehicle transportation startup, creating the playbook for their first few market launches.

Startups already blur the line between who you are and what you do, so instead of thinking about what I wanted to learn or what I was interested in, I focused exclusively on what the company needed from me, and became addicted to positive feedback.

Even if I was performing well in my job, day-after-day I would return home numb and exhausted, with no energy to see friends, read, or exercise. I remember sitting in my boss’s office, completely distraught trying to come up with an answer for the simple question, What would you like to do next here? I would reply, “Maybe supply chain, that could be interesting. Or business analytics! Partnerships and strategy?” Every answer I could come up with was anchored to the context of my job, and none of them felt right.

I had been suppressing my own interests and goals for so long that I lost sight of what actually motivated me. I needed to find the answer. Before ASB started, I spent many painful hours reconnecting with my interests and drivers, completely independent of external rewards. During that time I rediscovered my love of writing and fascination with the topic of work—the dynamics between employees and employers as well and the role that technology is playing in redefining jobs across the labor market.

The ability to take a step back from your job and try to find a deeper purpose is both a privilege and perceptably individualistic. But when I moved to Malaysia, still filled with uncertainty, I felt ready to make the most out of every second—ready to act on my desire to build new knowledge, explore the topics that stimulated my curiosity, and invest in myself.

Practicing self-accountability

Fast forward to where I am today: pursuing a degree 15,000 kilometers (take that, American measurement system!) from home, starting a monthly e-newsletter called Workable, writing articles about what I’m learning in my courses, and working as a Research Assistant. This radical shift came completely from a shift in priorities: from performing for others to learning with purpose.

Instead of being shackled by the need for approval, I told myself that I would focus on learning and building a better understanding of the dynamics of the labor market. That’s much easier said than done, so I needed to introduce some structure to ensure I would put my learning at the forefront of my experience.

Classes at ASB moved quickly, and were filled with interesting topics that I wanted to get to know in greater detail. I’ve always loved using writing as a tool for learning, so to give myself more time with the material, I began writing articles that incorporated what I was learning in class into the labor concepts that I am so passionate about.

After learning about Porter’s Five Forces I applied them to the labor market in The Five Hidden Forces That Help Determine a Worker’s Value. After learning how to use a balance sheet, I wrote What if Human Labor Was an Asset, not an Expense?. After learning about queueing theory I wrote, The Social Consequences of Operational Efficiency.

The ability to deconstruct a topic, think about it, and put it together in a new way brings me both unparalleled joy and satisfaction. I still have so much more to learn, but writing has helped me explore topics that I’m curious about.

But outside of the classroom, I also wanted to make sure that I was following the present-day challenges to the workforce in both the U.S. and Asia. After being inspired by a friend who runs a political newsletter, I decided that a newsletter would be a great medium for consolidating the high-level topics that I’m writing about, and the present-day changes in the nature and experience of work. Workable was born.

I’ve written an article, read a new book, and published an edition of Workable each month for the past 5 months. I’ve been asked whether I have a long-term plan to monetize the content, and I’m proud to say that I don’t (which might be especially surprising coming from an MBA). I do it because I love the process and the work challenges me to think harder about topics that I care deeply about. I’ve found something that’s energizing and rewarding for all the right reasons.

The Point of It All

I am grateful to Asia School of Business for creating an environment where I can feel empowered and supported in following my curiosity. I am learning to focus less on where I want to go, and more on what I want to learn.

Although I’ve made progress in discovering and prioritizing what I intrinsically love doing, I am by no means free of the inclination to seek the approval of others. Still, I know that purposeful learning is my priority here, and will continue to be my priority in whatever it is I do next.

If you’re interested in labor dynamics and the future of work, consider subscribing to the Workable e-newsletter or following Amanda on Medium for her monthly posts.