How business school revealed my inner ambivert and expanded my way of thinking

Unlike many people who find the introspection required by the personal mastery module of the MBA quite uncomfortable, self-confessed introvert, Anthea Mesias, says she felt perfectly at home in that space. But she also discovered her personality type wasn’t as clear-cut as she previously thought.

My goal has always been to do an MBA, but it took a long time to get there. I finished high school during the Apartheid era and didn’t have the opportunity to pursue tertiary studies. Finances were always an issue, I grew up in a single-parent home. But it’s always been something I’ve longed to do. Whenever I had the opportunity to take short courses through my employer, I took them. Eventually, I managed to complete a Postgraduate Diploma at the UCT Graduate School of Business and then attended the GMAT prep course in preparation for the MBA, but didn’t finish it as my dad got sick and passed away.

I was determined to push forward, however. I had friends in various places making recommendations, and one of them said, “Why don’t you try Henley?” But Henley was based only in Joburg at the time, and being in Cape Town, I was concerned about the cost and logistics of travelling there. I checked the website and saw they offered scholarships.

I decided I had nothing to lose and applied for the Dean’s Scholarship. I was awarded an 80% scholarship and took out a loan for the remaining 20%. I committed to flying up every two months to attend classes. It helped that I had support at home and at work. I was the operations director at a small NPO working in early childhood development (ECD). We did leadership training with principals at ECD’s. Prior to that, I worked in social housing, so I’ve collectively spent almost 20 years in the non- profit space. I currently work in youth development.

The course was pretty daunting because I was conscious that I didn’t have an undergraduate degree and that tertiary studies were foreign to me, although I had at least completed the PGDip.

The fantastic thing about Henley, though, is that you get support every step of the way, and it is phenomenal. It’s not just the lecturers and admin staff – everyone in the cohort was supportive of each other even though the modules and coursework were really intense. You have to do a lot of introspection in the personal mastery element, and for many people, that’s more daunting than the academic component. But I felt at home in that space as I’m an introspective person by nature, an undercover introvert! It felt comfortable to be in that space of doing reflection all the time, and it helped me get through the other courses, which was fantastic!

Actually, one of the interesting things I learnt about myself during my time at Henley is that I’m not a pure introvert; I’m actually more of an ambivert. I’ve always enjoyed public speaking, and I did drama at school and church. I think what comes with age is that you realise you may be one personality type but you can comfortably function in other spaces that are different to your personality type.

My MBA journey was one of resilience more than anything else. As I mentioned, my dad had passed away, and then I had two surgical procedures on my jaw in 2019 and another major surgery in 2020. As if that was not enough, as I was going into the dissertation phase of my studies, COVID hit! I had to take an extension because I was doing a qualitative study in the non-profit space, which had to be in person as the people I was meeting didn’t have access to laptops to do remote meetings. I took a leave of absence for about seven months until we could go back to meeting people again. It meant that I didn’t get to graduate with the cohort I signed up with, but I was determined to complete it. I wasn’t going to be derailed, especially after coming through two surgical procedures and losing friends in that first year of COVID.

The wonderful thing about Henley, is that in spite of all that was going on in my personal life, at no point during that time did I ever feel like giving up. I can’t recall ever wanting to throw in the towel. And I think it had a lot to do with the support at Henley, as well as the fact that you had this option to be flexible. If there was stuff going on in your life, you had the option to pause, take a break and deal with whatever issue was going on and then you could jump back on again, which was fantastic. Because it allows you space to process.

Doing the MBA at Henley has made me think differently and more broadly about things. Not simply acknowledging a problem and deciding nothing can be done, but rather exploring the issue, identifying the contributing factors and deciding which ones we can actually do something about. It could be as simple as the decision to arrange a training session in the community instead of in central Cape Town, as was the case at my NPO. The youth development organisation I work for, Catalyx Foundation, is based in Durban with national projects that run across the country. The main project for the organisation is the Jumpstart project. It’s a life skills and work readiness training project geared specifically towards the retail environment. The project is aimed at youth between the ages of 18-33 who are currently unemployed and Not in Education or training (NEET) and puts them through the training followed by six days of in store work experience. Our candidates come from disadvantaged backgrounds so the cost of transport to a training programme is a key consideration for them. By training them in their communities and arranging work experience close to where they live, we have been able to get a lot more candidates through the process.

Being able to look at the big picture is one of the key takeaways of my time at Henley and I am very grateful for that. From a leadership perspective, it’s the ability to look at a person holistically and to understand their challenges as a whole person not simply an employee – so that you’re able to talk it through with them and try to arrange things in a way that both the company and the employee are winners. I truly believe that everyone can benefit from a business education, even if it’s just a short course because it really does expand your way of thinking.

Similar posts

Get notified on new Learning insights

Be the first to know about new  our latest newsletter insights