By: Paul Curran
I opened the front door and hollered as I walked in: “Anyone home?” My wife called out from upstairs: “I’m up here, be down in a minute.” Closing the door behind me, I kicked off my boots and entered the kitchen. On the table to the right were my wife’s purse and a collection of written material that looked like brochures.
Picking up the brochures, I retired to my chair in the corner beside the stove where I poured a double shot of Crown Royal into a short drink glass and lit a cigarette. Turning on the stove vent fan and sliding the ashtray over beside the chair, I sat down and took a drag off the cigarette. The whiskey burned smoothly as a sip slid down my throat. The air conditioning felt cool on my skin this hot July day as the fan drew the smoke out of the room. I picked up the first colored brochure, and it was for the MBA (Master of Business Administration) program at Ottawa University.
My wife came into the room, saw me reading the pamphlets, and explained that she had gotten the material from her work, where she had been admitted to their succession program. A part of the program requirements was completing an MBA. These were the two possible universities from which she could choose. She then walked into the living room and settled in front of the TV as I continued to read and sip whiskey. The Ottawa U info was interesting, but it didn’t mean much to me. I was working as a transportation manager at a large retailer, and I was not enamored of business in general, although I enjoyed transportation. An MBA wasn’t my cup of tea. Finished, I set the Ottawa U brochures aside and picked up the Queen’s info.
Even from the first, the Queen’s colors on the brochure seemed more vibrant – blue versus brown. The words jumped off the page at me and I read voraciously. This meant something to me, this was important. As I read, knowledge formed- a strange knowledge at a level that I don’t ever recall feeling previously. This information fit me like a glove; it became a part of me and merged into my consciousness and below. Something odd and powerful was happing outside my intellect.
I had another sip of Crown Royal and re-read the brochure. There was contact information in the material, so I picked up the phone and called to arrange to get more information. I was assured by the person on the other end that the pamphlets would be sent that day and should be to me by tomorrow. She also told me that the deadline of the last week of August was fast approaching – in 6 weeks – and I needed to act quickly. When I hung up, I realized that I was going to do this Queen’s MBA, which made absolutely no sense at all. I wasn’t enamored of business, and the MBA was $60,000 with no government assistance. I lived paycheck to paycheck and had no more than $1,000 in the bank. This was nuts.
Sure enough, when I returned home the next day, the Queen’s package was waiting. I worked my way through it and again fell in love with what I saw. This made no sense. I had an undergrad degree in Chemistry and had worked transportation for the large part of my life. At 40, it seemed late to be going back to university for a degree that I had no idea how I was going to use. The degree was an “Executive” version, which meant it was done over 20 months while still working full-time. That left only time to sleep, and not much of that. My wife and I needed to discuss it while there was still time.
My wife was quite amused, as I had done unusual things in the past, and quickly agreed – although she had no money to contribute either, which I knew and which I wouldn’t ask for anyway. So, I called the university and made arrangements to write the Master’s entrance exams. Early the next week, I took a day off and presented myself for the exam.
It was a full day of testing – all timed and monitored. The exam itself was free, but if I passed then I owed $1,000 in order to progress. I still did not feel committed, or so my intellect told me, as no money had changed hands. The exam went well and I was told the results would be sent to me in the mail in about a week. That didn’t happen.
Three days later, I received a call from the Queen’s director asking to meet me at the Ottawa campus. When I arrived, he and the assistant director took me into the empty classroom and handed me the results. I was afraid that I had failed abysmally, never having written this type of exam before and being 15 years from my last university testing. That was not the case. I had scored in the top few percent of all who had taken the test in Canada – a mark that would have been acceptable at Harvard.
Sigh. This was going to happen! I had to have $1,000 to Queen’s by the following week (I had that in my bank account) and then a further $1,500 shortly after that to hold my seat. Then, upon starting, another $57,500 was due in four installments, the first before the first class. Dear God.
By this time, I knew in every molecule of my body and my soul that I was going to do this. The feeling was very unusual, as if it had already been done – but all that remained was to do it. The MBA was as good as completed. Which made no sense to my intellect: I had no reason to do it, I didn’t have the money to do it, and how could I know so surely that I would succeed?
I am a person who has a great deal of faith –I’ve seen so much in life that made no sense otherwise, and I could not see how the universe could be or could work the way it does unless there was a higher intelligence. Religion, I’m not very fond of. When I pray, unless it is for the health or welfare of others, I usually pray for the wisdom to understand or the patience to endure. So, I went for a drive.
I do my best thinking while driving and seem to feel closest to God there. I recall pulling out of home in a wild thunder storm, with lightning flashing and rain lashing the road. On the highway and settled in, I started. Now, I don’t normally ask God for much, but I was beginning to get suspicious. In the past, I have had a few situations where I felt I had to do certain actions without any logical reason why, and it turned out those actions were very important – once saving the lives of 6 teenagers.* I was starting to get the same feeling here –something was afoot. My intellect still could find no reason on earth why I would do an MBA and yet it felt like it was a done deal already. This only made sense if the reason lay outside me. Time to find out.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: I want Paul to write a post explaining this – who’s with me?
So, I spoke to God and asked what was going on – why did I feel like I was going to do an MBA? I even felt like it was a done deal – that sense of completeness and peace that only comes after a deed is successfully executed. Fairly sure this was a piece of His work, I railed at Him about the price: “If you want me to do this MBA, you had better put your money where your mouth is, because I sure don’t have the money to do it.”
A few nights later, I received a call at home from the deacon of a church about an hour’s drive east of the city. He asked if I had bought a raffle ticket on a handmade quilt. It took me awhile to remember as I seldom win anything, and I buy tickets to help churches or kids’ sports or cancer and just consider it a donation.
Then I recalled that my wife and I had gone for a trip to a company store under construction one weekend a few months ago. While strolling in the town, we had come across two elderly ladies selling tickets on a quilt in order to fix the church roof. I bought a few tickets and we continued on.
The deacon informed me that I had won second prize and he wanted to confirm my address so he could send it. I didn’t recall any second prize, so I asked. He said that the quilt draw had collected far more money than it had cost to repair the roof, and the church elders did not think they should keep the extra money as it would be unethical. Hence a second place prize. Fully expecting the prize to be another quilt or some such, I enquired what I had won. The second prize was $1,500, exactly the amount due for the MBA, and from a church. Ummm, message received, over and out.
When the cheque arrived a few days later, I took it to the bank, converted it to a money order and dropped it off at Queen’s. OK, now that I’m registered and my place is secured, all I need is $57,500 – yeah, right. Time for another chat.
This time I was a bit more respectful. It was apparent to me that God intended me to do this, and I could do nothing to change that if I wanted to be honest with myself. So I asked: “Where can I get $57,500 God?” The answer came back as a feeling which could have as easily and logically come from inside me as opposed to outside: “Ask”
Well, OK. I tried all the usual finance options: banks, relatives, government assistance, friends, etc. I played it as an investment on which I would return the principal plus interest as a long term cash flow. No dice, I didn’t have the assets to back up a loan. After a few weeks, with the deadline looming, I had only one ask left: my employer. So, I made an appointment with the president and prepared my argument.
The day of the meeting arrived, and I presented myself to the president’s secretary. Within minutes I was in his office. John (name changed) was a busy man and got right to the point: “How can I help you, Paul?” I was aware of how lucky I was to even get this appointment as John ran a billion dollar operation with 5,500 employees. My response: “I am going to do an MBA, John, and I know the company has an unwritten policy that if an employee takes a course and passes then the company will reimburse the tuition.”
John laughed: “Yes, that’s true, but you left out one important fact – the course has to benefit the job the employee is doing. So, tell me, how does an MBA help you do your job as a Transportation Manager?” Sigh – my best argument shot down. “It doesn’t, John.”
John continued: “How much is the tuition Paul?” “The remainder is fifty seven thousand, five hundred dollars.” He responded with a grin: “This company wouldn’t give me that much to do an MBA. They’re cheap.” This is amusing, considering he made those decisions. “However, we will loan you $57,500 interest free, to be repaid through a payroll deduction. Go see Frank [the V.P. of Finance] and he will draw up the documents and arrange for the cheques. He is expecting you.”
John started reading some papers on his desk – apparently I had been dismissed. I sat stunned for a moment, unable to believe that I had just gotten $57,500 in a conversation of less than a minute. I rose shakily from my chair, thanked John, and stumbled out of the office on my way to see the V.P.
The cheques came, as promised and I took the first tuition cheque down to Queen’s.
Now all I had to do was obtain a Master’s degree with absolutely no idea why, but apparently at the behest of God. It would prove to be a very interesting 20 months.